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Mari Ness

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

When Real Life Is Juicier Than Fairy Tale Fiction: Edmund Gordon’s The Invention of Angela Carter

At the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) this year, I had only one answer to the inevitable question of “What are you reading now/What was the last book you read that you were actually excited about?”

“This new biography of Angela Carter! You have to read it! She was such a horrible person and it’s amazing.

I think the only other creative thing I expressed that much excitement about at ICFA was Voltron: Legendary Defender. Well, and maybe some of the booze. So I thought I should probably post about the book here.

Strictly speaking, The Invention of Angela Carter: a Biography is more a sifting through and weighing of the various truths and lies surrounding the life of Angela Carter—some from Carter herself, some from friends. Carter liked to create and recreate herself, both in her admitted fiction and her less admitted nonfiction, a process that often included telling strongly disputed stories about events in her past. Biographer Edmund Gordon set himself to the task of examining her life, and giving the most straightforward version he could.

[Read more]

Even Toys Have Responsibilities: Character Growth in Toy Story 2

For decades, Disney executives never bothered with sequels, apart from the occasional follow-up to an unusual project (The Three Caballeros, which if not exactly a sequel, was meant to follow up Saludos Amigos), or cartoon short (the Winnie the Pooh cartoons in the 1960s.) But in the late 1980s, struggling for ideas that could squeak by the hostile eye of then-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, animators proposed creating a full length animated sequel to the studio’s only real success from the 1970s—The Rescuers.

The result, The Rescuers Down Under, provided an opportunity for Disney to test out its new CAPS software, and if not exactly a box office blockbuster, did at least earn back its costs. And it happened to coincide with a sudden growth in the VCR market, along with cheaply made, direct-to-video films. The combination gave Disney executives an idea: cheap, direct to video sequels of their most popular films that could also be shown on their broadcast and cable networks.

[This all eventually leads us to Pixar. I promise.]

Questioning History Through Fairy Tale: Anatole France’s The Seven Wives of Bluebeard

It might seem just a touch difficult to defend Bluebeard. After all, if Charles Perrault is to be trusted—and we do trust him completely on the subject of talking cats—Bluebeard not only murdered several previous wives, but stored their corpses in a most unsanitary fashion.

And yet, some have noticed, shall we say, a touch of inconsistency in Perrault’s record, a few discrepancies that cannot be explained. Others, apparently, love the idea of a guy who is unafraid to have some bold color on his face. And so, Bluebeard has gained his defenders over the years—including one winner of the Noble Prize for Literature, Anatole France.

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Writing Fairy Tales in Dialect: Giambattista Basile’s Il Pentameron

One name that I keep encountering during these fairy tale posts is that of 16th/17th century Italian courtier, poet and lyricist Giambattista Basile. Most of Basile’s work was never translated into English, and has fallen into obscurity even in his native country, with one exception: his posthumous fairy tale collection Lo cunto de li cunti overo lo trattenemiento de peccerille (The Story of Stories, or Entertainment for Little Ones) better known to us today as Il Pentamerone.

The five volumes contain early versions of several European fairy tales, with a Cinderella who murders one of her two stepmothers (this is great), a Rapunzel who summons a wolf to gobble up the ogre who has imprisoned her (this is also great), a Sleeping Beauty who fails to wake up from a kiss and is instead raped in her sleep (this is less great), along with irritated observations about court life in southern Italy (Basile was not a fan), humanity (Basile was also not a fan) and anyone not lucky enough to be Italian, and more specifically, from the Neapolitan region (Basile was seriously not a fan). Brutal, vicious, often racist, and filled with terrible puns, they are not the versions most familiar to us today, in part because many writers and editors who encountered the tales seem to have had the same reaction: I so need to rewrite these.

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A Gaslighting Fairy Tale: King Thrushbeard

The tale of “King Thrushbeard” begins with a woman assessing, often cruelly, a group of suitors assembled in her honor. From her viewpoint, she has reason: every man there has visible flaws, in particular, a man with a slightly crooked chin, which she compares to a thrush’s beak.

It ends with her crying in a staircase, right before she is dressed up for a royal party.

In between this, things are not all that much more cheerful.

[Gaslighting a fairy tale princess]

Visually Stunning, Creatively Muddled: NBC’s Emerald City

When we last left NBC’s Emerald City, we were two hours into an often confusing, but gloriously shot and richly colored new look at Oz, that magical and weird place created by L. Frank Baum back in the early days of the 20th century.

How has the rest of the series gone?

I’d have to say, mixed.

[Major spoilers for the entire series, and a few words on Dorothy]

Deceptions and Satire: The Emperor’s New Clothes

I’d intended to have the next few posts focus on some of the other French salon fairy tale writers, or perhaps Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie’s retellings, or some of the stories of Nobel Prize winner Anatole France, or even the bitter, fierce yet hopeful collection The Armless Maiden, edited by Terri Windling. And posts on all of those, and more, are coming.

But for the past few weeks—since January 20, to be exact—I’ve found myself thinking of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

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Insects and Corporate Infighting: A Bug’s Life

In its initial release, A Bug’s Life had the dubious fortune of getting released in a year with not one, but two computer animated films about bugs, a deliberately created rivalry that did neither film any favors. Since then, A Bug’s Life has had the dubious honor of being perhaps the least remembered of the Pixar films, and perhaps the least regarded—depending upon how you feel about the various Cars films and, more recently, The Good Dinosaur—rarely if ever listed among the Pixar “greats.” At the time, however, it was proof that just maybe Pixar could be more than a one film wonder.

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A Fairy Tale Warning: Little Red Riding Hood

In most of the pictures, she looks so innocent. So young. So adorable, with her little red hood and basket. (Though in some adult costuming contexts, she looks more than ready to party.) In some illustrations she’s six, at most, in others, ten—old enough to be sent on errands through the forest, especially errands of mercy to a beloved grandmother.

In the original tale, she dies.

[Read more]

The Pixar Rewatch: Breaking New Ground with Toy Story

Pixar did not start out intending to make films. The company was founded back in the late 1970s as part of Lucasfilm, as a division called The Graphics Group, dedicated to exploring just how the still relatively new computers might be used to improve films. This, oh readers, was back not just in the days of floppy discs and the days when 1 meg of ram for a home computer was completely unheard of, but also things like punch cards and early DOS and….you know, just thinking about this is depressing. Let’s just say that although computers had potential—something George Lucas was among the first to recognize—they had a long way to go before they could transform films all that much—something George Lucas was a little less willing to recognize.

But even Lucas could recognize the limitations of computer technology at the time. Instead of trying to have his computer experts create the entire film, he sent them to work with one of the Lucasfilm subsidiaries: Industrial Light and Magic. A subsidiary initially founded to help create the special effects sequences in Star Wars (1977), Industrial Light and Magic soon found itself juggling numerous projects from other film studios impressed by their digital effects and rendering work, and trying to find ways both to improve on this work and—a biggie—save money while doing so.

[A brief history of Pixar and Toy Story]

Challenging Gender Norms: The Brothers Grimm and The Twelve Huntsmen

Some English translations of Household Tales, aka The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, place “The Twelve Huntsmen” in the front. Some hide the tale in the center, and others omit the story altogether. Rather befitting a story that, although definitely collected by the Grimms, in many ways seems to be the complete antithesis of what they originally hoped to do with their fairy tale collection—both in the original edition, most definitely not edited or published with children in mind, and the later editions, which were.

[A story of cross-dressing and magical lions]

Fairy Passages: Madame d’Aulnoy

A number of the posts that I’ve done here at—from Oz to Narnia to Disney retellings to what ABC would like you to believe are the “real” stories of Once Upon a Time—have featured fairylands and fairies in one way or another. So, the powers that be at and I thought it might not be a bad idea to explore the lands of fairy tale just a little bit more, looking at various fairy tales and their tellers and retellers through the centuries, in no particular order, including medieval tales, Victorian tales, and modern retellings.

And although I said “no particular order,” it’s probably not a bad idea to start with the woman who gave us the term “contes des fees,” or fairy tales, Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy, better known to English readers as Madame d’Aulnoy.

[Using fairy tales to speak to power]

Dark, But Not Quite Weird Enough: NBC’s Emerald City

So, after watching rival ABC launch more or less successful ten episode fantasy/superhero shows over the past few years, NBC decided to launch one of its own this year, Emerald City, described by eager publicists as “Game of Thrones Meets The Wizard of Oz.”

I rubbed my hands gleefully and told that I had to watch anything that sounded this awful. Had to. If only as part of my responsibility as’s Resident Oz Expert.

[To my surprise, it wasn’t that awful.]