doctor jekyll and sister hyde

February 5, 2010 at 6:31 pm (reviews) (, , )

. . . is a movie. That I watched. It’s an old Hammer Horror film from 1971, and it was awesome. Really. I mean it.

In this version of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll is a passionate young man who wants to cure every disease (okay), but when some older friend/professor/doctor person reminds him that such a task would take far longer than a normal man’s lifespan, Dr. Jekyll becomes obsessed with cheating death. In his search for the Elixir of Life, he begins investigating female hormones for their youth-giving properties. I believe in order to explain the “huh?” moment surely every single reasonable person must have when hearing the phrase “investigating female hormones for their youth-giving properties,” Dr. Jekyll poses a question along the lines of “what is it that gives a woman’s face that extraordinary bloom, the softness of her hair?” which, you know, is probably a good theory, and explains his scientific reasoning thoroughly.

But the problem for the good doctor is, of course, how to get those pesky hormones. At first he cuts glands and stuff out of bodies from the morgue, which is pretty cool because the guy with giant sideburns and a top hat who works at the morgue (coroner? gravedigger? WHO KNOWS?) gets to make some classy necrophilia jokes.

Alas, there just aren’t enough dead ladies for Dr. Jekyll, so he’s forced into doing business with the body-procurers Burke and Hare, who apparently travelled from Edinburgh to London, and through time as well, to supply him with the goods. When they’re caught (Burke is hung, Hare is thrown in to a lime pit, which dissolves his eyeballs) Dr. Jekyll has only one recourse, which is to become Jack the Ripper and start murdering prostitutes to get their hormones, which is a medical process involving a big shiny knife, just so you know.

But that, ah, plot is not the only fine thing about this film, oh no. Instead of creating the Elixir of Life, it turns out that the Ecto Cooler-hued substance  Dr. Jekyll has distilled from cut up ladyparts is actually a means of changing a man into a woman, with titties, and yes, you get to see them. It also extends the life of a fly (after turning it from a male into a female) but the movie never really goes back to that particular plot point, instead choosing to focus on Dr. Jekyll turning into a woman– an evil woman, natch— and committing the murders as her, since everyone who’s out looking for the Whitechapel murderer is looking for a man.

Meanwhile, the nice family living upstairs is starting to worry about the workaholic Dr. Jekyll. The family consists of a matronly widow and her two adult children, a comely young lady of quality and her coxcomb brother. The girl falls hard for Dr. Jekyll for no reason other than he seems to be the only man she sees around apart from her horrifying brother, and she gets all plucky and stuff, bringing Dr. Jekyll dinner and looking mad when he won’t pay attention to her. Then the horrifying brother mentioned above sees Mrs. Hyde (Dr. Jekyll’s sister, as Jekyll hastens to explain) and is captivated by her, possibly because the first time he sees her she’s doing the maneuver illustrated on the left, though her hand isn’t in front of the goods, and the second time he sees her, I swear to god, after realizing she lacks proper woman’s clothes, she wraps a scarlet curtain around her body like a Greek goddess and sort of slinks about evilly while making bedroom eyes at everyone she sees, including herself, in the mirror.

Gender-bending high jinks ensue, especially when Mrs. Hyde starts taking over Dr. Jekyll’s body even when he’s a man, including a hilarious scene (outside a corsetry shop, again, natch) where Dr. Jekyll reaches for the brother’s face and whispers his name passionately. YEAH! Then it all culminates in a supremely lackluster chase sequence and a simply awful final effect. But up until the last 10 minutes, it’s a really weird cool little movie. I recommend it heartily, if you can find it, and I’m sure it implies a lot about topics that I’m not going to talk about right now because after 7 months in Boulder, I finally bought some homeopathic medicine (Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy) for my stress issues, and it’s actually working. So basically I’m feeling too relaxed to really engage with the fact that of course the split personality is a lady and she is evil and she is sexual and it emasculates Dr. Jekyll to have a stronger woman be a part of him and this probably says something about gender attitudes. Usually I’m all over that stuff, but not now.

So, adieu. I’m going to make some Dark ‘n’ Stormies tonight and watch my husband John play Final Fantasy 4, which, yes, is a spectator sport in my household.

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fanny hill

February 3, 2010 at 3:05 pm (reading, reviews) (, , , , )

The other day I was feeling like watching a costume drama set during the era I’m currently writing about in the novel, so I rented the 2007 version of Fanny Hill. I knew a little bit about it but never got around to reading it during my Master’s (moft likely becaufe I was focufing on Moral Novels written earneftly by Moral Women, about fuch ferious topics as Slavery, and not common fmut).

The movie was good, though despite the absolutely gorgeous, lavish costumes (see the image left, one of the prettiest dresses I’ve seen in a costume drama, ever) and good acting it had a rather, ah, Skinemax feel to it. I enjoyed it. Even better, oh joy of joys, certain things about the film intrigued me in terms of my ongoing 18th century research, so I immediately purchased  the Oxford World’s Classics unexpurgated edition and read it with extreme quickness on my trip down to Tampa. Rarely have plane trips been so enjoyable.

First, a few issues regarding the actual text itself. For a while now, OWC has been updating their look: matte covers rather than glossy, sometimes cropping cover images to look more modern, adding a white bar with the title at the bottom rather than the old school red banner at the top, etc. Unfortunately, they have not upgraded their absurdly-easy-to-smear print, which I feel would be a nice thing to do for customers who care more about the durability than the appearance of their books. This issue of quality, and the fact that I find OWC’s system of endnotes to be distracting while trying to enjoy a text, has made me more likely to purchase from Broadview if I want a critical edition of an older novel, but unfortunately, Broadview has yet to release a Fanny Hill. On an infinitely more superficial level, I am freaking tired of seeing Boucher’s “Resting Girl” every time I pick up pornography from days of yore. There are plenty of other risque images from the 18th century if one looks a little– and if OWC wasn’t going to use something from Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress, which would seem a natural choice, I can’t imagine why they didn’t pick something from, oh, one of the countless illustrated editions of Fanny Hill which aren’t exactly difficult to find (a quick Google search immediately yielded one NSFW site full of dirty pictures, another half-second’s worth of looking on wikipedia gives up a lone image from a collection by Edouard-Henri Avril). Many of those could be cropped down to something acceptable for a book cover– maybe not that particular Avril image, but there are others. So, just sayin’. On to more substantial matters!

The book is a good read. More and less filthy than I expected, Fanny Hill is not exactly one-handed reading, it’s instead one of those cultural oddities like Lost Girls, e.g. erotica for people who like to think in general and who also enjoy thinking specifically about the nature of arousal, what is and is not considered erotic throughout time, who like to occasionally be confronted with the discomfort that can arise from fantasy stemming from things that would be unacceptable in reality. So, yeah, I just wrote that ridiculously highbrow explanation for consuming vintage smut.

Certainly there are passages that read as pure pornography, including Fanny’s lesbian experiences, her voyeuristic observation of a prostitute servicing her lover, her later affair with the well-endowed manservant of her gentleman keeper Mr. H–, the bacchanal where Fanny yet again sells her virginity, the interlude where Fanny and a lusty sailor fuck in an inn. But there are doses of reality that interfere with pure enjoyment, especially for a modern individual, but that would likely have given most readers some degree of pause when it was published in 1748-1749 and then surreptitiously re-published and circulated before the Lady Chatterly’s Lover obscenity trial that made it widely available in the 20th century. For example, Fanny’s defloration is pretty grisly (like all other deflorations in the book, the pain the women experience is not glossed over, nor does it disappear after their first time), and then Fanny is raped by a gentleman while she is very depressed over miscarrying due to the shock of her true love being sent to the South Seas. In Volume Two, a fellow whore in a “cluck” of prostitutes Fanny becomes a part of tells of losing her virginity to a rapist, and another whore seduces a mentally handicapped young man, to name just a few things that made me say “huh.”

I haven’t read a lot of the academic criticism of Fanny Hill, though there have been many treatments of the book, including one by my personal academic heroine, Janet Todd. For myself, on both a critical and an uncritical level, I enjoyed it. I was personally unsettled by the casual way rape is discussed, and how women who are raped generally come to admire, if not love, their assailants, but given that Fanny Hill makes several references to Pamela, that sort of nonsense was not entirely surprising. I was also unhappy about the section toward the end of Volume Two that heaps vitriol upon male homosexuals, but it seems that John Cleland’s stint in debtors’ prison, where he wrote Fanny Hill, was due to a debt to Thomas Canon, who wrote a book called Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplified, so there might have been an ulterior motivation to discrediting practitioners of the art of buttfucking.

That said, lesbianism is at least given some page-time, as is female masturbation, and some sexual fetishes are also explored without excessive jokes at those men with “peculiar humours,” such as the gentleman with a love of hair-brushing. There is also a simply delightful encounter with a birching enthusiast named Mr. Barvile. Also, throughout it all Cleland loves nothing more than describing with notable enthusiasm the male “machine,” resulting in several descriptions such as the following:

. . . behold it now! crest-fall’n, reclining its half-capt vermillion head over one of his thighs, quiet, pliant, and to all appearance incapable of the mischiefs and cruelty it had committed. Then the beautiful growth of the hair, in short and soft curls around the root, its whiteness, branch’d veins, the supple softness of the shaft, as it lay forshorten’d, roll’d and shrunk up into a squob thickness, languid, and born up from between the thighs, by its globular appendage, that wondrous treasure-bag of nature’s sweets, which rivell’d round, and purs’d up in the only wrinkles that are known to please, perfected the prospect; and all together form’d the most interesting moving picture in nature. . .

or

I saw with wonder and surprize, what? not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a may-pole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant: its prodigious size made me shrink again: yet! I could not without pleasure behold, and even venture’d to feel, such a length! such a breadth of animated ivory, perfectly well turn’d and fashion’d, the proud stiffness of which distended its skin, whose smooth polish, and velvet-softness, might vye with that of the most delicate of our sex, and whose exquisite whiteness was not a little set off by a sprout of black curling hair round the root, through the jetty sprigs of which, the fair skin shew’d as, in a fine evening, you may have remark’d the clear light aether, through the branch-work of distant trees, over the topping the summit of a hill: then the broad and bluish-casted incarnate of the head, and blue serpentines of its veins, altogether compos’d the most striking assemblage of figure and colours in nature; in short, it stood an object of terror and delight.

Jesus Christ. Yes, the whole book is like that.

Overall, I am pleased that I took the time to read Fanny Hill. I think it is remarkable that, though obviously written by a man (and wholly man of his era in a number of ways), this work is presented first-person from the point of view of a woman, and treats frankly her delight in sex and sexuality, as well as her ability to separate sexual enjoyment from feelings of love. This is problematic at times, especially given the uncomfortable moments with rape and sexual abuse, but overall Fanny Hill really does present a stirring and somewhat innocently bawdy picture of 18th century sexuality. The text also does much to contradict notions that sexual enthusiasm outside of reproduction is something people discovered in the 20th century, and that women’s sexual enjoyment was neglected previous to the sexual revolution. Though Fanny’s (and the other women’s) carnal appetites are presented for the titillation of a male audience, it is interesting to note that the notion of old-timey British sexuality being somewhat repressed (“close your eyes and think of England”) is really a misinterpretation of Victorian propaganda. 18th century notions of female sexuality recognized that women masturbate, that women can be active participants in the sexual act, and can (and should) orgasm during sexual encounters. Those same notions often presented problems for women– for example, though the female orgasm was considered important, it was considered such because doctors thought women must orgasm to conceive, which in turn was used to discount women’s complaints of rape if they conceived, since if they conceived, they must have orgasmed, etc.– but they also created a world in which female sexuality was at least talked about, if often inaccurately.

So, all in all, time well spent.

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the imaginarium of doctor parnassus

January 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm (reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

I agree mostly with Nick Mamatas’ review of Doctor Parnassus but I’d like to do some of my own raking-over-the-coals because I just wasted a buy one, get one free pass to see it. Actually, scratch that– I didn’t waste a buy one, get one free pass, because this way, Terry Gilliam, who I was already loath to fund out-of-pocket because he signed the Free Roman Polanski petition of ’09, got less of my money.

Well, whatevs. The whole thing is essentially a carnival redux of Lady in the Water, in that Lady in the Water was a pointless, onanistic allegory about how misunderstood– nay, how veritably Christ-like– M. Night Shyamalan is for making movies as brilliant as Signs and, uh, The Village. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is basically the same movie even down to its hilarious racist stereotypes, except that it was vastly more boring, and also it casts Christopher Plummer as Terry Gilliam instead of Gilliam playing himself, which I suppose is a level of allegory-hiding I should appreciate since such, ah, nuance wasn’t deemed acceptable by Shyamalan.

The movie as a whole was bloated beyond excusability, coming in at 122 minutes according to the IMDB, and saying the film had 90 minutes of adequate material would be a stretch. There was not a single scene that couldn’t stand trimming, most notably anything involving CGI, because damn, even such films as Dragon Wars: D-War and Van Helsing looked better, if memory serves. There is a scene featuring a CGI Tom Waits as a sort of naga-ish thing that looked barely passable enough to be a villain in Charmed, and there is a scene featuring a CGI Christopher Plummer that would’ve been better-looking if they had gotten the animators from Monty Python to just draw the damn thing and just stuck it in there without rendering it. Jesus.

Moving from general problems to more specific ones: well, since I already mentioned the fact that Gilliam signed the Roman Polanski petition, let’s just say I was reminded unhappily of last summer’s traumatizing news cycle when shortly into the film the young-looking heroine proclaims loudly that she’s “16: THE AGE OF CONSENT” (direct quote). Awesome! Actually, best part is that as far as I could tell she was actually turning 16: THE AGE OF CONSENT, which would make her only 15, slightly under THE AGE OF CONSENT for most of the film, but that doesn’t stop Heath Ledger and Andrew Garfield leering over her.

So, that. And also: midget jokes, jokes about “politically correct” terminology for midgets, racist stereotypes of Russians, a midget in blackface, sexist stereotypes of women (what do women want? SHOES; also, to be home-makers), midgets cracking wise, a white dude playing an “Eastern” (?) sage, midgets making midget jokes, the age-old hilarity that is a man in a woman’s dress (a fat woman, no less!) and some incredibly subtle political commentary when a bunch of police officers roll up in miniskirts, fishnets, and high heels singing and dancing about how the racist Russian stereotypes should “join the police, [they] love violence.” Good fucking times.

On top of that, there’s an even weirder moment when the just-deflowered-by-Colin-Farrell-on-her-16th-birthday heroine proclaims angstily that “it’s a child, not a choice!” when looking at some sort of orphan. WTF? Was that a joke, or is Terry Gilliam sincerely a member of the pro-life movement? Neither option is particularly appealing, frankly.

What this all boils down to is that the film falls epically flat for a number of reasons. One, Gilliam spectacularly failed to make me care about any of the characters, thus why would I be invested in the deal-with-the-devil, the sacrifice of the shrill daughter, the romantic outcome? Two, the entire allegory of “a lovely man with such wonderful visions is tragically ignored by the masses because they just don’t appreciate what he has to offer” made my teeth hurt because Gilliam deserves pretty much every single piece of negative criticism he’s received regarding this film and much of everything else he’s done (my intelligence is still kind of hurt after the insults Gilliam hurled at it during The Brothers Grimm). And, given his uneven track record, he also kind of deserves to have studio executives be wary of giving him millions of dollars to make movies like, oh, say, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS because he has shown himself to be completely willing to blow fat wads of cash doing things like hiring Robin Williams to ruin The Adventures of Baron Munchasusen which was otherwise a perfectly lovely little confection of a film as far as I recall.

I really think Gilliam needs to wake up to the fact that racist stereotypes aren’t as amusing as I imagine they were felt to be during the Monty Python years, along with but not exclusively: shrill portrayals of women, cross dressing, slapstick, Robin Williams, people with lisps, people with limps.

I also think Gilliam needs to wake up to the fact that he is completely brilliant when it comes to set design, to spectacular visuals, baroque costumes and sight gags and lavish whimsical concoctions of sparkling, ethereal beauty. Doctor Parnassus had these, but it also had no plot, wooden characters, and a host of other problems. It hurt, because I was rooting for him. I wanted to like it, and I want Gilliam to do better than this because I know he can.

Maybe.

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koi kaze: against the grain (to say the least)

December 7, 2009 at 3:41 pm (this and that) (, , )

Here is a list of three true facts about relationships in modern Japan that I have learned from watching years of anime:

Read the rest of this entry »

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at the crossroads of desire and fear, we find such things as this

August 14, 2009 at 5:50 pm (reading, thinking) (, )

File this post under Lessons Not Learned and Coming Late to the Game, but oh well. I’ll eschew language such as “misogynistic butthole” this time, and keep my critiques at least somewhat serious from the get-go.

NOTE: see the original post here.

NOTE II: If you plan on reading John C. Wright’s Chronicles of Chaos trilogy, this post contains spoilers, as the kids say.

It seems that internet-savvy fantasy fans were understandably concerned by author John C. Wright’s, ah, troubling LiveJournal post of 7/29/09 (the author claims 800 comments were made on his LJ during the fervor, but they were deleted before the actual post itself was deleted). Given everything with my move to Boulder, and my general ignorance of the modern age (authors have blogs, you say? How fascinating!) I just yesterday found out about the whole hullaballoo via my friend Jesse, who alerted me to the controversy by saying something along the lines of “hey, check this out– isn’t this the guy who wrote that YA book with the spanking that you thought was pretty alright?” So yeah.

I am somewhat ambivalent about commenting on Mr. Wright’s post at all, given that the entire internet has already, and the blog entry in question smells strongly of attention-seeking (as well as some other, stronger scents), and also he has kind of maybe apologized maybe? But though I am potentially doing nothing but giving Mr. Wright exactly what he wants, I am going to take some time to say a few things on the subject of his rant about the SciFi channel’s decision to be more inclusive in their representation of human sexuality. I know that if Mr. Wright has Google Alerts set up for himself (and chooses to read this), he wouldn’t mind me commenting on his work. Given that I bought and I read Mr. Wright’s uneven Chronicles of Chaos trilogy and, since that Mr. Wright once referred to Atlas Shrugged as “really good,” and “a story written for readers who think as well as feel,” and infused the entire Chronicles of Chaos trilogy with Objectivist sentiment, I assume that, as a paying consumer, he would feel that I have a right to engage with my purchase on a critical level. Now, given his 2008 conversion to Catholicism, whether or not Mr. Wright is still an Objectivist is not clear to me, but that’s not really where I want to go with this post anyway. Everyone who knows me knows that if I get on the subject of Objectivism. . . well never mind. Better to stop here.

Moving right along, let’s get started with a sample of the rhetoric from Mr. Wright’s free-speech-protected-but-voluntarily-removed post:

“The head of Sci-Fi channel has contritely promised to include more homosex in future shows, and to do it nonchalantly, just as if this abomination is normal and natural and worthy of no comment.”

and:

“I’d like someone, anyone, to explain to me how my culture reached a position where a public entertainment company can be criticized for failing to contribute to the moral decay of the land, and that the criticism would be taken seriously, and the company would cringe and promise to do better.”

and finally, my fave:

“Why are you willing to tolerate sexual perversion but not racism? In a world with no standards, what makes a malfunction of love higher on your standard than a malfunction of hate? Is an irrational lust and longing to mimic the mating act with a sex with which one cannot mate, at its root, any more or less disconnected to reality than an irrational fear and hatred of a Negro? How do we know race-hate is not genetic? Look at how scorned and put-upon racists are! Can we spare them no cheap Leftist pity? Why don’t we simply call racism an alternate anti-ethnic orientation, similar to hetero-toleration, but different?”

Obviously, all of these statements are simply moral grandstanding and inflammatory polemic, more annoying than offensive and pointless to get mad about. And, to be fair, he did back down from some of that sort of language. That said, even bothering to type things like “moral decay”, “malfunction of love” and “abomination” are not the sorts of things people say when they are seeking to debate rationally with the “other side” (though Malfunction of Love would be a truly great album title if it isn’t already– the album art should have a robot sitting dejectedly in a henhouse, in my opinion).

My point in listing all of these things is not to talk about whether or not Mr. Wright is homophobic, or whether his alleged olive-branch-extending in subsequent posts makes all those statements okay (in fact, I do not think it does, given that, in his own words, after seeking to be more “temperate” in his language toward the gay community, Mr. Wright had this to say: “homosexuality is a sexual perversion, like incest, like any other disordered intemperate appetite– but a person afflicted with this (the man, not the sin) temptation leads a hard life, and it is not my place to make his life harder by using hard words against him.” How sweet.) Rather, my point is to address the fact that the language of his original post is, rather, the kind of stuff people say for one of two reasons. The first is when they are trying to goad people into anger. The second–as I suspect is the case here–is to allow people to gain credibility among their own after being an “outsider” as Mr. Wright was until so very recently. All this aside, here is the heart of what struck me as fascinating in Mr. Wright’s post:

“I am hoping, of course, that future shows will also portray sadomasochism and bondage in a positive light — we are all looking forward to FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO GOR, I hope. Love affairs with corpses, small children, and farm animals will also be on display in a natural nonchalant fashion in the new raft of progressive shows, titles such as I DREAM OF STINKY, PEDERASTY JUNCTION, and OLD MACDONALD HAD A SHEEP — but no Mormons, whose moral standing we all abhor. The only good thing about Mormons, as we all know, is their polygamy. That we can approve of. Anything that offends the Patriarchy, we like. Evil is our good.”

Backing well away from the end of that paragraph, I instead seek to bring all eyes to the first clause of the first sentence: “I am hoping, of course, that future shows will also portray sadomasochism and bondage in a positive light.”

This statement wouldn’t be unusual in most rants of this sort, except for the fact that Mr. Wright has himself penned a novel that portrays aspects of BDSM “in a positive light.” Or a least in a pretty hot light (perhaps it was written during a time when Mr. Wright considered himself to be a “card-carrying sexual libertarian,” a traumatizing image given most of the libertarians I’ve known). For those of you not familiar with the Chaos series, they are based on the (genuinely) neat premise of a war among the Greek gods after Zeus dies, since the Aegis-Bearer leaves no clear heir. They are, in my opinion of the classic “great idea, poor execution” syndrome, but that’s okay. During the novels five kids– four Titan-born, one human– are caught in the balance of powers that be, held hostage in perpetual, amnesiac childhood at a British prep school run by minor deities and other figures from Greek mythology. And in the first one, at least, Mr. Wright deliberately addresses the fact that teenagers– especially cooped-up teenagers– often have to deal with strong sexual feelings, something that other such books (I’m looking at you, Ms. Rowling) fail to realistically discuss.

Now, Mr. Wright has said several times that most of his books were written before his conversion to Catholicism in order to, I suspect, excuse the sexual content of them in light of his new moral views. See, the first book in his Chaos trilogy, Orphans of Chaos (which I thought was a decent read–the second two, not so much), incorporates several BDSM-friendly scenes into what is, by all accounts, a young adult novel.

I came to Orphans not expecting BDSM-tinged writing. I came to Orphans after seeing the cover of the third in the series– a levitating girl in a plaid skirt and an aviator cap, yes please– and the knowledge that it was deeply steeped in Greek myths and legends which are, ah, vaguely of interest to me. Reading Orphans, however, I was surprised by a few things, but most of all by two scenes that jumped out as being different, interesting, and probably exciting and potentially normalizing for BDSM-inclined teens and adults. In the first, the female main character is convinced by her friend to hike up her school-girl’s skirt and provocatively arrange her blouse in order to serve a group of males, and finds the experience of servitude to be uncomfortable, but still appealing. Afterwards, she is bound by an aggressive boy who secures her with a miniature reproduction of the Gordian knot, and sexually menaced until another character comes along and diffuses the situation. Later in the book, the same character is disciplined by her headmaster with a spanking, in which she is not only, if I recall correctly, placed OTK (look it up) and repeatedly smacked on the bottom by an older male, but she is also forced to count the spanks out loud.

Yeah, it was pretty alright.

I want to attempt to bring together this whole post with a digression. Sometimes (not all the time, of course), when vegetarians or vegans abandon their dietary ethics and return to the omnivorous fold, so to speak, they overcompensate. They make youtube videos fetishizing ham, or write magazine articles about experiencing the raptures of eating dog meat, or post opinion pieces in their local paper about the benefits of ethical omnivorism, claiming vague things like “as a vegan, I just felt sick all the time” or “my doctor said I needed to eat fish protein to be healthy” or whatever (these are all things I’ve seen on the internet, by the way, I’m just too lazy to find the links). Anywho, they turn their move away from vegetarianism into some kind of public service, loudly proclaiming to the world that they know now that they were wrong, wrong, wrong, and please forgive them for their errant ways. They’ll rhapsodize about all kinds of meats– they’re just so tasty!–all so that they can once again be accepted by their peers and not looked at askance for once being part of something fringe, because they’re all better now. The tables have been turned, and they’ve been cured by bacon. They have to make sure everyone understands that they’re no longer “weird” and have, you know, grown out of all of that stuff.

I see this same posturing in Mr. Wright’s post about the oh-so-terrible notion that the Sci Fi channel might, sometime, somehow portray bondage in a positive light– whether or not he was, you know, totally kidding, or not. During the scenes I noted above, Orphans reads as just as much an “insider” text as Anne Rice’s Beauty trilogy (though I suspect Mr. Wright Topped during any spanky-panky that he might have engaged in during the before time, in the long long ago), but now that he can comment from a position of moral correctness, he has to turn a full 180 degrees and declare any and all such acts to be Too Too Terrible and Oh So Wrong– on par with “homosex” even! I wonder if he considers consensual BDSM play as the actions of “persons with serious sexual-psychological malfunctions?” Because it’s pretty easy to spot writing intended to be genuinely erotic when it’s penned by people without at least a healthy interest in the practices they describe, and Orphans. . . well, it seemed pretty honest to me, and I read a good deal of smut. Mr. Wright did indeed write of himself in a more-recent, still-available blog post, that “[his] own humiliating experience with fighting temptation warns [him] that human beings are not made of stern stuff” so maybe it’s just that he’s a switch now?

Even if we disregard the disturbing nastiness toward the gay community, the BDSM comment makes it very much seem like Mr. Wright needed to prove something when he wrote that post. In order to gain acceptance where he now desires it so much, he just had to get in the jab at all those terrible people with their paddles and ropes and collars and restraints (buy yours cruelty-free from Vegan Erotica!) and their private goings-on. Why? Because he’s certainly not one of them. He knows better. And thus, he can tell us all just how degenerate such things are, and, you know, Wrong.

Nah. It seems that, if I may hazard a guess, it’s still too painful for Mr. Wright to consider anything so BDSM-friendly as turning the other cheek. . .

But hey, let’s talk about something more important. Sci Fi Channel? If you guys wanted to change your name back from the utterly loathsome “SyFy” handle you just rolled out, and also make Flash Gordon’s Trip to Gor, you’d have at least one viewer. Actually, if you could make it Barbarella’s Trip to Gor, it would probably be even better. Maybe you could get Rose McGowan after she finishes filming Red Sonja? Make it, but don’t send an advance copy to Mr. Wright. I think it might bother him. I heard he hasn’t skied in ages.

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independent readers

July 6, 2009 at 3:33 pm (reading, thinking) (, )

Yesterday I was in Borders trying to find Lirael, the sequel to Garth Nix’s faboo Sabriel that I devoured at the end of last semester instead of spending my time more productively translating Plato’s Apology. Sabriel was awesome, pretty much everything I could want in a novel– in brief, a teenaged necromancer with a pale skin and black hair and a glowing, rune-covered sword battles the forces of evil with a bandolier of silver bells that send the dead back to where the dead should be. And a talking cat. YES! Despite falling victim to what I consider to be the most overused of fantasy tropes (which I will not discuss here due to the fact that to talk about it would be a Serious Spoiler for future readers) I found it extremely pleasing to my sensibilities and I am anticipating hearing Nix speak at World Fantasy Con this October.

This post, however, is not about Sabriel, nor is it about my disappointment that Borders didn’t have Lirael. Instead, it is about book marketing and something strange in Borders.

The subject of this post might be something quite old in the world of book marketing but it is news to me because I usually don’t shop at Borders. I usually order everything online, mostly because I purchase research materials that are rare or out of print and Abe Books and Amazon’s independent sellers tend to do better for me. But after hearing from an author friend that it’s better to buy books from places like Borders (or, of course, independent booksellers if you have one) so they’ll be sure to carry author’s next works, I decided to go.

Thinking that Sabriel would be considered Young Adult fiction, I walked in the general direction of the children’s area only to find that instead of finding Young Adult, I found a section called Independent Readers. It contained some famous youth-oriented fantasy books (Harry Potter, etc.) marked with an indicator of age level. Despite the problematic nature of ranking books according to age due to some mythical idea of when books are appropriate for young readers (which is a whole ‘nother post), I figured this was NewSpeak for Young Adult and commenced looking around only to be baffled by an absence of Nix. I found J.K. Rowling, I found Philip  Pullman, I found C. S. Lewis. No Nix. So, thinking perhaps that Sabriel was in with the grown-up fantasy, I trekked across the store. I found Gaiman, I found Maguire, I found Pullman (same books, fancier, more adult-oriented covers), but still Nix was nowhere to be seen.

Frustrated at that point, I addressed one of the employees. The young man in question gave me the “are you daft?” look that disaffected bookstore employees and baristas everywhere give to customers who ask them questions (from my porch I shake my cane at the world, disturbing many a cat), and led me to a different section of the bookstore, the Young Adult  section proper.

There I did find Nix (though not the Nix I desired) and a host of other books, including Gaiman’s Stardust, an entire ocean of the Twilight series in hardcover, and Libba Bray’s corseted Gemma Doyle novels. For the life of me I could not figure out why these merited their own section apart from Rowling and Pullman, since the literary stylings of Stephenie Meyer’s novels are, shall we say, less complicated than, for example, The Amber Spyglass, and her subject matter is, perhaps, less profound (“Did the cute boy come to school today?” versus “What is the nature of the soul? What is death? What makes children different than adults?”). The same for A Great and Terrible Beauty, which is also less emotionally and syntactically complicated than Pullman (but which I genuinely enjoyed after purchasing it solely on the basis of its cover).

Then it struck me: the thing that StardustSabriel, Twilight, and the Gemma Doyle books all have in common is that they all have sex in them. Though the sex scene in Sabriel is mild, it is still present and accounted for much moreso than the mention of sexuality in His Dark Materials (though they perhaps get points for mentioning genital mutilation and being children’s novels) or in any of the Narnia books. Due to grad school I have been severely behind on all fiction reading, and most notably my YA reading (which is sad, because YA fantasy novels are generally my favorite), so few of the other titles were familiar to me, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. And the less it made sense, given that I know that as a kid (or as kids seem to be called these days, “independent readers”) I would have been a heck of a lot more disturbed by the death and violence in the Harry Potter books and the Pullman novels than any of the makeout-sexy-time in the YA novels in Borders. Except for Twilight, but this is neither the time nor the place to discuss that particular grab-bag of oddness.

Anyways, I wonder if my hunch is correct, and that sexuality is the signifier of Young Adult Fiction these days. If I am right, and sex has become that line in the sand, it seems really weird. I don’t know if it’s my own preference for sex over violence (call me crazy) but it seems weird to me, and really arbitrary. I wonder if Borders got a lot of letters from parents complaining that the makeouts in some Young Adult books were just too adult for their tween? I know that as a kid who grew up before the era of the nebulous “Independent Reader” section at Borders, I really appreciated YA fiction that included both sexuality and violence because those are things that are a part of life, and deserve inclusion in literature for thinking people of various ages. I think the stakes are even higher for YA/Independent Readers, since (dealing with sexuality specifically, since most kids won’t ever need to worry about taking up their father or mother’s sword to battle evil) books aimed at that age group will model for kids what sexuality could look like in the future, and thus I think the best books for are ones that deal with that subject intelligently.

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late to the party

January 30, 2009 at 5:00 pm (thinking, this and that) (, , )

Last night John and I watched a bunch of Troy. We will finish it, butJohn’s assessment that the film is “a hate crime against intelligence” is woefully accurate. I don’t understand what on earth anyone was thinking when that movie was made. With one slight exception Troy is uniformly horrible: the scene where the Trojans attack the Greek fleet with what appear to be flaming tumbleweeds is pretty alright.

I recently got into a discussion with Jesse on his blog about whether adaptations should be critiqued on their obedience to their source text, and while I do tend to defend loose adaptations, they at least have to be good in their own right. I like the Iliad quite a bit, and I have read it enough to know that it would make an awful movie if someone were to simply film it unaltered. It’s too disjointed as a whole, given its nature, and so I would absolutley support a liberal adaptation of the events. But not Troy. No. Menelaus is not killed by Hector, nor is Big Ajax killed by Hector for that matter, and Achilles is not smarter than all the Greeks because he is an atheist. Also: Boromir as Odysseus? What? Why can’t they make a good Greek epic anymore? I have little hope for the new Clash of the Titans now that Sam Raimi isn’t directing and Bruce Campbell isn’t playing Zeus.

In other news, I finished Sense and Sensibility and I think I’ll most likely writing my paper on it. I’ve begun Northanger Abbey and it’s really weird, I don’t feel like I’m reading Jane Austen. I think I’m going to try to find the time to type up an idea for a short story I’m fuddling with in my brain.

In an  hour or so I’m meeting a colleague for lunch and then getting a haircut and then hopefully getting in a nap before I get up with some friends this evening. I really need an extra snooze, I’m tired this week.

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nothing like a truly awful movie

January 4, 2009 at 6:17 pm (this and that) ()

. . . to aid in ear-stretching. While watching Babylon A.D. last night I managed to get my left ear up to 1g! Man, was the movie bad, though. Vin, what happened to you? Why? Did you really need the money that badly? 

I really really don’t know what Babylon A.D. was about other than Vin Diesel helping a kung-fu nun played by Michelle Yeoh get a pregnant robot virgin to America at the behest of an evil religious corporation and a Russian man with uneven eyebrows? But maybe she was not a robot? The beginning was dumb, the middle was boring, and the ending made no sense. So all in all, wow.

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the dreaming body that he daily plundered

December 31, 2008 at 12:20 pm (reading) (, , )

The Love-Artist

Jane Alison

 

A few weeks ago Jesse and I were discussing the difference between “predictable” and “inevitable” as applied to literature and film (a conversation inspired by the new Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In), and we sort-of decided that the only real difference between the two was that movies or books we liked were “inevitable” and those we did not care for were “predictable.” 

With that in mind I will describe The Love Artist as somewhere in between. While reading it I found myself wondering if it were a first novel, and a review I read upon completing it verified my suspicions. Nothing in particular gives this away; Alison’s prose is fantastic in both senses of the word. She is a writer who has the ability to conjure lush, real landscapes as well as the dreamy weirdness of visions and portents. Yet, with all her manifest skill at setting she fell short for me with character.

Though I enjoyed the novel it failed to capture my wholehearted interest, and I feel it should have. As an audience, I share many of the same passions as the author. I like historical fiction. I have a deep love of Ovid’s works, specifically his Metamorphoses, I enjoy stories with witchy elements, strong female characters, Medea, and, additionally, I’ve been to the Black Sea; but The Love Artist made me wonder why I should care about anything that happened to the characters over the course of the book. I found them to be flat and on the whole unsympathetic, and their motivations obscure. Alison seemed to give more time to establishing how Ovid looked (with frequent repetition of such details as the color of his eyes, the leanness of his frame) than why he does what he does, and I also found  that she relied too much on the stereotype/archetype of the witch (another debate of wording, such as predictable vs. inevitable) rather than giving Xenia a meaningful personality that might temper Alison’s choice of giving her such a cringeworthy name. 

I could never fully grasp why the characters behaved as they did for much of the novel, I think in part because their motivations were so mundane it astonished me. Ovid, once he has his muse and is back in Rome, becomes a hound-dog again, powerless to resist the jewel-bright charms of Roman women, flirting and lying for no really good reason. Xenia comes across as petty and jealous because a jealous woman is an excellent literary device to drive forward a plot. I am fully aware that Alison was in part basing the novel on Medea but at times that decision seemed lazy and made the characters one-dimensional, they never went beyond the expectations of their source material. I also felt that Alison made the mistake of thinking the reader would care about Ovid simply because he is Ovid and not for any more compelling reason, and Xenia because she is a spooky witch wronged by patriarchy and everyone loves a spooky witch wronged by patriarchy.

Perhaps the most troubling thing about The Love- Artist was Alison’s decision to give her all-knowing prophetic witch “blind spots” in her vision, all conveniently located to allow the machinations of the characters to come into bloom. This screamed literary device in the worst way, and I think she could have found a better means to deal with wishing a slow reveal, even just making Xenia unwilling to see her own fate. This goes to show that Alison’s manipulation of suspense was nonexistent– there were no surprises. Most egregiously: the first chapter has three sections– Ovid, Xenia, and Julia, granddaughter of Caesar Augustus. Later we stop hearing much of Julia and Ovid obtains a powerful female patroness in Rome. Who could it be? Again, we return to inevitable vs. predictable. 

All in all, The Love-Artist was exactly like the photograph on its cover– lush, initially hypnotic, but superficial and given to an unfortunate privileging of the exotic. I enjoyed reading it but was left wanting more.

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the soul must see through the body’s eyes

December 26, 2008 at 4:39 pm (reading) (, , )

Day of The Minotaur

Thomas Burnett Swann


Day of the Minotaur was a Christmas present from my friend Jesse. This delightful cover greeted me when I unwrapped my gift:

minoans are clearly stacked as hell

minoans are clearly stacked as hell

The author apparently held a Ph.D in literature from University of Florida and taught at Florida Southern University. The most I can say of his writing is that his love of classical mythology is obvious throughout the book. Otherwise, frankly, I am at a loss to say anything much about his style. Calling his prose purple would be unfair, so I’ll settle on calling it lavender as Day of the Minotaur lacked the sensual opulence found in someone like Clark Ashton Smith or the teeth of Angela Carter. 

I make the comparison because all three of these authors take mythology and make it their own. Smith and Carter create alternative histories in glorious, sometimes disturbing ways. In stark contrast Swann neuters the myths he appropriates, making them less vital and compelling than their classical incarnations, limited by his own stereotypical, constricting ideas of gender and his own manifest desire to rut with dryads. While Angela Carter can take a well-known myth and re-kindle the fear or trepidation a reader felt when hearing the original by giving it a fresh face, Swann instead made me wish I was instead reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology or just staring at a wall. It feels unspeakably cruel to compare anyone to Piers Anthony, but reading Day of the Minotaur was less like being transported to the ancient world and more like an unpleasant reminder of how many hours I spent in Xanth as a kid before I realized that creepy books written by older guys about young girls and their panties made me uncomfortable for good reason. I’m pretty sure Piers took a page from Day of the Minotaur and that makes me feel a little bit bad for Swann but not much.

its funny because its true

it's funny because it's true

At any rate, Swann seems to be a particularly icky letch, the kind who lacks the courage of his convictions. Or something. I can get down with stories written by icky letches, mind you, but they have to deliver the goods. Swann doesn’t. He describes the barely 16-year old love-interest Thea as “ripe for marriage” but doesn’t have the stones to deflower her with his pen. Instead of hot raunchy minotaur sex, which would actually be entertaining, we get long passages of dialogue like this scene between Icarus, a half-dryad Minoan prince, and Eunostos, the minotaur narrator:

“You and Zoe used to be more than friends, didn’t you?”

I nodded, with perhaps the hint of a smirk.

“And other women too,” he continued. “You must have had hundreds. You’re just what they like. A regular bull of a man.”

Almost of itself, my chest expanded to its full dimensions, my tail twitched, my flanks felt the urge to strut. “It’s true that one kind likes me. Free-living women.”

“One kind admits she likes you. Secretly, all of them do. Look at Thea.”

The subject intrigued me. “Thea, you say?”

“Can’t take her eyes off you. But frankly, the other, non-sisterly kind interests me more. I don’t feel up to a long, exhausting courtship. I’m not as young as I was. That’s why I want you to take me wenching.”

Ouch. Such interactions pervade the action of the novel, bringing as much pain to the reader’s mind as they obviously brought something else to the author’s lower regions, as Eunostos is nothing more than Swann’s vaugely bovine proxy. Eunostos/Swann’s discussions of “wenching” (ugh) and drinking and good clean forest revelry do little to recall any scenes in the classical literature from which he draws his iconography and instead do more to make his world seem like a particularly annoying multispecies commune, which makes sense given the 1966 publishing date. 

Although on some level it feels unnecessary and a touch mean-spirited  to heavily critique a fantasy novel written over 30 years ago, there is something to be said for examining such problematic material. Swann’s Day of the Minotaur demonstrates beautifully how problematic it can be to set modern-sounding characters in the historical past, even when that past is deliberately fictionalized. Thea’s obsession with redecorating Eunostos’ lair and giving him a makeover makes her less of an ethereal half-human wood-maiden and more the shrill stereotype she really is. Ajax, the Achaean villain, feels more like a quasi-medieval feudal overlord from a fantasy novel than a brash Homeric warrior. Swann’s minotaur also feels too modern, even with his hooves and horns, a dorky swaggering beast-man who brings to mind dudes who hang around hostels hoping to score with drunk girls rather than the fearsome man-eating terror of Minos’ labyrinth. It’s sad that Burnett’s novel is so bland, because his concept is interesting and he clearly knows his subject. His problem is his own desires come out too much, make his personal fantasies too obvious to the reader. I felt embarrassed reading Day of the Minotaur, like I was intruding into Burnett’s private sex-dreams where he’s a seven-foot tall Casanova of the Woodland Realms. And that’s no place I wanted to be.

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