The Golden Apple of Shangri-La September 23, 2014 The Golden Apple of Shangri-La David Barnett A Gideon Smith story. Selfies September 17, 2014 Selfies Lavie Tidhar Smile for the camera. When Gods and Vampires Roamed Miami September 16, 2014 When Gods and Vampires Roamed Miami Kendare Blake A Goddess Wars story As Good As New September 10, 2014 As Good As New Charlie Jane Anders She has three chances to save the world.
From The Blog
September 23, 2014
It’s All About the Benjamins in Sleepy Hollow: “This is War”
Leah Schnelbach
September 23, 2014
The Death of Adulthood in American Culture: Nerd Culture Edition
Lindsay Ellis
September 22, 2014
Five Brilliant Things About Doctor Who “Time Heist”
Paul Cornell
September 19, 2014
“WCKD is Good,” But The Maze Runner is Bad
Natalie Zutter
September 17, 2014
How Goldfinger Bound Sci-Fi to James Bond
Ryan Britt
Showing posts by: mari ness click to see mari ness's profile
May 1 2014 12:30pm

Fairy Tale as Sarcasm: The Water-Babies

Jessie Wilcox Smith The Water Babies

“...there are dozens and hundreds of things in the world which we should certainly have said were contrary to nature, if we did not see them going on under our eyes all day long.”

The Table of Contents for Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies, a Fairy Tale for a Land Baby (1863) scared me, promising me, as it does, a Moral at the end of a book—a Moral that, moreover, lasts for a full chapter.

Unlike the Duchess of Wonderland, I am not fond of morals, wherever they appear in a book, which makes me even less fond of chapters labelled as “Moral.”  And I am very suspicious of any book that cheerfully tells me that no, no it doesn't have any morals at all, since it's a fairy tale, only to end up with an entire chapter called “Moral.”

[Fairy tale as social satire. Major spoilers.]

Apr 24 2014 4:00pm

How Not to Write for Both Children and Adults: Sylvie and Bruno

I was first handed Sylvie and Bruno when I was an eager kid just coming off of Alice in Wonderland, certain—certain—that this omnibus edition of Lewis Carroll, which the cover said contained everything that Carroll ever wrote (which turned out to be true; it even included various mathematical puzzles) would be sure to have lots and lots of jokes and funny conversations and funny poems and would be the best thing ever.

As I have noted in these rereads, my expectations are frequently wrong.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have something to say about it and its sequel Sylvie and Bruno Completed.

[Not, perhaps, a kindly something, but something.]

Apr 17 2014 3:00pm

More Logic, Wordplay, and Mirrors: Through the Looking Glass

Six years after sending a curious girl through a land of mathematics, dream, and logic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll returned to the story of Alice in Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.

In some ways, the book is a direct opposite of its predecessor: starting indoors, rather than outdoors, Alice stepping boldly through the looking glass instead of following a rabbit and falling down a rabbit hole. In nearly every other way, the book is a direct continuation: with Alice entering a world of logic and confusion and nursery rhyme and twisted poetry—only this time, I’m not quite as certain that she has entered fairyland, or a fairyland.

[I am certain that we will never know who was really the worst: the Walrus or the Carpenter, though we can be certain that if we ever become oysters, and see the Carpenter, we should try to wobble away really really fast.]

Apr 10 2014 2:00pm

Beginning It All: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The original plan for these rereads, after Oz and Narnia, was to try to explore the history of children’s literature in some sort of linear fashion. That didn’t happen for any number of reasons, one of which was that I started these rereads by immediately skipping Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. I could give you a profound or witty or academic reason for this, but the truth is, although I’ve generally tried to make these rereads more or less complete, I did not want, under any circumstances, to reread Caroll’s later books: Sylvie and Bruno/Sylvie and Bruno Completed. They are just terrible. Until I realized that I might just have something to say about them after all.

But first, one of the most influential works of children’s literature: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

[White rabbits, flamingos, dreams, and a model for later children’s writers.]

Apr 7 2014 2:00pm

Stealing Brains, Courage and a Heart: Once Upon a Time and the Wicked Witch

Previously, on Once Upon a Time, things—and by things I mean the plot—were incredibly messed up and pretty much impossible to summarize, and then the Wicked Witch of the West appeared and things got more confusing. Fortunately, a hot pirate sauntered around to give us something to swoon over.

So what’s happened since we last chatted about it?

[Spoilers for everything ahead!]

Apr 3 2014 1:30pm

A Spoonful of Music Makes the Nanny: Disney’s Mary Poppins

After the massive success of Cinderella, the Walt Disney Corporation continued to issue animated films every couple of years. Most were well received and financially successful. But one, Sleeping Beauty, was a massive box office flop, costing so much that Walt Disney considered shutting down the animation studio entirely to focus on cheaper, live action films instead.

Fortunately, a new product called a Xerox machine cut down significantly on the expenses for the next film, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which allowed the animation studio to run a profit again. And with those profits, and with the coincidental financial issues facing a certain author, Walt Disney was finally able to respond to the request from his daughters, and bring Mary Poppins to the screen.

[Just a spoonful of sugar makes Walt Disney go round!]

Mar 27 2014 5:00pm

Retreating to the Familiar: Mary Poppins Opens the Door

Mary Poppins Opens the Door PL Pamela TraversIn 1943, during some of the darkest days of World War II, Pamela Travers finally bowed to the insistence of her publishers and produced another Mary Poppins book, Mary Poppins Opens the Door.

Despite the war, however, the book is an almost defiant look back towards a more peaceful past, with only one bit—a fairy tale about a cat choosing to look at a king—providing any type of wartime commentary, and that, only indirectly. In this, Mary Poppins Opens the Door stands out from other books in children’s fantasy series that appeared during this period (for example, the Freddy the Pig and Oz books) which did directly mention the war, either within the text or in endpapers. It’s a story that wants to remind us that no matter what, we still have magic.

But somehow—perhaps because of the war looming in the background—it doesn’t quite succeed.

[When you’ve read one Mary Poppins, it feels like you’ve read them all]

Mar 20 2014 4:15pm

Not Exactly a Spoonful of Sugar: Mary Poppins Comes Back

Mary Poppins Comes Back PL Travers

“Remember, there’s balloons and balloons, and one for everybody! Take your choice and take your time. There’s many a child got the wrong balloon and his life was never the same after.”

–Mary Poppins Comes Back

Without Mary Poppins around, the Banks family is not doing very well. To the point where Mr. Banks finds that his servant has polished his hat with boot polish, which is not a very nice thing to do with a hat. I would probably have more sympathy if this incident did not also reveal that Mr. Banks never brushes his own hats. Moving on, Mr. Banks, unappreciative of the good things in his life, announces that he’s going to move out, like, now. More importantly, a series of nannies and governesses have come and gone, things in the house are falling apart, and Mrs. Brill would like you to know that the kitchen is on fire. In an astounding display of just how much times have changed, Mrs. Banks sends her four children off to the park without any adult supervision whatsoever. In an astounding display of just how much times have remained the same, this is because Mrs. Banks is in desperate need of peace and quiet. And, of course, Mary Poppins.

Fortunately enough, Mary Poppins Comes Back in an even more spectacular fashion than in her last, windswept arrival, allowing young Michael to snag her on his kite.

[And if you thought she was mean in the first book...]

Mar 17 2014 5:00pm

This is NOT How Flying Monkeys are Made: Once Upon a Time, “Witch Hunt.”

Once Upon a Time

ABC's Once Upon a Time continues on its merry and more than occasionally unintentionally disturbing path this week, complete with Moments of Unexpected Grossness and a Still More Unexpected Star Trek joke.

Full warning: once again I will mostly be focusing on the Oz related stuff.

Spoilers abound below!

[Show, I do NOT think that is how Flying Monkeys are made.]

Mar 13 2014 5:00pm

Magically Cruel Surrogate Parenting: Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins PL TraversIn 1934, the East Wind blew Mary Poppins, a thin woman with an upturned nose, small blue eyes and shining black hair right into the house of the not that well to do Banks family. Initially, everyone is delighted: Mr. Banks because he has just saved some money; Mrs. Banks because Mary Poppins is so fashionable; the servants because it means less work, and the children, because Mary Poppins not only slides up banisters (apparently having no interest in the cardiac benefits of climbing the stairs) but also administers medicine that tastes utterly delightful.

The rest of the world, particularly an enthusiastic movie producer named Walt Disney, would soon be delighted as well.

[When your nanny is kinda terrifying and magical all at once.]

Mar 11 2014 11:00am

Once Upon a Time Goes to Oz

Once Upon a Time Wicked Witch

Ok, I admit, I’ve been waiting for this ever since the first season, when Once Upon a Time dropped various hints that the Enchanted Forest was someplace near Oz—a green door to another world, hints of flying monkeys. So when ABC announced that Oz would be making an appearance, or at least sorta making an appearance in the final half of the season, I got all excited and started watching the show again.

Which may have been a mistake (SPOILER: I was not fond of the first half of the third season). But I was ready to tune in again. Which may also have been a mistake. We shall see. And since I tuned in specifically for Oz, full warning, I’m mostly only focusing on the Oz stuff. With that out of the way:

[They’ll get you, my spoilers, they will! And your little dog too! Not that the episode actually had a dog.]

Mar 6 2014 4:00pm

A Farewell to Dreams and Tales: The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio Lloyd Alexander reread

“You search for treasure?” Salamon gave me a sorrowful look. “What a shame if you should find it.

Your quest would be over, he said. And then what? As if a fortune could make up for the bother of gaining it. No, no, my lad: the journey is the treasure.

Just before his death, author Lloyd Alexander completed one final book, The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, published posthumously in 2007. In many ways, the book is classic Lloyd Alexander: a journey and a quest that does not go quite the way the quester or the reader expects, complete with a poem, stories within stories, wordplay, and a love story that does not go entirely the way that the lovers expect.

[Also, some cross-dressing.]

Feb 27 2014 6:00pm

Putting a Coda to a Series: The Xanadu Adventure

Lloyd Alexander The Xanadu AdventureAfter fifteen years spent exploring other worlds, in 2005 Lloyd Alexander decided to give his fearless 19th century pulp adventurer character, Vesper Holly, and her long suffering guardian Brinnie, one last run. Perhaps he wanted to give the two one more adventure. Perhaps, realizing that he was reaching the end of his life, he wanted to end Vesper’s story properly.

Whatever his reasons, The Xanadu Adventure is both an romp and a coda, an ending and a hope that adventures will continue in the future—if not with Vesper, than with other willing adventurers.

[Grandiose over the top plans, naturally leading to thoughts of academics.]

Feb 20 2014 6:00pm

Performing Pigs and Other Magic: The Rope Trick

Lloyd Alexander The Rope TrickAs I’ve previously mentioned on this blog, I love magic. Stage magic, that is. Just love it. I can be entertained for hours with simple card tricks. I also love circuses. Just love them.

So if you are looking for an unbiased review of a Lloyd Alexander novel about a girl working her way through life as a stage magician, hunting down the greatest trick ever performed, The Rope Trick, who just happens to occasionally join a travelling circus with dancing pigs—well, this isn’t that review.

[Another one of those books that I can’t discuss without discussing the ending, so, spoilers ahead! Also, performing pigs.]

Feb 13 2014 4:00pm

Nostalgia, Ghosts, and Storytelling: The Gawgon and the Boy

“Let him alone,” said The Gawgon. “Poets don’t like to be questioned, especially when they don’t know the answers.”

Having previously turned to various mythologies, pulp fiction novels, and fairy tales for inspiration, in 2001 author Lloyd Alexander found himself inspired by something different: his own childhood in Philadelphia, just before and at the very beginning of the Great Depression. The result, The Gawgon and The Boy, is something very different for Alexander’s novels for children: a bittersweet story of family, disappointment, lies, and storytelling, nostalgic and sharply realistic all at once.

As such, the book might come as quite a surprise—it took me a moment to adjust when I encountered it during this reread. And yet, despite the major differences between this book and every other Lloyd Alexander book, fans will notice several similarities: the gentle humor, the obsession with adventure and mythology, and the constant examination of the need for stories, for poetry, for art.

Though I do have to warn you: to quote another book I read as a kid: there’s death coming, and some of the wrong people die.

[I warn, because no one warned ME, although sure, you can see the death coming. Still. Gulp.]

Feb 6 2014 5:00pm

Traveling with Poets and Greek Myths: The Arkadians

The Arkadians Lloyd AlexanderFor all of his association with retellings of Welsh mythology, author Lloyd Alexander also had a long standing love for Greek mythology. In the mid-1990s, this love inspired The Arkadians, a novel loosely based—some would say very loosely based—on Greek mythology.

As the novel begins, a Greek city finds itself caught between two cultures and preyed upon by two corrupt soothsayers. To fix this, naturally, the young hero must travel all over Greece and even head out to Crete, picking up witty companions and a true love along the way. As one does. To brighten matters up, in this case, the hero is also travelling with a poetic jackass.

No, really.

[Poets, beware. Everyone else, get ready to laugh.]

Jan 30 2014 3:00pm

How Inserted Commentary Can Almost Ruin a Book: The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen Lloyd AlexanderWriting about paragons can grow wearisome after awhile, even if you are Lloyd Alexander, gifted with the ability to come up with ever more implausible plot lines for your heroine. So, after a long period with Vesper Holly, Alexander turned his attention to something new: a novel about a young hero who is most definitely not a paragon.

Oh, Prince Jen means well, certainly, but as a young, pampered prince, he has been very sheltered from the realities of life, and he is in no way prepared mentally or otherwise for a journey, even a remarkable one. But when a wise man shows up at his doorstep with a tale of a fabulous kingdom of happiness, T’ien-kuo, he is determined to visit, starting The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen.

[Naturally, not everything goes well.]

Jan 23 2014 4:00pm

Vesper Holly Relaxes at Home: The Philadelphia Adventure

The Philadelphia Adventure Lloyd Alexander Vesper Holly

“...Sir, this archvillain has attempted to destroy us by dynamite bombs, by living burial, by exposure to the cruelest mental torture. He has even sought to exterminate us by means of an exploding sausage. That, sir, has been the nature of our relationship with Dr. Helvitius.”

Though [President] Grant had been immersed in politics for the past eight years, he was shocked by such ruthlessness.

After four adventures that had flung Vesper Holly and her faithful, long suffering companion Professor Brinton Garrett (or Brinnie) all over the world, for their fifth adventure author Lloyd Alexander decided to let them safely relax in their home city of Philadelphia, if by “safely” you mean “be threatened by violence, kidnapping and things blowing up” and by “relax” you mean “rescue kidnap victims and prevent a major political crisis.” Then again, this being Brinnie and Vesper Holly, this sorta IS their form of relaxation, doubtless why they eagerly jump aboard The Philadelphia Adventure.

[Has Vesper found true love at last? Or just bad jokes about Lloyd Alexander’s hometown?]

Jan 16 2014 2:30pm

This is Why You Should Return Library Books on Time: The Jedera Adventure

Lloyd Alexander The Jedera Adventure Vesper HollyLet’s face it: we’ve all been late with library books from time to time. But there’s late, and there’s sixteen years late—and there’s late returning to your local library, and late returning to a remote library in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Vesper Holly, naturally, has encountered a late book of the second type.

Moreover, it turns out that it is quite a rare book indeed, one that the library in question would want back very badly. In fact, in one of the many plot holes of the book, I’m not sure why the library ever let the book out of the building, but I digress. It’s obvious that Vesper Holly needs to leave Philadelphia and return the book in person, accompanied, of course, by Professor Brinton Garrett, informally called Brinnie, her faithful companion, on The Jedera Adventure.

[When being an Evil Genius means a lot of discomfort]

Jan 9 2014 4:00pm

Exploding Sausages and Other Unlikely Escapes from Death: The Drackenberg Adventure

Lloyd Alexander Vesper Holly The Drackenberg AdventureAs they say, there are invitations, and then there are invitations. Even wealthy adventurer Vesper Holly and her long suffering guardian Professor Brinton Garrett cannot resist accepting an invitation of the second sort to the diamond jubilee of the Grand Duchess Maria-Sophia of Drackenberg, however small, poor, and generally ignored the tiny (and completely fictional) country might be. And for once, dear Aunt Mary—Brinnie’s wife—is accompanying them. It’s only fair: after all, it’s thanks to her connections that they have an invitation at all.

These connections shouldn’t be too surprising: author Lloyd Alexander had already established in the previous books that Brinnie and his wife were at least as wealthy as Vesper, which both removed any suggestion that they might be tempted to steal Vesper’s fortune and assiduously evaded the question of “er, how can they afford all of these marvelous trips?” Exactly how a professor had amassed a fortune was something Alexander never explained, but it seems, from this book, that Mary comes from a very wealthy family indeed, which explains a lot. But really the connections are just to get the gang over to Europe for The Drackenberg Adventure.

By this time, Vesper and Brinnie are of course accustomed to danger and really wild things and getting captured and villains and so on. What they are not accustomed to, and really, I can’t blame them, are exploding sausages.

[Though by now they really shouldn’t be surprised when Evil Dr. Helvitius shows up. You weren’t, were you?]