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Thursday, Apr 7, 2011
Murder, masochism, Satanism and nihilism: Parents, you might want to rethink substituting your kids' Twilight paperbacks for the classics.

I’ve recently been re-reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the unabridged version, and I’m inclined to go stick my head in the oven, now.


I do not wish to shoot messengers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, here. They clearly did their best to faithfully preserve the rich folktale tradition of their native heath. My question, after re-reading this fine old classic of my childhood—during which its utter lack of suitability for anyone under about age 35 is becoming steadily clearer—is why they thought this was a good idea? Or, perhaps more to the point, just what the hell was going on in those parts, back then?


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Wednesday, Feb 16, 2011
The very idea of designing intricate mythologies and elven languages and pronouncing Celeborn correctly would've seemed vaguely unwholesome to a middle-aged Midwesterner at the turn of the 20th century. Indeed, the orginal Land of Oz was not a place of winged monkeys.

In order to understand Oz fully, you have to realise that L. Frank Baum did not by any means set out to create the jewel-toned MGM utopia that is his legacy.


The Wizard of Oz was originally a one-off—a determinedly mundane fairyland, designed deliberately as an antidote to the vivid and grotesque European classics. (We will skip lightly over the fact that The Wizard of Oz nevertheless has a body count in the dozens, largely of animals who get their heads chopped off by the Tin Woodman. It’s entirely possible that in Grimm, he would’ve carefully kept the severed heads to put in the Wicked Witch’s bed later, where they would recite doggerel predicting her gruesome demise. So it works out.)


The first in the sequel was intended as a cash-in once the original became a hit stage play, and the others were written pretty much as a favour to the eager little fans—partly because, frankly, L. Frank Baum needed the money too much to refuse them.


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Thursday, Jan 20, 2011
In Jane and the Stillroom Maid, The Devonshires provide the emotional flourishes, Mr. Collins provides the comedy relief, and early-19th-century medicine the fascination that drives this increasingly dark murder mystery.

I’m not ordinarily a huge fan of novelists that use real historical figures. Even if the author is skilled enough to incorporate fact into fiction without coming off as annoyingly arch about their own cleverness, their affection inevitably starts to come off as blatant hero-worship, what I believe is known these days as a ‘Canon Sue’.


This happens to Bruce Alexander’s Sir John Fielding series after awhile. The first three or four, before Jeremy becomes fairly convinced that his boss is God or the closest earthly equivalent, are still very readable. When you then start slamming Benjamin Franklin, though… you’d better be wielding more than “younger brother of the guy who wrote Tom Jones”.


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Friday, Sep 3, 2010
Are fairy tales too frightening for our kids? Do they need sanitizing? Or should we just skip them altogether?

Fairy tales are a familiar part of most childhoods. All over the world, parents tell their children about Cinderella or Cendrillon or Yeh-Hsien or even the Egyptian Cinderella, Rhodopis. At least, they used to. According to a January 2009 article in The Telegraph, parents are skipping the once popular tales in favor of simpler, safer stories such as Eric Carle’s 1969 classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar.


Why?


Because fairy tales are scary, not PC, and outdated.


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Friday, Aug 27, 2010
Viewing any particular media form, fiction or otherwise, as sacrosanct is to misunderstand the fact that all media forms are always and forever intertwined -- and are therefore never pure.

Peta Jinnath Andersen’s excellent PopMatters piece on the utility of placing advertisements in books effectively challenged the notion that such a possibility is a recent marketing development. It also, for what it’s worth, forced me to rethink my own objections to in-text advertising—objections that were not much more sophisticated than something along the lines of “No way, man. I’ll never support writers who sell out, man.” Not very sophisticated, to say the least.


When I initially read Andersen’s article, I could not help but balk at, for instance, the references to Apple products that abound in Stieg Larsson’s The-Girl-Who-Does-Stuff series. My reservations about what I perceived to be really clunky writing—above and beyond the obvious product placement gestures—were steeped in classic academic condescension: “classic” works of literature stand The Test of TimeTM and do not require such obvious connections to the “real world” outside of them in order for them to be relevant. Larsson is pandering, I thought. However, as I stepped back from that decidedly uncritical point of view, I realized 1) that I was being a snob and 2) that product placement/advertising in literature, at least in the contemporary era, has a fairly extensive, if often unacknowledged, history.


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