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Mari Ness

Fiction and Excerpts [3]
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Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Fish Parenting and Disability: Finding Nemo

“Fish are friends, not food!”

Before we get into this post, I must make a quick confession: of all of the Pixar films, this is probably the one I resent the most. Not because of anything actually in the film, I must say, but because of what has happened to aquaria since the film’s release: Hordes of little children squeaking “NEMO NEMO NEMO LOOK IT’S NEMO” even when the clownfish in question are OBVIOUSLY NOT NEMO SINCE THEIR FINS ARE PERFECTLY FINE SOMETHING YOU MIGHT HAVE NOTICED, KIDS, IF YOU WEREN’T SO BUSY SQUEAKING “NEMO!”

And that’s before we get into what this film did to one of the Epcot rides.

And with that out of my system, onto Finding Nemo.

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Fairy Tales, Forward and Reverse: Marilyn Singer’s Mirror, Mirror

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I have a slight—just slight—obsession with formal and experimental poetry. It’s not a problem, really, no matter what any of them might be hinting. (You should also all ignore the story about me rolling right into a wall while trying to work out a final line for a villanelle because although it’s absolutely true that I was too engrossed in that thought to see, well, a wall, it’s also equally true that this or something like it has only happened maybe once. Ok. Maybe ten times. But who is counting?)

Combine formal or experimental poetry with fairy tales, and you have me.

Even if those poems are tucked away in a children’s picture book.

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She Doesn’t Always Get Away: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

It’s such a kind, cuddly story—three cute bears with a rather alarming obsession with porridge and taking long healthy walks in the woods (really, bears, is this any example to set to small children), one small golden haired girl who is just hungry and tired and doesn’t want porridge that burns her mouth—a perfectly understandable feeling, really.

Or at least, it’s a kind cuddly story now.

In the earliest written version, the bears set Goldilocks on fire.

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Guilt and a Lack of Social Mobility: The Red Shoes

I’ve talked quite a bit here about fairy tales I’ve loved.

Time to talk about a fairy tale I’ve hated, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes.”

Hans Christian Andersen is generally renowned for his magical, exquisite images, for moments where a mermaid learns to walk on land and fall in love with a prince, or a young girl struggles through flowers, thieves and snow to save her childhood friend through her tears. But this beauty is often mixed with cruelty, and in some cases, his tales seem to have nothing but cruelty, even when they have a happy ending of sorts—with “The Red Shoes” as one of the primary examples of this.

I’d forgotten, until reading this, just how many pairs of red shoes this story has—not just the famous pair at the heart of the tale, but two more. Indeed, although packaged as a story of redemption, this is just as much a story about footwear and feet.

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Fur, Comedy, and Lawsuits: Monsters, Inc.

By 2000, Pixar was doing well enough that Steve Jobs finally—finally—agreed to let the company move from its then-shoddy offices in a questionable neighborhood to a brand new production facility. Taking advice from old Disney hands, who remembered the way that an earlier change in production facilities had led to less communication and creativity between artists, Pixar created a large, open space that would, the company hoped, encourage conversation and collaboration. And just in time—Pixar had new projects in the works that presented new technical challenges, including animating individual strands of fur and creating a new underwater world. No longer content with studying fantastic parts of the regular world, Pixar was now ready to create an entirely new world of its own, inhabited by monsters. Friendly monsters, at that.

If the studio could manage the fur.

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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.

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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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