Women And Fiction: A Fangirl’s Promise

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Imagination is encouraged in children and I was lucky enough to be a little girl who had a good one.  Turning my backyard into a place where horses and cats could talk to each other and treasures could be found in flowers, became a way for me explore reality while opening my mind to greater possibilities.  When I was about ten years old, I found that I could put this imagination into a page of words.  Writing solidified and extended worlds for me, taking them from fantasy and making them more real.  I knew I was different then because the other kids told me I was weird to want to spend so much of my time writing stories.  Fiction writing is something that has always made me special and I cherish it for that reason.

But as I grew older, my imagination became a concern to me.  I read too many books about sad women who would go home by themselves and alone indulge in an Austen novel, passively wishing that the fantasy they read would become real.  Being a writer with a love of the imagination, I have feared that I will become one of these sad women who only have a fantasy to hold on to.  It becomes a worry when I spend more time with the characters I create then with my real friends.  I should have a job that doesn’t involve reckless creativity.  I need to pursue a professional career that will tie down my passion for words and things that are just “stories.”  For an adult woman, imagination is dangerous when we are supposed to excel towards being a man’s equal in fields like entrepreneurship, politics, sciences, and criminal justice.  I have grown to fear my ability to imagine just as much as I have grown to love it.

latestIn the past, it seems like women have always been criticized for being fanciful, for reading too many novels, and for having dreams in their heads.  Novels and fiction make women senseless.  They allow us too much indulgence into our emotions causing us to be unruly, rebellious; or worse, hysterical.  Women today are still captivated and obsessed with stories that we like – it is only a natural, human response that comes from having a brain.  We have become what are called “fans” with lists and lists of unreal things we shower with admiration.

However, with the advent of the Internet, our interests and passions have become more obvious because we have the ability to share them instantly with the world.  So the “fangirl” has been born – a woman who indulges in her imagination.  But if only that were the sole definition for “fangirl.”  She is not just someone who embraces the things that she likes.  Look at urbandictionary.com and you will see that, for having these feelings, a fangirl is less than human.  She is a “rabid breed of female.”  Which sounds kind of like a description of a dog to me.  She’s ugly and unattractive.  We are victims of an “epidemic” like we don’t choose for ourselves what moves us.  We are obsessed stalkers – emotionally unstable – who act like idiots.  And the whole of our interests are made up of objectifying men and making our favorite characters have sex with each other.  We are stuck in the belittlement of forever remaining a “girl” when there are plenty of us who are the age of respected adults.  This is how the world see us and this is the stereotype we have been assigned.

psychopathfangirl

Despite the negativity included in the fangirl stereotype, I believe that my own fear of my imagination, my fictions, my stories, and my fantasies is not unfounded.  If one becomes too consumed with fiction, we become detached from the real world that we explored as children, which I believe is harmful to women.  We become passive, hoping that our goals and dreams will come to us, instead of us reaching out to them.  We have unreal expectations for ourselves – waiting for a man who looks like Colin Firth in Pride & Prejudice – when the man sitting next to you in class, at work, or at the cafe is more handsome due to the fact that you can actually receive love and equality from him in a relationship.  Being overwhelmed with fatasy allows us to stop thinking for ourselves.  We let the fiction start to tell us what is right and wrong about who we are instead of own heads and hearts.  There really is damage that can be done by having too active of an imagination and by spending too much time with fantasy.  An imbalance of fiction and reality exists and an imbalance is rarely good.  There is truth in every stereoptype, and this is what scares me.

As a woman who writes fiction, who writes fan fiction for fun, and who considers herself to be a fangirl, how do I find that balance?  How do I maintain a level of imagination that expands my world of reality without losing myself with the fangirl stereotype?  How do I know when escapism has taken over?

How do I be a fan and a fiction writer in a way that is responsible and respectful to my identity as a woman?

In order to answer that question and maintain that responsibility/respect for my identity, I have decided to make some promise to myself.  This promise will hopefully give me peace of mind on the matter and also help to fight the negative stereotypes/truths of being a fangirl.

1) I promise to use fiction as not only a way of escaping from reality, but as a way of reflecting on my own reality.

Fiction is based in reality even if that fiction belongs in the science fiction or fantasy genre.  When I write fiction or fan fiction, I promise to think about what I’m writing about.  I will look for the reality within the fiction.  I will apply it to my own life and ask myself why it is significant to me.  I will use my own mind and my own heart to determine why I care about the things I admire and the things I write about.  I will ask myself:  How does this story change or contribute to how I see my own experiences?  Can I apply what I have learned from it to my future life?

2)  I promise to be respectful and responsible toward the identities of the individuals I Loki-Fangirls-loki-thor-2011-27649223-900-1371choose to admire and use that admiration to create something new for myself.

I believe that part of being a fangirl who respects her own identity, is showing respect for what I choose to admire.  I promise to think about why I am a fan of someone or something.  Do I have reasons beyond superficial appearance for admiring celebrities?  If I do like someone just for their looks, what specific things do I like about them?  How does this physical admiration empower, contain, or define my own sexuality?

Another thing that personally concerns me about being a part of the fangirl stereotype are the actions/reactions fangirls supposedly exhibit when in contact with the person they admire – being a stalker or excessively emotional.  I will think about what is the correct way to express my admirations.  I will ask myself: Are my actions as a fan related to my own self-affirmation/importance or am I using the experience interacting with a celebrity to genuinely compliment them?  Is the interaction respectful or annoying and intrusive?  Is the interaction based on who they are, what they have done, or your possible common interests?  When is it the right time to go bat s**t crazy because I’ve just met him?!

I promise not to alter or portray the sexual identity of the person I admire.  How would I feel if someone took my body image and against my will, put that image into sexual situations that do not describe me?  What if someone I never met took an image of me and made that image having sexual relations with someone I’ve never wanted to have sex with?   It is an assault of an individual’s sexual identity.  It doesn’t matter to me if the celebrity sees it that way or not.  It doesn’t matter if it never hurts their feelings or if they never see it/think about it.  As a woman, I would personally like to have my own body image respected, so I promise never to be disrespectful to the body/sexual image of anyone else.

3)  I promise not to fear my passions, but to embrace them in order to see what new reality they will lead me towards.

It is never wrong to feel, no matter what the emotion is or to what it is connected.  Having fantasies, dreaming, and spending time with fiction is completely normal.  I promise to never stop imagining new things.  I promise never to turn my back on that child who wanted to explore the world.  I promise to never fear what I have freely chosen as a passion.  I promise that writing fiction will not keep me from real happiness or success.

Obsession in Austenland: A Book Review

Having seen the film earlier, I picked up Shannon Hale’s novel, Austenland, expecting an entertaining but typical piece of chick lit. with a Jane Austen twist.  I was surprised to find an intelligent discussion of modern women who, like myself, are involved in some type of fandom.

An American woman, Jane Hayes, has had a long stream of what she sees as utterly failed relationships.  She uses this as an excuse for her embarrassing obsession of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC version of Pride & Prejudice.  None of her real life relationships can live up to her fantasy of falling in love with Mr. Darcy.

This all changes when Jane is given an opportunity to go on a three-week vacation to a Jane Austen theme park in England called Pembrook Park.  Here Jane gets to live out her fantasy.  She gets to wear corsets, embroider, read, play pianoforte, and play whist – all of which is done within the proper manners of 1800’s society.  A number of actors are provided as company to the guests and work to move along a drama similar to what might transpire in an Austen novel.  That’s not all.  Pembrook Park promises that each female visitor will experience the romance of falling in love with a gentleman (an actor) who will propose to her at a ball at the end of the three weeks.

Jane soon finds that her fantasy isn’t as great as she hoped it would be.  She becomes bored with the evening activities of playing whist and gossiping.  Jane escapes the company of the high society gentlemen and wonders through the gardens.  Here she meets up with a gardener named Martin.  Martin is quite willing to share his modern contraband luxuries of TV and McDonald’s hamburgers with the thankful Jane.  Like never before, spending time with Martin makes Jane feel like she is truly happy with a “real” man.  That’s until Martin tells her he doesn’t want to see her because he’s worried his employer suspects he has a television (the two of them had been watching it so often).

Being faced with yet another failed relationship, Jane decides that she must redouble her efforts at overcoming her Mr.Darcy dream.  Jane throws herself wholeheartedly into the game of Pembrook Park, hoping that she will exhaust her interest in the fantasy.    She divides her time between trying to befriend another female guest – the perfect Miss Heartwright – and horribly teasing a gentleman called Mr. Nobley.

Jane gets to know the stick-in-the-mud, stubborn Mr.Nobley and is left with the perplexing question of whether their relationship is a fiction – that Mr.Nobley is simply an actor playing a part – or if she is getting to know the real man behind the waistcoat and breeches who is called Henry Jenkins.

Hale’s novel does a wonderful job of highlighting some main issues that women face in modern relationships by comparing contemporary romance to past ages in which women didn’t have as many choices in the love department.  One of the problems Jane has is that she feels a tremendous pressure to be involved in a serious relationship.  In Austen’s day, middle-class women such as Elizabeth Bennet had no choice in marriage.  They either married a man with an estate or lived rather poorly.  Today, many women choose not to marry at all, but there is still a high pressure put on us by society.  We assign ideas to unmarried women that are seen to be negative.  An unmarried woman is a lesbian, afraid of commitment, perhaps she likes sleeping around, or has poor self-esteem.  This haunts Jane to the point at which her desire to have a serious relationship makes her clingy, uptight, and easily hurt by rejection.  Towards the end of her experience at Pembrook Park, Jane comes to recognize, “In her old self more of the anxious, marriage-obsessed Mrs. Bennet than the lively Elizabeth.”  Despite the fact that she obsessed about being in Elizabeth’s shoes, Jane had become nothing that resembled the desired role.

Austenland further points out that having idyllic fantasy relationships can be harmful to the men involved as well.  When Jane leaves the company of Mr.Nobley and the other gentlemen to spend time with Martin, Hale writes the dialogue: “‘So,’ Martin said, digging in his spade.  ‘You’ve come to find me again when there is no one else to flirt with.'”  The hope and search for what we think is a perfect man leaves real men with the pressure to fill the shoes of our Mr. Darcy’s.  And if men don’t fulfill the impossible role, they may come to feel like they are second choice.

I liked the fact that Jane had a defined idea of what she wanted in a relationship.  Hale describes her ideal man as, “A real man.  A tall man!  Someone to kiss and make her feel sexy and fun.  Someone who didn’t insist on more than she could give, who allowed her to live in perfect moments, who made her want to smile instead of fret about future what-ifs.”  The great part about Jane’s character was that she knew what her problems were.  She realized that the pressure she put on her relationships (“the future what-ifs”) was what was keeping her from enjoying who she could be with another person.  She knew that Darcy was not real.  It was this awareness that allowed Jane to move forward and relearn her attitude/feelings about relationships.  Another important step in her growth as a character was the comprehension that; in fact, it wasn’t even the character Mr.Darcy from the book she wanted, but the representation of the character by Colin Firth.  This came to have more meaning when reflected in her conflict between being attracted to Mr.Nobley the character, vs. Henry Jenkins, the man playing the part of Nobley.  I also found it interesting to note that she realized that if Mr. Darcy were a real person, he would be a darn unpleasant one to spend time with.

There was only one thing about Hale’s book that I didn’t care for: Jane’s going back and forth in thinking she was going to give up men.  I didn’t completely understand why it was such an issue for her.  Perhaps I didn’t like it because the idea of giving up men altogether was just way too dramatic.  The obvious and positive message to give would be that you don’t have to have a man to be happy, but that didn’t seem to be considered in the novel.  It was either you had to have a relationship – good or bad – or Jane didn’t want to have anything to do with men at all.  Extremes like this in general tend to annoy me. Very few things in real life are one extreme or another.  But maybe these drastic measures of man dieting do more to describe Jane’s character.

I would recommend Austenland by Shannon Hale to anyone who loves Austen’s original novels or to anyone has some sort of fan obsession/fantasy about a fictional character.  With my next post, in the spirit of Austenland, I’d like to do an experiment in which I will attempt to rid myself of my own fantasy obsession.

 

Wholock: Two Bodies in Time (Part One)

Note:  So here is the only piece of fan fiction that I will probably ever write.  In case you are not familiar with the concept, Wholock is a combination of the TV series Doctor Who and Sherlock.  The time in which my story takes place within the two narratives is before Sherlock fakes his death and I’ve used the 10th Doctor (David Tennant) version of The Doctor’s character.  The entire story turned out to be 39 pages, so I’ve decided to post it here in several installments.  Enjoy!

Scene 1: Molly Hooper (Monday at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital)

It’s a blessing that dead people don’t care.  This bloke won’t push me away so easily.  He won’t say, “Molly, what did you do to your hair?  It’s annoying.  I can’t think.  Molly, did you really eat that whole bag of crisps?  Molly, your lips are too small.  You’ve gotten taller and now it doesn’t suit you.”  The dead will never care.  Sometimes I wish Sherlock Holmes were dead, Molly thought as she gazed down at the deceased in front of her.

Two bodies currently rested in the mortuary with her; and though she couldn’t know it, one of these bodies would change her life.

The first body: hit by a bus.  His spine had snapped in half and his face had smashed inwards.  She couldn’t have said what he looked like with his part of his skull crushed to dust.  The bus  had run over him twice.  But there had been something odd about this one.  While she’d performed the autopsy, a green substance had begun to seep from what remained of the man’s left ear canal.

She had been collecting the viscous ooze in a test tube for further analysis when a strange man walked in.  He’d said he was a doctor and he’s shown her his credentials.  Molly didn’t think he’d looked like a doctor though.  His hair stood on end and he wore a brown suit with awful white shoes that didn’t match the rest of his outfit.  He’d slipped a pair of thick-rimmed glasses on to scrutinize the deceased’s ear.

“Oh, yes.”  He’d said, his mouth falling open in fascination and his eye’s wide.  He’d reached into his coat then and pulled out a device Molly had never seen before.  It had a blue light on the end and made a peculiar buzzing sound when he moved it over the dead man’s chest.  “Oh, yes.”

“What is it?”  She’d asked him.  “Who did you say you were again?”

“I’m sorry.  I’m called The Doctor.  And you are?”  He’d asked, holding out a hand to her while sticking the device back in his pocket with the other.

“Molly Hooper.”

“Molly Hooper, you haven’t happened to see any rather hairy men about, have you?”

“Um…no.  Why?”  It hadn’t seemed like she was making any headway with this stranger and she’d considered calling security.

“Can you keep a secret?” The Doctor had said.

This was becoming far too interesting for her to call security.  She’d had to see what would happen next.  It seemed like anything could come from this man’s lips

“Yes.”  She’d decided to take a wild chance.

Doctor-Who-New-Earth-david-tennant-12041777-768-456“This man had a parasite growing inside of him.  It was destroyed when the bus hit him.  That’s what’s caused the green stuff in his ear.  The parasite was put there by a group of alien individuals calling themselves the Buhoo.  The adults look mostly human except that they have a larger amount of hair.  The parasite is how they reproduce.  I have to stop them before they take over the city.”  He’d told her.  His eyes and face had lit up at the prospect as if it were some fantastic game he was playing.

That’s when she’d pushed the button for emergencies on her pager.  Soon there would be more medical staff and possibly a security guard dashing into the room.  “I don’t know who you are, but I’ve called security.”  She’d tried to sound threatening.

“Well, in that case…I better run.  Some other time then, Molly?”  He had run out the door and vanished.  The guards hadn’t even found a trace of him.

Though the encounter had occurred just that morning, it seemed like it had happened in a different world.  It was proving to be quite an interesting day and it was only one o’clock.  She shook the memory of it from her mind and returned to something she enjoyed thinking about.

Sherlock.  I don’t really want him to be dead.  Sherlock.  I love the way ideas make his eyes dance.  His blue eyes with that blue scarf.  I wonder if it ever gets washed.  Sherlock.

What an awful man to like.  But I could never really dislike him.  Why is that?

She covered up the body from the bus accident and closed him back up in the little cave/cupboard she locked them all inside.  All the dead bodies; they are just hibernating for now.  Hopefully, they’ll wake up somewhere where it’s spring.

What is wrong with me that I have a crush on the most insensitive man I’ve ever met?  But what makes me different from John Watson – some say Sherlock’s only love apart from an unanswered question?  Everyone thinks a bromance is adorable, and yet I’m sure John thinks I’m stupid for caring for the same man.

Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the only woman who wishes she were John Watson.

Molly moved on to the second body.

Every time a new cadaver came in, a part of her would absently think: please, let it be murder.  Just like she didn’t really want Sherlock to be dead, she didn’t really wish for any strangers to be killed either.  Her desire for the event of hateful crimes would never reach the full surface of her consciousness.  Yet it was there.  Hiding.  Because murder meant…him.  For Molly, murder amounted to the sound of familiar footsteps approaching.

She could hear them now and her heart quickened.  Sherlock’s rubber soles clacking harshly and John’s hurried ka-thunk, ka-thunk.  John sometimes still walked with a limp in the hospital, perhaps because the place made him more aware of his injuries.

Sherlock never gave any other warning of his entrance other than the footsteps.  He flung open the doors with both hands, the back of his long coat flying out behind him.

cumberbatchf-as-sherlock“You’re looking rather bright today.  Have you gotten your teeth whitened?”  He asked her.

“The remains indicate that the man has been strangulated.  According to the police report, it appears to be accidental.”  She ignored his so-called greeting and returned to this second body of the day.

“Why don’t you tell me about something I can’t see?”  He came over and stood beside her.  His sleeve brushed against her lab coat as he bent down for a closer look.  “Just what I thought.”  He muttered, running a gloved finger across the torsions on the man’s neck.  “It wasn’t an accident.”

He smelled like London – rain, exhaust, old books, and cigarettes with a hint of shampoo.  It made her feel enthralled in the midst of the city – a part of its blood.  She swallowed, her mouth inordinately filled with saliva, but her throat dry.tumblr_inline_mvq0h8HuGI1rckzqs

“No.”  She agreed.  “It wasn’t an accident.  I found this.” She handed him a plastic bag containing a small, corked bottle.  A piece of paper curled around inside the bottle.  “This is what actually blocked his windpipe.  A message.  I saved it for you.”

She watched his brows furrow as he opened the bottle.  Molly handed him a pair of tweezers so that he could remove the paper inside more easily.

John came closer and tried to peer over Sherlock’s shoulder.  It was difficult, Molly observed, as Sherlock was so much taller than his friend.

“What’s it say?”  John asked.

Sherlock spun around John and headed for the door again.  “I’ll be back later.”

john-and-sherlock“Sherlock?”  John turned to follow him, but he’d already gone.

Molly looked at John.  He gave her a weak smile as if it would make up for his companion’s abrupt departure.  She felt like she needed to say something polite.

“You can stay if you like.”  She offered.  “You can help me run some tests in the lab.”

Come back later for Part Two and find out what secrets John and Molly share while Sherlock is away.

Note: Characters and settings belong to Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Russell T. Davies, and various other writers.

What is It?: A Look at the Novel by Stephen King

It’s in The Lord of the Rings, I think, where one of the characters says that ‘way leads on to way’; that you could start at a path leading nowhere more fantastic than from your own front steps to the sidewalk, and from there you could go…well, anywhere at all.  It’s the same way with stories.  One leads to the next, to the next, and to the next; maybe they go on in the direction you wanted to go, but maybe they don’t.  Maybe in the end it’s the voice that tells the stories more than the stories themselves that matters (King, 431).

Introduction

I find that with the novel “It” by Stephen King, I have an interesting relationship in which my own experiences with the novel mirror the story itself.

The novel begins in 1957 in a seemingly typical small town called Derry, Maine.  A six-year-old boy is murdered by a clown who speaks to him through the street gutter drain.  During the following summer, the evil, murdering creature (It) plagues a group of 7 eleven-year-old kids (Bill, Richie, Eddie, Ben, Beverly, Stan, and Mike).  The creature appears to them in many different forms – the most common being the clown – and their shared experience with It bring them together in a bonding friendship.  Together they try to fight against It.  Not sure if they have destroyed the monster, they promise to return to Derry if/when It ever returns.  Time passes.  Life moves on.  It’s 1985 and It is back murdering in Derry.  The children who are now adults with successful careers and relationships must face the stream of both pleasant and unpleasant memories of growing up as they return to Derry to face It again.

The film adaptation of King’s book was aired as a television miniseries in 1990.  I was about two-years-old at the time.  It wasn’t until I was about 10 or 11 (the same age as the kids in the novel) that I actually watched the film, which my parents rented from our local library.  I was probably too young to be watching such a thing and of course it freaked me out.  It wasn’t something that gave me nightmares, but to this day I still occasionally thing about the voices coming out of the shower drains.  I could connect with the kids in the film because I was a kid.  I could understand their fear.  And so the story stuck with me into my adult years – their story became part of my story.  As I am reading the actual novel as an adult, like the adult characters, I must go back into the fears from my childhood.  I must face the monster again as well.  Now that I am a grownup, I am still connecting with the novel.  However, it is a new connection that is able to understand how the imagination of children works to create fear.  This understanding does not make the story less creepy.  In fact, it helps me understand the motives of It.  There is something unique about the way that a child’s mind works and it is impossible to understand this until one is grown up.  The book has become more interesting to me because now it is possible for me to understand how the monster uses the unique fears of the children.

The Monster

It changes; we know that.  I think It also manipulates, and leaves Its marks on people just by the nature of what It is – the way you can smell a skunk on you even after a long bath, if it lets go its bag of scent too near you.  The way a grasshopper will spit bugjuice into your palm if you catch it in your hand (King, 490)

We know that It is a very old, supernatural creature.  In King’s book, Richie and Mike have a vision of It falling out of the sky millions of years ago and landing in the place that is now the center of Derry.  As an adult, Mike relates this experience to his friends.  ” ‘It came out of the sky,’ Mike repeated, ‘but it wasn’t a spaceship exactly.  It wasn’t a meteor either.  It was more like…well…like the Ark of the Covenant, in the Bible, that was supposed to have the Spirit of God inside of it…except this wasn’t God.  Just feeling It, watching It come, you knew It meant bad, that it was bad’ (King, 727).”  So we know too that It is definitely evil.  In fact, It is almost like Satan.  It is a fallen angel perhaps?  This idea can be further supported by a passage that comes straight from the mind of It in which King uses Biblical language.  “It had created a place in Its own image, and It looked upon this place with favor from the deadlights which were Its eyes.  Derry was Its killing-pen, the people of Derry Its sheep (King,965).”  The use of Biblically related words such as “Its own image” and “It’s sheep” along with the contrasting, morbid words “killing pen” and “deadlights” show us an image of It as some sort of aberration of The Creator.  At the end of the book, It refers to itself as an eater of worlds – the direct opposite of The Creator.  This is the nature of It, but how does such a creature manifest itself physical in our experiences?

When the adults face It for the final time, they come the closest to seeing what It actually is.  Their minds are not able to conceive of the creature’s true form so they see something that their imaginations are able to digest.  A huge, pregnant, spider.  That’s right, folks.  It’s a girl spider!  The creature is called “It”- a title that indicates a lack of gender; and perhaps the spirit form of It is genderless, but when conceived by a human mind, It, the eater of worlds, becomes female.  This idea alone could provoke pages of feminist critique, but for now I’ll forgo that to focus on other aspects of It.

Cycles

Throughout the novel, the main thing that It is, is a representation of the town of Derry itself, which King shows us through the motif of cycles in the plot.

The monster itself goes through a cycle lasting in total of about 30 years.  Every 25-27 years, It comes out of a sleeping state and begins to attack children in Derry.  This lasts for a year or so until something tragic accident occurs – there was an explosion at the Derry Iron Works plant while children where having an Easter Egg hunt; and during an earlier cycle, there was a shootout downtown in which two cars full of people were killed because of suspicions of the residents of Derry.  After these events, It returns to sleep for another quarter of a century.  The cycle is completed.

Other cycles in the book are related to how the memories of children return as they become adults.  Since attacking It the first time, the children have gone on with their lives and forgotten the events from their past.  They probably blocked out the memories of It as one would block out any traumatic event.  When Mike calls his friends back to Derry when they are grown, the memories start to return.  Richie describes this for us through the memory of Henry, a tormenting bully from the kids’ childhoods.  “Gonna getcha, creep!  The ghostly voice of Henry Bowers screamed, and he (Richie) felt more crypts cracking open inside of him; the stench he smelled was not decayed bodies but decayed memories, and that was somehow worse (King, 62).”  Richie’s memories are cycles from death into life.  This quote also shows us how fear is cycled back into the children’s lives.  For them it is more terrifying to remember than it is to die.  King also shows us the cycle of memories when old scars reappear on Bill’s hand.  When the children made their pact to come back to Derry to destroy It if It ever came back, they made cuts on each others hands.  The scars on Bill’s hand had gone away until he heard from Mike again as an adult.  Bill’s wife states, “Scars can’t come back.  They either are or aren’t (King, 131).”  This is not true for the children.  Just as It cycles through Its periods of sleeping and killing, the children must cycle through their experiences with It.

These cycles of fear and memory might be shown more clearly in a quote from Ben’s experiences.

I’m (Ben) scared almost insane by whatever else I may remember before tonight’s over, but how scared I am doesn’t matter, because it’s going to come anyway.  It’s all there, like a great big bubble that’s growing in my mind.  But I’m going (back to Derry), because all I’ve ever gotten and all I have now is somehow due to what we did then, and you pay for what you get in this world.  Maybe that’s why God made us kids first and built us close to the ground, be He knows you got to fall down a lot and bleed a lot before you learn that one simple lesson.  You pay for what you get, you own what you pay for…and sooner or later whatever you own comes back home to you (King, 78).

The above quote reiterates the idea of memories returning in a way that is unstoppable, but it also adds a new idea.  Ben gets at the fact that everything we do has an impact on our future and, like memories, other things can come back to bite us.  There is a cycle of cause and effect in our lives that we can’t stop.

Sooner or later who we are as children will influence who we are as adults.  As a child, Ben has a strong interest in building things and he helps his friends create a dam in the local Kenduskeag River.  He then grows up to be an architect and designs buildings in London.  “Years later he would build the hotly debated BBC communications center in London, and the arguments might rage for a thousand years and still no one would know (except Ben himself) that the communications center was nothing but the glass corridor of the Derry Public Library stood on end (King, 171).”  Here we can see how architecture from his childhood has influenced Ben’s career as an adult.  King shows this kind of cycle in the other children too.  Bill who loves stories as a kid becomes a novelist and maybe unconsciously plants images from his experiences with It into his horror novels.  Beverly is another character whose life contains cycles.  Bev grows up living with an abusive father who both verbally and physically punishes her for being a “slut.”  She then grows up to marry Tom, a man who beats her with a belt.  She essentially marries her father and it is not her fault.  Because of her father’s actions when she was a child, as an adult, abuse is what she understands about men who are supposed to love her.

An interesting side note:  Beverly is the main female character in the book and the only female child to encounter It.  Is is a coincidence that the way in which she experiences It is through the appearance of blood?  One of the foremost female experiences includes a monthly cycle involving blood.  Beverly who is on the verge of puberty, hears It talking to her through the drains in the bathroom.  As she comes closer to the sink drain, blood gushes forth from it and other drains to cover the bathroom in blood.  The appearance of this blood in the bathroom supports the theory that it is connected to the cycle of menstruation.  For men. perhaps this female cycle is contained with the bathrooms of homes everywhere.  The blood could then represent Bev’s sexuality.  Her father comes into the bathroom when he hears Bev screaming.  He can’t see the blood.  Just as he can’t understand sexuality or the friendship she shares with the six male characters in the book.  Her father distorts their friendship and calls Bev a slut.  Is all of this Its doing?  Essentially, you could say that because It sent the blood, the blood corrupts Bev’s sexuality and she ends up marrying an abusive man who is just like her father who can’t understand her.

Finally, the cycle which shows us most what It might be is the cycle of hatred in Derry and how this cycle is fueled by silence in the town.  One cycle of hatred circles around Henry Bowers and his father.  Henry’s father is a hateful racist who teaches his son the same kind of hate.

And because his son was a tireless listener […] Bowers senior filled his son’s ears with a litany of hate and hard luck.  He explained to his son that all niggers were stupid, some were cunning as well – and down deep they all hated white men […] In Henry’s ears, it was a constant litany: the nigger, the nigger, the nigger.  Everything was the nigger’s fault.  The nigger (Mike’s family) had a nice white house with an upstairs and an oil furnace while Butch and his wife and his son lived in not much better than a trapper shack.  When Butch couldn’t make enough money farming and had to go to work in the woods for a while, it was the nigger’s fault.  When their well went dry in 1956, it was the nigger’s fault (King, 632-3).

So hatred is cycled from one generation to the next and is present in Henry as he murders Mike’s dog for no reason other than that it belongs to an African-American boy.

Later, in the 1980’s when It returns, Derry’s hate is transferred from the African-American population to the gay community.  Hate can also cycle from being forced upon one person to being forced upon another.  There is a hate crime perpetrated against a gay man and his partner who are walking through town.  One of the men is wearing a hat that read “I ♥ Derry”  and for this reason a group of teenagers attacks him.  The man’s partner watches helplessly.  He calls for help, but the town is suddenly silent.  The teenagers throw the beaten man over the side of a bridge.  His partner runs down under the bridge and there finds It.  An Officer Gardener later interrogated the partner.

“You saw those balloons?” Gardener said.

Don Hagarty slowly held his hands up in front of his face.  “I saw them as clearly as I can see my own fingers at this moment.  Thousands of them.  You couldn’t  even see the underneath of the bridge – there were too many of them.  They were rippling a little, and sort of bouncing up and down.  There was a sound.  A funny low squealing noise.  That was their sides rubbing together.  And strings.  There was a forest of white strings hanging down.  They looked like white strands of spider web.  The clown took Ade under there.  I could see its suit brushing through those strings.  Ade was making awful choking sounds.  I started after him…and the clown looked back.  I saw its eyes, and all at once I understood who it was.”

“Who was it Don?” Harold Gardener asked softly.

“It was Derry.”  Don Hagarty said.  “It was this town” (King, 34).

Here for the first time in the novel we see It as a direct representation of Derry.  However, It won’t be related to evil until later.

These acts of violence, hate, and fear are in a way promoted by the silence of Derry.  Suddenly, there is no one to come and help the two men who are being attacked.  This silence occurs many times throughout the book.  At one point Ben is being chased by It in the form of a mummy.  King states, “Ben looked around wildly for help.  He could see no one (King, 187).”   It is also said that, “In Derry people have a way of looking the other way (King, 434).”  During the shooting in downtown Derry, the whole town showed up with guns in their hands and yet, “Many Derry residents affect not to remember what happened that day.  Or they were out of town, visiting relatives.  Or napping that afternoon and never found out what happened until they heard it on the radio news that night.  Or they will simply look you full in the face and lie to you (King, 611).”  It is this looking away that allows violence and hatred to continue in cycles.  In order for a problem to be fixed, you have to face it.  You have to talk about it.  The people of Derry did not talk about It.  King writes that the town’s people, “They let it happen, they always do, and things quiet down, things go on, It…It..sleeps… or hibernates like a bear…and then it starts again, and they know…people know…they know that it has to be so It can be (King, 931).”  The silence in part comes from the fact that Derry is a small town.  No one wants to admit to seeing something strange or horrifying because it means that they will be singled out in the community.  Fear of being judged by others outweighs the fear of what was actually seen.  Don Hagarty, the man who saw It under the bridge was encouraged not to talk about It because of the craziness of It – the strangeness of It – would hurt the persecution of the teenagers accused of killing his life partner.  We tend not to talk about things that will make us look crazy in a community in which everyone knows everyone else.  If Derry is It and it is Derry, it logically follows that It is what might be causing this silence and so promoting the continuation of the cycles of hate, violence, and above all the fear off which It feeds.

Derryit

The relationship between It and Derry is an interesting love-hate relationship.  The two things in a way depend on each other.  At one point Bill reflects on growing up in Derry.

He remembered his childhood here as a fearful, nervous time…not only because of the summer of ’58, when the seven of them had faced the terror, but because of George’s death, the deep dream his parents seemed to have fallen into following that death, the constant ragging about his stutter, Bowers, Huggins, and Criss constantly on the prod for them after the rock fight in the Barrens […] and just a feeling that Derry was cold, that Derry was hard, that Derry didn’t much give a shit if any of them lived or died, and certainly not if they triumphed over Pennywise the Clown.  Derry folk had lived with Pennywise in all guises for a long time…and maybe, in some made way, they had come to understand him.  To like him, need him.  Love him?  Maybe.  Yes, maybe that too (King, 456).

It and the things that It represents – fear, evil, hate – have existed for so long in Derry and in many other towns across America that if those things were suddenly gone, the town of Derry would be drastically changed.  These qualities, as unfortunate as they are, are a part of the culture of Derry and of human nature.  To rip out fear and hate from the way that humans understand the world could possibly be even more ruinous to human civilization than what results from them if they remain.  Without fear would we be able to comprehend the world around us in the same way? What would our society do if hate no longer existed?  When the adult children are attacking It for the final time, an old man has an interesting premonition.  “We’re in danger,”  He thinks, “All of us.  Derry (King, 994).”  Indeed as the children are attacking It, a literal storm is raging in Derry in which many residents are killed.

The best way to describe this relationship between It and Derry has come to me through a documentary that I viewed called Eyes of the Mothman.  It is about the disturbing events that occurred in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the 1960’s.  People of Point Pleasant reported seeing a bird-like monster with red eyes.  Some believed it to be an evil thing.  Following these sightings there was a tragic accident when a bridge collapsed killing over 40 people.  Some residents also connected the two events saying that the Mothman creature portended the accident.  Surprisingly, I found similarities between the documentary and the novel It.

Like It in Derry, the Mothman became a part of Point Pleasant culture.  People went out looking for the creature as a means of entertainment.  To this day the town hold a Mothman Festival every year.  The creature has become a part of the place, that to remove it, the place would not be the same.  Like in Derry, the townsfolk at first did not want to talk about the monster.  People who did come forward as witnesses were ridiculed by the community until sightings became commonplace.  It’s one thing to read to read about the relationship between Derry and It in King’s book, but quite another to see it in a real situation.  In the end does it matter whether the Mothman was really some kind of beast?  Does it matter if It was real if It has such a relationship with Derry?

I don’t know if the Mothman was an evil, supernatural being or perhaps just a mutated animal.  But I do believe in the power of place.  That maybe there are some kind of bad vibes in the land of that area which makes it more likely for unfortunate events to happen.  Many people in Point Pleasant believe that the land was cursed by a murdered Native American chieftain.  Perhaps the negativity of that place goes back even further that just like in Derry.  Mike’s character states about Derry, “I don’t think that the Legion of White Decency happened to get along so well here because they hated black people and bums more in Derry than they did in Portland or Lewiston or Brunswick.  It’s because of that soil.  It seems that bad things, hurtful things, do right well in the soil of this town (King, 426).”  Perhaps it was the soil of Derry which attracted It and not It that diseased the soil.

In the end, Stephen King’s “It” is a kind of critique of American society as it exists in small communities.  It addresses problems of racism, homophobia, and violence which are persistent problems throughout lifetimes.  It is about how fear works in the lives of those who make up our communities.  It shows us how these fears and violence impact our children ans shows us what our children will grow up to believe.  In the end, It is defeated by facing our fears and by coming to terms with the realities that surround our fears.  In order for Bill to challenge the monster, he must come to accept the fear and guilt that he feels for the death of his brother.  He must accept that George was murdered and that it wasn’t his fault before he can fight back against George’s killer.  Perhaps King is saying that in the same way, we must come to terms with the existence of hatred and fear of the unknown before we can reverse them.  Our communities are It and will be It.  And It is and will be our communities in the future unless the cycles of silence are changed.

 

King, Stephen.  It.  New York: Signet. 1986. Print.

50 Shades of Grey: A Topic for Conversation?

I stood in the break room at work, leaning up against a counter with the other mostly female employees – there was only one guy who is in his early twenties.  We waited patiently for our supervisor to come and give us a little pep talk before the night shift began.  She entered the room with a relaxed but confident stride – she’s a tall, middle-aged woman a little bit younger than my own mother; relationship status: unknown.  Our supervisor preceded to explain some changes that would take place around the workplace.  At the end of this speech she added:

“If you haven’t noticed, I’m back from my vacation! Ten days just sitting on my butt and reading.”

“What did you read?” Someone asked.

Fifty Shades of Grey!  All three of them!  And I can’t wait until the movie comes out!  They were so good!” My supervisor declared.

At this point, I’m thinking, Oh, Please.  She must be joking.  I looked at the faces around the room as the other young women joined their boss in a discussion about which actors they want in the movie.  If anyone is shocked or uncomfortable, they are trying to hide it just as I am.  My glance lands on the one guy in the room.  My thoughts change to: Oh, my dear Lord.  He is smiling, but has retreated, along with myself,  to the back of the group.  Has society changed so much without my notice that it is now appropriate to discuss pornography with your boss at work?  Am I missing something?  I feel awkward and vexed, still glancing at the young man beside me.  What are we doing to ourselves and to each other by regarding erotic fiction as part of our everyday lives?  What sort of role are these books playing in our society? Are they provoking/transforming our view of sexuality or simply bringing to light issues/aspects that already exist?  How can we as a society have issues with overt homosexuality and nudity on TV, yet openly talk about Fiftly Shades of Grey in “normal” conversation while ignoring the fact that the book is graphically about inflicting pain during sex?  The questions have been in my mind for sometime, but until now I have lacked a springboard to get my mind really thinking about them.

Let’s face it people – Fifty Shades might be on the best-seller list, women of all ages and places in life have read them, but they are erotic novels featuring a controlling, male sadist.  The combination of these things is concerning to me and I think it calls for some reflection on ourselves as a society.

I have a bit more explaining to do and a confession to make.  I myself have read all three Fifty Shades of Grey novels.  Shocking.  I know.  Believe what you want.  However, I did not read them for any sort of “pleasure.”  I read them so I could talk about them, think about them, and make arguments about them that are based on my own experiences and evidence from the books rather than hearsay.  I read them so I would understand what so many other women enjoy reading.  That way my thoughts and feelings about the books have a solid standing ground.

A more important question than what parts of our lives really need to be censored is how can censored topics be openly and positively discussed in a manner which excludes no one.

About the Books

The Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E.L. James (a pen name) started out as a piece of online fan fiction which took on its own unique path to popularity.  Before Fifty Shades was well known, James enjoyed writing Twilight fan fiction.  This brings to mind another question:  Why should I take seriously something that has had such a light-hearted birthplace?  Well, as long as there are people who do take it seriously, in order to understand these people’s thoughts and actions, I too must take it seriously.

For those of you who don’t know, the books are about a young woman, Anastasia Steele, who is still getting her undergraduate degree when the story begins.  Through a series of circumstances, Anastasia meets the powerful Christian Grey, the CEO of a company in Seattle.  We soon find out that Grey has had a disturbing past that has turned him into a sadist who seeks out women to submit to his violent, sexual fancies.  He gets women to sign a contract which outlines a strict set of rules that they must follow.  These rules include things such as what they can wear and what they are allowed to eat.  Grey’s relationships are about three things: control, sex, and pain.  Christian decides that he is going to convince Anastasia to sign his contract.  However, Anastasia eventually ends up wanting “more” from the relationship.  The whole question is: Can Christian change who is in order to give her that relationship?

Not All Bad For What They Are

Apart from the fact that the books are horribly unvaried and the first novel lacks anything close to a plot, I could tell that James, in part, knew what she was doing when she wrote them.  We have to consider that the purpose of these books was not to live up to Shakespeare’s standards.  They are erotic fiction which is meant to entertain and arouse the pleasure centers of our bodies.  This purpose does not demand that there be a plot or complex characters.  It does, however; require a certain amount of psychological priming.  This means the author must understand the art of building anticipation in the minds of readers while building tensions between the characters.  I noticed that James creates this tension through having the characters sexually tease one another.  I also noticed that she often repeated certain sexually charged words in different contexts – most often when speaking of Christian’s “penetrating gaze.”  Who knows if James intended this, but I believe that it does work to subconsciously manipulate how we are feeling.  This unfortunately makes the writing rather repetitive and eventually, to me, boring.

It’s hard to describe, but in any case, I got the feeling that James knew exactly what she was doing in order to gain the response she wanted from her readers.

I can understand why some women would find Fifty Shades of Grey appealing.  Other then the purely sexual aspects of the book, there’s the idea that Anastasia can heal and change Christian.  This adds an emotional element to the books that I think women enjoy fantasizing about.  It gives women the illusion that they can be in control and command over men like Christian (Note that it is mostly an illusion no matter how appealing).  To me, Christian’s “transformation” was the most interesting part of the books.    I also realize that some women are attracted to powerful men who can provide for them and protect them.  This is in some ways reasonable to me as long as the protectiveness is not damaging to the woman’s spirits.

Problems

Is this book really what a reviewer on Amazon describes as “a porn version of Cinderella”?  How do we go about judging the relationship between Anastasia and Christian?  There is no way I can approve of a sexual relationship in which one person is forced into pain.  Nor would I ever encourage a woman to be involved with a man who tells her what she can and cannot eat.  Indeed I would discourage it, even if the person was a complete stranger.  This type of controlling relationship in my mind is hands down wrong and extremely unhealthy.  But what if like at the end of Fifty Shades, the couple is married, still taking part in somewhat violent, consensual sex; but have a calculated way of communicating emotional distress and respect each others limits.  How do we judge them?  Can we say hands down that any kind of relationship involving occasional roughness is wrong even if it is mutually enjoyed and seems to have no ill mental effects on the participants?  Do Anastasia and Christian still have a happily ever after even if Christian still struggles with his need to always be in control and Anastasia still allows him to indulge in it?

The biggest issue surrounding these books for me is that women enjoy indulging in it.  The books themselves don’t directly promote being involved in a relationship like Anastasia and Christian’s.  Nor do I think it’s good for women to suppress themselves sexually.  Women have just the same rights as men to openly explore who they are in a sexual relationship and to indulge in sexual pleasures.  However, it is concerning that so many women are allowing themselves to fantasize about being in an unhealthy relationship and can declare with no scruples that they absolutely adored Fifty Shades of Grey.  My concern is for those who have become “fan crazed” over something that is destructive to the mental and emotional health of all women.

One of the things I found in the novel to be distressing and destructive in the minds of women was Anastasia’s “inner goddess” who I found to be rather misguided.  Throughout the novels we have access to Anastasia’s thoughts which seem to be separated into two categories.  She has a consciousness that expresses more logical thoughts and another which she calls her goddess.  This goddess then is the sensual part of her mind.  I say that this goddess is misguided because she gets excited about being in this relationship that is pain and a prison of control.  Here’s a passage from the book referring to Ana and Christian’s relationship in general.

My inner goddess is jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five-year-old.  Please, let’s do this…otherwise we’ll end up alone with lots of cats and your classic novels to keep you company.

The only man I’ve ever been attracted to, and he comes with a bloody contract, a flogger, and whole world of issues.

That is something that a goddess would never ever tell a woman to do and if yours is telling you to submit yourself to a Christian Grey because you can’t find anyone better than you need to get a new deity.  To me this is not a goddess of sexual prowess like many female readers would interpret, but a goddess of low self-esteem and disrespect.  By the end I wanted to strangle this so-called goddess.

Another issue to be considered is what Fifty Shades might be doing to men and how that affects women.  I’m sure that not very many men have read Fifty Shades of Grey and this is in its own way interesting.  First of all the men who have read it are most likely to see the books as 100% about sex.  They would not necessarily care about the emotional aspects of the books which make them more appealing to women.  If they haven’t read the books, men are rely on what they hear secondhand from media and other sources.  They are probably going to come to the same conclusion that these books are straight up about violent sex.  This is a problem when so many women enjoy reading them.  Might some men make the connection that women are crazy about violent sex?  What might this mean for the welfare of women everywhere?

Either that or men step away in awkward fear as the young man that I work with did, perhaps losing confidence by thinking that women would prefer someone like Christian Grey over himself.  Or whatever…I can’t say I know the minds of men.  But the last point that I would like to make is not that we should not talk about topics like Fifty Shades of Grey at all or that we should get all hung up on our fear of taboo subjects.  Yes, it is somewhat ridiculous in my mind that we would should censor nudity in Greek art while allowing half naked women in TV commercials/magazines to be viewed in arousing poses.  However, the bigger issue I think is finding a way we can discuss our feelings and thoughts about these taboo issues in an open conversation that promotes growth without making individuals feel excluded.  That is the real challenge that our society is facing – where, when, and how should we talk about issues involving sexuality, pornography, and violence.  I believe that this is a work in progress that can only be achieved when everyone is willing to understand the differences in each other and willing to create an environment of safety that accepts these differences.

Gender and the Unrequited Love Story: A Work in Progress

The source of inspiration for my current writing project comes from about a year ago.  One of the characters actually came out of an assignment I wrote for my writing memoir class.  I had an acquaintance (not even a friendship really) with a guy in college who became a minor character in my memoir.  Later I decided that I would give him a pseudonym and develop his general character into something greater.  From what I knew about him he had a very free way of looking at life and to be cliché, he was a feather-in-the-wind type of person.  It also seemed to me that he was just living on the currents of everyone else’s lives. I found this particularly interesting about him as a character.  I decided to go and experiment further with the character and I created a fictional background for him and filled in all the cracks in his life that I hadn’t thought about before.

I gave him a pseudonym of Uriel and he soon became a great character that I enjoyed writing about in many situations.  Anyhow, I decided to write a love story about Uriel since his character has such a hard time holding on to relationships.  But I didn’t want it to be a typical unrequited love story like many others I had heard.  Not that they were bad stories.  I just like to experiment with plot sometimes.

My idea for the story is that it will be told from the point-of-view of the character who was in love looking back at the relationship after years have gone by and the character has moved on to other loves.  Perhaps the two people involved in the relationship are reunited.  I want the narrative to be less about the love part of it and more about how the giving love that was rejected changed the rest of the person’s life – their view on other relationships, how they feel about perhaps wasting a lot of their time on a useless relationship, how they come to forgive themselves for this, and how they learn how to forgive the other person.

However, the problem is that I’m not sure what to do with which gender I want to fill which roles in the story.  Should the rejected lover be male or female?  Should it be a homosexual or heterosexual relationship?  If it is homosexual, should the characters be male or female?  I’m trying to consider all possibilities and how Uriel’s character would fit into it.  I’m also really considering how different genders of rejected lovers are viewed by society.  Are women who pursue an unrequited love viewed differently than men in the same situation?  Yes, I believe they are.  But what will this do to my story?

Men who continually pursue a woman who doesn’t love them are seen as romantic and self-sacrificing – even brave or heroic.  When a woman pursues a man who has rejected her, she is seen as desperate, clingy, and emotionally unstable.  This would have a great effect on how the character would view their life after they have given up on the relationship ever working.  If Uriel were the rejected lover, than it would be more interesting if he viewed himself to be stupid and naive rather than romantic and brave.  Although if the story were about a woman who Uriel rejected, she might be more focused on justifying her actions as not being desperate.  A man’s story might be more about forgiving the woman while the story told from a woman’s perspective might be more about self-forgiveness.  The social consequences are somewhat greater for a woman who pursues a man with no hope than the social consequences would be for a male.  I feel that if Uriel were the rejected lover, it could be really interesting, but in order to create more drama, I would have to manufacture some emotions to a certain extent.  Perhaps I feel this way too because I would be a female writer telling the story from the perspective of a male.

The homosexual relationship is something I feel that I should also consider.  Same-sex unrequited love stories are obviously rarer than heterosexual ones, which is what I find attractive about writing one.  The character of Uriel wasn’t intended to be gay.  But I have to ask myself, what if he were?  What if he for some reason thought he was?  What if his attraction to the same sex is limited to a single person?  This would cause all sorts of confusion and disconnectedness in his character and in the story.  If the story was about a female same-sex relationship, Uriel’s character would have to be marginalized.  Perhaps I could make it a double unrequited love story with Uriel pursuing a female who is pursuing anther female.  Now we are becoming quite Shakespearean.  This idea seems to have it all, but is it too much?

Speaking of Shakespeare, I’ve also thought about writing this story as a play because I want it to be focused more on the characters rather than the plot.  I like plays for the reason that nearly all of the character’s feelings have to be shown to the audience and not told to the audience.  It might make the narrative stronger by keeping me away from using too many weak adverbs and boring sentences.

From what I hear from family and friends, the main character/rejected lover should be female because it would be easier for me to relate to her.  As of now I’m thinking the same thing.

There’s a lot to consider.  Any thoughts from readers?  Feel free to share them with me.  What do you think would make the best story?

Then I’ll be sure to share the end result with you when I’m finished.

Under Wildwood By Colin Meloy: The Second Book in the Wildwood Chronicles

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

I believe this post is in need of a bit of a prologue (If you only want to hear about the book mentioned in the title, please skip this section.).  As I might have stated before, I have an interesting relationship with the works of Colin Meloy.  Sorry (especially to Colin) if I talk about this too much, but he is (perhaps sadly?) one of the more influential artists in my life.  I say “perhaps sadly” because I know that there are many other writers/musicians out there who have much more acclaim.  Why not make Allen Ginsberg or Shakespeare your artistic hero?  Or maybe Bach or Bob Dylan?  To choose Colin Meloy as my main influence in my writing might seem to some to be unsophisticated.  The more snobby, aspiring artists may look down their noses at me.  But frankly, they do not understand where I have been in my life and they can think what they want.  The only thing that’s meaningful to me is what results from the influence no matter what that influence might be. (And there are more than enough parentheses in this paragraph.)

To shorten a long story that you probably don’t care about, I rekindled my love for writing after a long stint focusing on music, discovered Meloy’s band The Decemberists, and then earned my degree in English, history, and writing.  This should be enough said if you are familiar with the band.  If you are not familiar with them, I strongly urge you to check them out.

Last year when I read Meloy’s first novel, Wildwood, it was a strange experience.  I read Wildwood for entertainment purposes, but I found myself being extremely critical of it.  I looked at it like I was an editor.  In addition, I had the eyes of someone who had just gotten a bachelor’s in English.  I compared Meloy’s writing to what I’d learned that writing should be.  He repeated words too many times in the same paragraph, strings of actions didn’t flow together but seemed like I was reading a list, the story didn’t have enough creative details, and Meloy was just using his fame as a singer in order to get his books published.  It shed some light on how I thought Meloy viewed his own work.  At the time I thought that he was arrogant and didn’t care about the writing as much as he did being published.  I resented this because I knew that no matter how good my writing was, it would be a huge challenge to get it published.  And here was Colin who had the power to get his work published and whose writing hadn’t lived up to my expectations.  I’m sorry again Colin, but that’s how I felt.  And perhaps I was a bit arrogant and snobby myself.  I did read Wildwood a second time and enjoyed it much more.

The Rating

As for reading Under Wildwood, it was a much different experience.  Something has definitely changed for the better.  Whether that something is Meloy or myself is yet to be seen.  I give the book 4 out of 5 hearts.  I loved reading it 95% of the time.  It has a fantastic entertainment value for people of all ages and has enough literary theory fodder to keep a scholar’s mind alight.

About the Book

“‘Nature, fickle nature, created the seasons.  For centuries man was imprisoned by these seasons.  He could only eat certain things at certain times.  Certain activities had to wait til the appropriate season arrived.  But then came the great, golden industrial age, and seasons were nothing to man.  Incidental.  A piffle!  Instead, we count our time by the passing of the great Fiscal Quarter – and we do what we like, when we like.  We eat whatever we want to eat.  And we eat well, don’t we gentlemen?'” – Mr.Wigman

In Under Wildwood (released September 25, 2012) we find Prue – somewhat depressed – back in her old life on the Outside.  Curtis on the other hand is undertaking his first lessons in “bandit training.”  When it is made known to the bandits that Prue is in great danger from a shape shifting beast which has been hired to kill her, Curtis and Brendon plan a rescue mission to bring Prue back to the Wood.  There she can be safer living under the protection of the bandits.  Prue; however, has different plans.  She has gradually been developing her ability to intuit the emotions of plants.  During a training race for the young bandits, she senses that something has gone terrible wrong in North Wood.  Prue drags Curtis with her to the Council Tree to discover what has happened.  They arrive to find that the Mystics have been attacked by the shape shifting assassins.  After funeral ceremonies, Prue communicates with the Council Tree.  The Tree gives her a mission.  She must reanimate the true prince of the Wood – the Dowager Governess’s automaton son.  But before she can do this, Prue must find the two exiled men that helped first create the robotic boy.  So Prue, Curtis, and Septimus the rat set out on their quest which leads them through tunnels under Wildwood and Portland where they make more new friends and enemies.

Since the great Bicycle Coup at the end of Wildwood, the new government in South Wood has taken a turn for the worst.  With a harsh winter already in place, the people of the Wood are starving and it seems that no one is willing to help them.  The government officials in South Wood are too busy stabbing one another in the back and accusing each other of being part of the “Old Regime.”  This has caused a rise in fundamentalist patriotism in the capital of South Wood.  Everyone seems to be suffering and losing liberties because of it.  If Prue and Curtis are successful in their objective of reanimating the prince, the Council Tree claims that these problems will be fixed.

Meanwhile, Curtis’s family is still looking for their missing son and brother.  Curtis’s parents choose to go traveling in order to find Curtis and so they drop Curtis’s sisters off at an orphanage.  However, Unthank’s Home for Wayward Youth is much more than just a home for abandoned children.  Joffery Unthank, the head of the machine parts industry uses the children of his orphanage as labor in his factory.  Despite his production of machine parts, Unthank is unsatisfied.  It seems that the only thing that will satiate his hunger for industry is the resources that the nearby Impassable Wilderness will provide for the production of oscillated bolt nuts.  Unthank will go to any lengths to breach the magical Periphery Bind around Wildwood which keeps intruders lost forever in a type of purgatory.  Unthank will even send the children into the Wood where they become stuck and together create their own community of lost boys and girls.  This continues until Curtis’s sisters, Rachel and Elsie are sent into Wildwood.  There the girls discover that they possess the Woods Magic and can pass in and out of the forest at will.  They endeavor to save the children who are caught on the border of Wildwood and launch an attack against Unthank.

“‘Sometimes, when the world is falling apart around you, all that’s left to do is dance, right?’ Curtis stood, bowed, and proffered his hand.”

Why it Got Its Rating

Under Wildwood is filled with much more “creative cuteness” than its predecessor.  The bandit’s camp contains a library with such books as “A Woodian on the Outside” and “Lewis and Clark in Wildwood.”  However, Septimus the rat has to be the cutest character in the entire book.  After coming out of a small hole, he stumbles around squint-eyed, waving his hand in front of his nose before letting loose a tremendous sneeze.  There’s nothing cuter than that.  Under Wildwood is much more kid friendly than the first novel in the series with broken family ties being a more important issue for the young characters.  It seemed to me that Meloy is much more relaxed and settled into his writing, which might be because he is spending less time on the music scene.

Like Wildwood, this new novel contains the conflict of nature vs. man when industrialization threatens the Wood.  The second book in the series also uses this conflict to bring in other theoretical interpretations to the story such at post-colonialism, eco-feminism, and this time perhaps Marxist theory.  Borders are a big thing in these books and in Under Wildwood we see that even more through Meloy’s inclusion of immigrants like Desdemona who came to the States for a better life, and Marsha whose parents have been deported.  Even the children getting stuck on the periphery of Wildwood can reflect on the United State’s somewhat flawed immigration policies.  As for eco-feminism, Prue’s empathy with plants plays a huge part, but I also find the first quote in this post to be particularly interesting.  If nature is considered to represent the female sex and industry male, the first quote here takes on a whole new meaning.  The quote could even be a contrast between types of paganism which honor the Mother Goddess and Christianity which has a greater focus on the acts of men.  The quote can show the idea of one religion slowly taking over the other.

Finally, Under Wildwood has a number of Shakespearean references.  How could I object to that?

“It felt as if she’s been slipped some powerful draft that had made her whole reasoning and perspective shift.  Or, she figured, perhaps it was of her own making.  Maybe this was what becoming an adult felt like.”

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Sources

Meloy, Colin.  Under Wildwood.  New York: Balzer + Bray,  2012.  Print.

Alias Grace By Margaret Atwood: A Book Review

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Alias Grace gets 4 out of 5 hearts.  Compared to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, this novel was just as well written and entertaining.  However, Alias Grace fits into a much different genre than Atwood’s best known book.  It is based on historical events and could be described as an historical, psychological, detective novel.  I loved reading it 85% of the time.

“Over the years in prison, when I have been by myself, as I am a good deal of the time, I have closed my eyes and turned my head towards the sun, and I have seen a red and an orange that were like the brightness of those quilts; and when we’d hung a half-dozen of them up on the line, all in a row, I thought that they looked like flags, hung out by an army as it goes to war.

And since that time I have thought, why is it that women have chosen to sew such flags, and then to lay them on top of beds?  For they make the bed the most noticeable thing in a room.  And then I have thought, it’s for a warning.  Because you may think a bed is a peaceful thing, Sir, and to you it may mean rest and comfort and a good night’s sleep.  But it isn’t so for everyone; and there are many dangerous things that may take place in a bed.  It is where we are born, and that is our first peril in life; and it is where the women give birth, which is often their last.  And it is where the act takes place between men and women that I will not mention to you, Sir, but I suppose you know what it is; and some call it love, and others despair, or else merely an indignity which they must suffer through.  And finally beds are what we sleep in, and where we dream, and often where we die.”

About the Book

In 1843 maidservant Grace Marks (16 years old) and her accomplice, the stable boy, James McDermott, were arrested for the murder of their master, Mr. Thomas Kinnear and another maid called Nancy Montgomery.  Kinnear was a wealthy bachelor who headed a household in Toronto, Canada.  Nancy was supposedly his mistress.  Rumors went wild when the story hit the press.  Everyone seemed to have their own version of what happened.  Many thought James and Grace were lovers, but that Grace was in love with Mr. Kinnear.  Grace then asked James to help her kill Kinnear and Nancy because she was jealous of their relationship.  This was the most common version of events.

James McDermott was sentenced to hang while Grace was committed to an asylum for 15 years due to sudden fits of “hysteria.”  She claimed to have no memory of the times when the murders took place.  After 15 years, Grace was moved to a penitentiary in Kingston, Canada because of her improved behavior.  The Governor’s wife allows Grace to work as a maid in her house during the days.  This is where we find Grace at the beginning of the novel.

Meanwhile, there is an up-and-coming psychologist named Dr. Simon Jordan.  Simon seeks to improve upon the more barbaric psychiatric treatments of electrical shock therapy and drilling holes in patient’s heads.  In his search for new treatment methods, he is drawn to Grace’s case and wishes to help her reclaim her memory of the murders.  Every afternoon he visits Grace.  She sits sewing and telling him the tale of her life – her abusive father, her family’s emmigration from Ireland to Canada, and the death of her closest childhood friend after having a primitive abortion.  Simon frantically takes notes.  Simon finds himself having strange fantasies about Grace which lead him into a sticky situation with his landlady.

Dr. Jordan’s attempts to rekindle Grace’s memories go unsuccessful until Simon meets an expert in hypnosis.  Dr. DuPont asks if he may probe Grace’s unconscious and Grace consents.  Together Jordan and DuPont make a tremendous discovery in the world of psychology.  But will Grace’s name be cleared of guilt or will their discovery continue to condemn her without a doubt as to the sins she has committed?  Is Grace a true murderer of a victim of her unfortunate situation.

“He [Dr.Jordan] doesn’t understand yet that guilt comes to you not from the things you’ve done, but from the things that others have done to you.”

Why It Got Its Rating

As you can see from the above quote, Alias Grace asks the question of whether we are ever completely responsible for the sins we commit.  Was Grace really guilty or was she a victim of her circumstances as a woman under the thumb of men?  Grace had seen the violence that men had performed against her sex.  Her father was a drunk and forced his young daughters to work in his stead.  Grace’s childhood friend was impregnated by a gentleman who left her to die after the friend had to have an abortion.  Knowing this, can we say that Grace was guilty for the murders or was she trying to avoid being harmed by James McDermott who asked her to help him in killing Mr. Kinnear and Nancy?  The novel also questions the ideas of memory and truth.  Many people believed that Grace was a liar because she claimed not to remember the murders taking place even though she was present when they occurred.  Does the fact that Grace has no memory of what she did make her a liar?  She was telling her own truth, but not the Truth.  How do our memories change this Truth of what has happened?  Or do our memories make their own Truth?  These questions drive the novel forward and captivated my interest as a reader.

Atwood has definitely created an historical novel, but she does not allow this to produce a distance between the reader and the characters; even though those characters lived 200 years ago.  She includes in the novel excerpts from Grace’s actual confession and of other news sources from the time.  In addition, there are references to British Victorian novels such as Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.  These books written in the 1800’s – including authors like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters – tend to include only the thoughts and actions of the characters that are deemed appropriate to the high society who read them.  This formality of characters creates a gap between the reader and the mind of the character because the character isn’t allowed to be genuine.   Atwood, however; has closed that distance by letting Dr. Simon Jordan explain to us that his landlady’s servant reminds him of a ham.  Atwood does a fantastic job of balancing historical accuracy and entertaining the modern reader.

“The pattern of this quilt is called the Tree of Paradise, and whoever named that pattern said better than she knew, as the Bible does not say Trees.  It says there were two different trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge; but I believe there was only the one, and that the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Good and Evil were the same.  And if you ate of it you would die, but if you didn’t eat of it you would die also; although if you did eat of it, you would be less bone-ignorant by the time you got around to your death.”

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Sources

Text: Atwood, Margaret.  Alias Grace.  New York: Doubleday, 1996.  Print.

The Inheritor By Marion Zimmer Bradley: A Book Review

Rating: ♥♥♥

I give The Inheritor 3 out of 5 hearts.  It was better than Bradley’s Ghostlight, which I reviewed earlier, but not one of the best books that I’ve read.  It was good for entertainment and got me away from reality for a little while.  I loved reading it 70% of the time.

About the Book

“‘Hundreds of young people disappear every year, and most of them have simply changed their address without the formality of having a new one.  I hope it is no more than that.’

With the memory of Juanita García’s face under water in a ditch, Leslie hoped so too.  If the young man was alive, she could forget him, and so could the police; it was no crime to move without telling your family where you were going, and she had been tempted herself when she left Sacramento.  If it hadn’t been for Nick Beckenham she might have been one of those statistics herself.  But no, she would never have done that to Emily.  To her parents perhaps, but not to Emily.”

Leslie Barnes is a psychiatrist living in San Francisco with her little sister, Emily.  Leslie and Emily’s father died and left each of the girls a sum of money.  Emily is using her inheritance to go to an advanced music school for her upper level education.  Leslie uses her own fortune to purchase a house big enough for Emily’s pianos and an office for her at-home psychiatric practice.  But before they can move, Leslie must deal with her boyfriend, Joel, and the pesky business of having a poltergeist.  After being in a serious, long-term relationship with Joel, Leslie discovers that he expects her to leave behind her career if she wants to marry him.  She refuses to do so.  This tension in their relationship has caused a poltergeist to appear.  For authoress Bradley, a poltergeist is much more than just a ghost.

“The poltergeist is generally a product of emotions in a state of chronic tension, usually but not always centering upon a a girl at the threshold of menses, less frequently a disturbed adolescent boy or a pregnant woman.  The awakening sexual forces combine with family hostilities and resentments to create a force which expresses itself in knocks, bangs, broken china, and objects moved about without visual cause.  Frequently the ambiance is that of a naughty child; the girl is frequently eager to maintain adult status and disclaims responsibility for any childish resentments, thus creating strong tension between the unconscious need to behave like a child, and the conscious desire for adulthood.”

Leslie moves into her new and bigger home in order to get rid of her poltergeist and to start a fresh life without Joel.  However, escaping the paranormal isn’t that easy.  Leslie and Emily experience new, frightful disturbances in the house caused by the ghost of an old woman named Alison who used to live there.  In addition, Leslie has the psychic ability to find the locations of missing victims of kidnapping.  The police officer, Nick Beckenham, won’t let her forget about this power (see first quote above).

To find answers to her problems, Leslie goes to a local occult bookstore where she meets Claire and Colin, two old friends of Alison’s.  Leslie learns that Alison was also a psychic psychiatrist and a musician.  Claire claims that Alison’s spirit has been waiting for people like Leslie and Emily to inherit the house from her.  Leslie also learns that Alison did at one point have an heir selected; however, Alison disinherited him when she found out that he was practicing black magic in her house.

It turns out that this heir was Simon Anstey – Emily’s new music teacher and; more significantly, Leslie’s new lover.  Leslie refuses to believe that Simon is evil even when he confesses to her that he had sacrificed a prostitute in one of his rituals.  Nothing can change Leslie’s mind about Simon until he does something so horrible – something which she cannot ignore.

Throughout the novel, Leslie is also learning much from her patients about reincarnation, poltergeists, and hauntings.  In the end when she needs all her strength to stop Simon, will she be able to come to terms with her psychic abilities and finally lose her own poltergeist?

Why it Got its Rating

This is one of the few books that I’ve read which was written for women and contains a male main character who is just as interesting as the female protagonist.  Many times literature for women will obviously have good female characters, but the male characters are flat in comparison.  In most cases, readers are only allowed into the female’s point-of-view on her relationships.  Bradley has done this, but she has also created the complex character of Simon Anstey.  Simon is kind, intelligent, generous, and determined to follow his passion for music.  This is why Leslie loves him.  And yet he can also be short-tempered and narrow-minded when it comes to his beliefs in magic.  He is a “bad guy” who doesn’t really want to be a “bad guy.”  He just has some unfortunate character flaws that get him into serious trouble.  I despised him for being a murderer, but at the same time, I wanted to forgive him.

This complex, male character creates a challenge for the female character who is trying to understand her emotions toward Simon.  It was a little frustrating as a reader to know that Simon was not entirely a good person.  I kept wanting to yell at Leslie, “Why are you still with this guy?!  Why didn’t you leave him as soon as he told you he had killed someone?!”  At the same time I also appreciated Leslie’s situation because I think it is a realistic one for many women who do not want to believe that their loved one could be a violent/abusive person.  It helped me to sympathize with these women who have to make the difficult choice of whether or not to stay or leave a man whom they have come to love.

If you’d like to read my other reviews of books by Marion Zimmer Bradley, you can do that here: Ghostlight by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Sources

Text: Bradley, Marion Zimmer.  The Inheritor.  New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1984.  Print.

Image from: http://us.macmillan.com/book.aspx?name=theinheritor&author=MarionBradley

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: A Book Review

♥♥♥♥♥ 5 out of 5 Hearts

I loved reading this book 100% of the time.

About The Handmaid’s Tale

“Freedom, like everything else, is relative.” – Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel set in an alternate reality.  In the mid 1980’s, women start to become barren due to drug use and pollutants.  The U.S population growth drops into the negative.  There is a terrorist attack on the United States from the Middle East.  The president and all members of congress are killed.  The Land of the Free has fallen into chaos.

From this turmoil arises a new puritan society in which reading, writhing, employment, and all vanities are denied to women.  The laws of society are now taken from the book of Genesis.  The relationships between men and woman, ideas of sexuality, and the roles of mothers have been transformed.  Any female who is still fertile attends the Rachel and Leah Re-education Center.  There they learn how to be Handmaids.

“And when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her” (Genesis 30: 1-3).

The Handmaid called Offred is assigned to a Commander and his Wife so that she can bear children for them.  It is the role of the Handmaid to act as the carrying vessel for offspring.  She must become pregnant within a certain amount of time or she is considered an Unwoman and taken to the Colonies where the inhabitants work to clean up the hazardous waste that has caused the infertility of the country.  Offred is only allowed out of the house to go shopping with her Handmaid companion, Ofglen; to go to a Birth Day, Prayvaganza (group wedding), or Salvaging (execution).

Offred is cautious when her Commander invites her to his study for a private conversation.  It is not permitted that she speak to him without the presence of the Wife.  She is then set on course that might result in extreme punishment for developing a friendship with her Commander.

“All you have to do, I tell myself, is keep your mouth shut and look stupid.  It shouldn’t be that hard.” – Margaret Atwood

Why it Got its Rating

Margaret Atwood is not just a novelist, but also a poet.  She has many more works of poetry than she has of prose.  This poetic skill and style comes through in her novels, creating narratives with rich images and surprising metaphors that actually work well.  Not only is the plot interesting and intelligent, but the words and sentences themselves are pure joy.

The Handmaid’s Tale raises some interesting questions about the quality of our freedoms in American society.  Is freedom a good thing in every situation or are there times in which control is safer and more beneficial to all?  Are all freedoms the same or are there different types of freedom such as freedom-to and freedom-from?  Offred’s character remembers her life before the tragic ending of the democratic government.  She had a husband and a daughter of her own once.  This allows Atwood to make a critical comparison between how we live today and how Offred is living day-to-day.

If you decide to read this novel, do not skip over the historical notes at the back of the book.  They are not in fact historical, but are also fictionalized.  A professor in the future finds cassette tapes on which Offred has recorded her story.  The transcript of her recorded history is what you have read in the main part of the novel.

There is a film adaption of the book from 1990 starring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Aidan Quinn, and Robert Duvall.  I have not seen this movie so I cannot tell you how good/bad it is.

Happy Reading!

Sources:

Image from: http://maxdunbar.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/classic-books-the-handmaids-tale/

Text: Atwood, Margaret.  The Handmaid’s Tale.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1986.  Print.