Sunday, August 20, 2017

On the Nature of the Mer-Soul: A Question

(Yes, I am here again, and I will wring a happy ending out of this story if it kills me.)

Per her agreement with the Sea Witch, the Little Mermaid was to receive legs and a human soul in exchange for her tongue, contingent on her marriage to the prince. The direct physical exchange, tongue for legs, was made on the spot.

Both legs and the potential soul were cancelled in favor of sea-foaminess upon her unequivocal failure to marry the prince, i.e. his marriage to someone else.

Now, my question regards that potential soul—namely, is it indeed potential, or an item of actual existence? Did the exchange go tongue for legs, marriage for soul? Like a pay half now, pay half when the job is done kind of deal?

In that case the Little Mermaid would be a mermaid with legs until her marriage, at which point the soul would kick in and she would be human.

Alternatively, it may have happened all at once. For the price of just one tongue, you too can experience legs and soul for an unlimited time! (Fine print: Prices and shipping may vary. Only valid at participating locations. Final purchase dependent on successful completion of wedding ceremony. Side effects may include, but are not limited to, death and transformation into sea foam.)

In this case, the Little Mermaid would actually be a Little Human from her arrival on land right up until her untimely demise.

Then the question becomes, if the soul was ever present, when exactly did it depart? Did it cease to exist the moment the prince said “I do”? Or did it happen when the rest of her turned to sea foam?

And then we must consider the nature of the soul itself. The story has confirmed that souls may be created; does this mean that they may also be destroyed? But the text does specify, on multiple occasions, that we are dealing with an immortal soul. So our final question is, if the soul comes into existence at the same time as the legs, does it go poof when things take a turn for the foamy, or does it, true to its immortal nature, go up into Heaven while the body goes down into the sea?

(This is all, of course, being considered in light of the version where the mermaid dies, rather than the one where she becomes a Daughter of the Air and spends a few centuries earning a soul; that version opens up a whole slew of theological issues in regards to faith vs. works. We don’t have time for that. Maybe next week.)

And in the end, it all comes down to what it always comes down to, for me, when we talk about The Little Mermaid. Does she get the better end of the deal? Can we count this as a happy ending?





Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Trouble with Christian Fiction

Hi. My name is Jenny, I’m a Christian, and I hate Christian fiction. Like, deeply. Passionately. The entire concept disgusts me. I’m guessing that’s not the reaction they were going for.

In my experience, there are two defining characteristics of Christian fiction.

  1. Poor Quality. We have done ourselves a huge disservice by breaking away from mainstream publishing. The editing skill is, frankly, just not there. Christian publishers publish books on the basis of their being Christian—not on the content, style, or actual skill level of the authors. The writing is mediocre, the plot is mediocre, and no one has pushed these writers to excel at anything beyond including God in their work, as if a book is good merely by virtue of being Biblically sound, and there is no point in aiming for any additional goals.

  2. Selfishness. I have never, never seen a book marked “Christian Fiction” that was even remotely accessible to non-Christians. I’m here for a story, people. If I wanted a sermon, I’d be in a church, not a library. Even if the stories themselves were accessible, that little “Christian Fiction” tag on the spine would turn away any non-Christian readers.

    Guys. As Christians, your job is to share the word of God with others. I mean, fishers of men? Come on! This is like setting a mouse trap in the basement and calling it fishing.

    Newsflash: it is possible to write a book with Christian characters and/or morals that can still be enjoyed by people who are not Christians. Like, if you’ve been given a talent for writing, how dare you use it to help other Christians hide away in their own little sanctuary of perceived holiness instead of using it to help touch people who actually needed to be helped and reached out to? It’s the ultimate example of preaching to the choir. You’re not here for that, guys. You’re not here for that. 

I’m a Christian, but I would much rather read a book about a Muslim girl than a Christian one. Why? Because there’s not a “Muslim Fiction” section at the bookstore.  A book about Muslim characters may include all of the values and worldviews that go along with Islam, but there’s not an exclusive little club for that book, so it’s going to be accessible to me, despite my general lack of knowledge or interest in Islam. It’s going to be designed to reach a broader audience.

If you’re a Christian, your goal should always be to reach a broader audience.

No other religion has a genre to itself. And no religion should, including Christianity. It’s a poor marketing strategy, is what it is. If we got rid of this whole stupid Christian fiction thing, and Christian authors had to go through normal publishers, being “Godly” wouldn’t be enough, and the books would be held to a higher standard of quality, as they already should be. You wouldn’t get away with writing a book that, by its very nature, excluded a large part of the reading population, because no publisher would stand for it.

By all means, write books as Christians. But please, please stop writing Christian fiction, because its very existence is a disgrace to both your faith and good literature.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Contemporary Folklore and the Death of Oral Traditions

I’ve seen several articles over the last couple months about how oral traditions are dying out, and taking some stories with them. I’ve also been thinking a lot about comic books lately. These things are related.

I’ve never relied on oral tradition, because I read whatever I can get my hands on, and after the first time I got my hands on some fairy tales, there was really no going back. But sometimes I’ll be talking to other people, and say things like, “Oh, it’s like that part of the Twelve Dancing Princesses where,” or “what if we tried that thing from the Russian version of,” and they have no idea what I’m talking about. And it’s happened countless times, but somehow I never expect it—these stories are such a major part of my life that I struggle to imagine people living without them.

So maybe these people I talk to don’t know about The Pied Piper or The Princess and the Pea because their parents never told them stories, and maybe in a couple generations those stories will only be known by people like me who happen to find fairy tale collections at the library.

But oral traditions have been on the way out for a good hundred years now, and they’re probably not coming back.

So here’s where the comics come into it: there’s a Thor movie coming out soon. We just got the trailer for the Justice League movie. Everyone is still freaking out about Wonder Woman, a new season of Young Justice is on the way, and between Marvel and DC we have, like, a dozen live action TVs shows based on comic books. So everyone on the internet is talking about this stuff, arguing about this stuff. That’s not canon, that’s not canon, that’s not canon anymore, those characters hate each other, those characters love each other, they used to be married but in the reboot they’ve never even met.

I’ve talked before about folklore and fanfiction, and I think comics fall into basically the same realm. Batman’s been around for nearly eighty years, guys. He’s been written by dozens of writers. There isn't, as far as I’m concerned, such a thing as canon Batman. You can’t say that any particular version of Batman is wrong, because Batman’s already been written, and even legitimately published, in all of those different versions. Christian Bale Batman and Adam West Batman hold the exact same weight.

The Justice League, the Avengers? Those are the American equivalent of fairy tales. Everyone knows them, at least a little, somewhere is the back of their minds. They’re the same stories told over and over again, slightly different in each telling, no longer belonging to one person but to the entire world that they’re a part of.

Yeah, oral traditions are dying. It sucks, but hey, if it bugs you so much, find an audience and start telling stories. Personally, I’m pretty glad that isn't the main method of storytelling anymore.

I will never, ever know where my favorite fairy tale started. No one will. The earliest version of Cinderella is lost to time because it spread by word-of-mouth—there is no record of the first time someone told it. You can trace it back to Greek mythology, you can trace it back to ancient China, but you can never say, definitively, this is the place where this story started, this is how it was told the first time it was told.

Any version of Cinderella from the last few centuries? All the different details are perfectly preserved. We know exactly how Superman’s origin story was told the first time it was told, and we can watch the changes unfold over the decades. I can watch the original pilot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then I can watch the pilot that actually aired, and then I can read thousands of fanfics that tell that story slightly differently, and I know where all of those things are. I know where to find them. I know where they started. I can begin with the earliest version of a story ever told, and I can watch how different variants branch off, and trace the changes over time, the places people were in when they changed things, why they made things different, whether it was because they forgot or heard it secondhand, whether they hated something about the original or just really, really wanted something important to them incorporated.

I can do all of that with Beauty and the Beast, but never from the beginning. I can take you back to the novel, and work my way through history from there. I can take you back to earlier French stories about enchanted bridegrooms, to The Pig King or The Golden Root in Italy, to Cupid and Psyche or Hades and Persephone in ancient Greece. But I can never go to the original. And that means I’ll never know the full story of Beauty and the Beast, the true depth of its significance, the farthest reaches of its potential.

Because a story is more than the words that make it up. A single story is also an entire world, encompassing the people who’ve told it, the people who’ve heard it, the places where it’s been told—a story has a beginning and an end, but it is also infinite, and I can never have it in its entirety. The beginnings of my favorite fairy tales are lost forever.

But not Batman. Not Buffy. They didn’t start until oral traditions started to die, and that means I can have it all. And so can someone a hundred years from now, because everything is documented. So keep telling stories. Don’t let that tradition die; don’t lose the power of words rolling out of your mouth and into something eternal. But please, please, write them down as well.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Sea Hare

I didn’t find out about this story until I decided to read the complete works of the Brothers Grimm straight through in high school, and oh my goodness. Guys. It is the best. And also the worst. But mostly the worst.

It’s one of those stories where the princess has to get married, but she’s set up certain impossible qualifications for her suitors. Pretty standard, right? Except this girl has a bloodthirsty bent. Basically, it’s hide and seek to the death—you hide all day, she marries you. She finds you, you die. Head on a pike outside her tower.

Harsh, right?

Now my first question in situations like this is always “Why on earth would you want to marry the chick?”

Like, power, influence, money, I get it—there are certain advantages to marrying into nobility. But guys. Think about this. Do a risk-reward analysis. Is your quality of life really that bad?

Ninety-seven dudes say yes. And boy do they ever suck at hide and seek.

On to our dude. His story is standard, too. Youngest of three brothers, saves the day after the older two screw it up. He meets some animals in the woods, like youngest sons do, and they offer to help him someday when he spares their lives. You all know where this is going.

Oldest brother hides from the princess, gets found, dies. Second brother, same thing. We’re up to ninety-nine heads on posts along the wall. The older ones are probably in a pretty nasty state of decomposition by now.

Youngest boy tries, his animal pals hide him, and he wins Hide and Seek: Ultimate Death Match. The princess is very impressed, she agrees to marry him, and they live happily ever after. So she decapitated his brothers. So what? She’s a princess.

Seriously. These youngest son types always seem so smart and level-headed, and then they go and marry girls who obviously want them dead. Come on, man. Quit while you’re ahead. The deal is usually half the kingdom and my daughter’s hand, right? Take the kingdom, leave the hand. Or ask for gold instead. Dude. Don’t marry the girl who wants to kill you. This is not hard. The right choice is clear. Just say no, man. Just say no.

Btw, if you’re wondering about the title, he won the game when his fox friend transformed him into a sea-hare.


 (This is a sea-hare.)


Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Frog King

Morality Tale Type: What Not To Do

The first thing you need to know about this story is that this is not the title. Nope. The title is Iron Henry. Now, you may be asking, “Who is Henry?” And you may be thinking, oh, of course, the frog prince must be named Henry.

Nope. Dude doesn’t even show up until the last couple paragraphs. So hang tight; we’ll get there.

Actually, we’ll there pretty fast, because what is there to say that you don’t know already? Princess drops a ball in the water, frog goes to get it—wait. I’ve got this. There is stuff to say.

A ball? Either this girl is involved in the sort of extracurriculars most princesses avoid, or she’s pretty young. So, option 1: we’ve got a chick who plays softball or football or something , doesn’t know how to swim, and is generally creeped out by things that do. Or, option two: little girl drops her favorite toy in the well.

Given that her activity was described, specifically, as tossing the ball up and catching it, I’m putting my money on option two. Plus, I feel like a little girl would be less freaked out than a lady if a frog started talking.

On the other hand, I also feel like a little girl would be less grossed out by the frog than the lady would. Whatever. All I’m saying is, if the chick’s favorite activity is playing catch with herself, she takes a talking amphibian in stride, and she cries over a lost toy, maybe we shouldn’t expect her to be totally on top of the wise decisions.

This is, by the way, not about me rearranging the story so yet another charming prince is a pedophile, okay? We’ve got plenty of that out in the open—I’m not about to go looking for it. This is about attempting to explain the princess’s indisputably horrible behavior. Either way, we can’t win this one. Either she’s a little kid, or she’s a vicious murderer, so pick your poison, I guess.

Back to the story. Girl promises to hang with frog dude if he gets the ball, she runs off as soon as she has it back, and he shows up at the palace and tattles on her. The king, also unfazed by the talking frog, tells her she’d better keep her promises, with the scolding further cementing my child theory. Girl deals with frog until bedtime, and here’s where things get interesting again. (Oh my goodness, I was so wrong about having nothing to say.)

She’s afraid of the frog sleeping in her bed. Five years ago, I would have thought yeah, duh, he’s all wet and boggy and stuff, and what if she rolls over in her sleep and crushes him? Guys, I have done way too much research in college to be that innocent. Does the frog actually intend to just sleep in the bed? I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting he doesn’t.

His intentions here are really important, because the next thing that happens is that she picks him up and flings him at the wall. And he’s a frog, so, you know, splat.

If this was her defense against a particularly cringe-worthy come-on, I’m gonna go ahead and say she’s in the clear here. However, if the blatantly attempted homicide was just ‘cuz he was getting on her nerves, dude, what the heck? You’re the princess. The princess doesn’t kill people.

And in a move that rivals Sleeping Beauty level wtf, the impact jolts him right out of enchantment, or something, and suddenly instead of frog goop, we’ve got a hot prince proposing to our murder girl. I mean, if that’s really what you want in a relationship, man. Your funeral. Maybe literally.

(Sidenote: What were the terms of his spell? You can only be a prince again when you’ve pissed someone off so much she wants you dead? There is no kiss here, people. There is only murder. Someone remind me to come back to this when I do the Lindworm series—I’m just noticing some interesting parallels, although I don’t know what to make of them yet.)

Of course the girl agrees to marry the guy she just attacked in a fit of homicidal rage, because that’s how fairy tales work. And now we finally, finally get around to Iron Henry.

Dude’s a servant of the prince, and he’s been pretty bummed about the whole frog thing. Not even because of his paycheck. He had to get three iron bands put in around his heart, to keep it from breaking over the whole mess.

But now his prince is back and he’s getting married, and Henry’s so happy those bands just snap right off. So Iron Henry really loves his king, is what I’m getting here. I mean, we’re talking literal heart-breakage. He had to get preventative surgery.

Yikes.

If this was a popular story, in the here and now, you know they’d ship it hard. I can already see the fanart. And let me tell you, Iron Man frenching a frog? Not the prettiest picture.

Anyway.


Girls, don’t make promises you can’t keep, and remember, murder is not the answer. Guys, don’t marry someone who tried to kill you, and stay out of other people’s beds. And if anyone’s in the market for heart surgery, hit up Henry for some tips.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Greetings from the Attic

I don't have much in the way of blog content this week, and I probably won't for a while; I've just moved, and I don't have internet at the new place yet, and it's not really a priority. Also, I start my first full time job tomorrow, so. Social media is getting neglected.

But last Sunday I moved into the attic apartment of a huge old house, and my life this week has been solitude and gardens and excellent views, and I am very happy. I feel like a fairy tale character. A princess in a tower. Like Cinderella or Rapunzel, only without the kidnapping and slave labor and stuff.

I've been slowly revising a novel, and it's been hard to focus on anything else, writing-wise, but if you have a fairy tale you want me to yell about or whatever, comment or something. In theory I'm going to work my way through the most interesting parts of Il Pentamerone, but I might not get to it for awhile.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cat Cinderella

Have I told you guys about Cat Cinderella? I don’t think I’ve told you guys about Cat Cinderella. This’ll be a short one.

Okay, so first of all, the title. I don’t know, guys. I have no idea. Cinderella isn't a cat. Cinderella doesn’t even have a cat. There are no cats in this story.

Now, this is from Il Pentamerone, so you know right away it’s gonna be something. This book also gave us The Golden Root, Rape Sleeping Beauty, and Necrophilia Snow White. Those Italians, man. I need to look into what was happening in Italy around this time, because something must be up. Seriously. They’re not okay.



Whatever. Story time. So, girl’s mom dies, dad remarries, girl hates stepmom. Standard, right? Here’s where things get interesting: Cindy’s got a governess. Cindy thinks the governess would be a way better stepmom than the one she’s got right now. So what does Cindy do?

Cindy snaps her stepmom’s neck.

She pulls that classic Juniper Tree move—you know, where you ask the person to get something from a chest, then slam the lid down on their neck? Not a fun way to go.

So Murderella introduces dad to governess, and they get married. And, well. Let’s just say she regrets the whole thing. The governess was all like, I can be your new mommy, Cindy. We just gotta get rid of this loser. But it turns out she’s a lot more interested in being dad’s wife than in being Cindy’s mom. 

And this is where we launch into our own familiar Cinderella story. Wicked stepfamily, magic tree, three balls, dropped shoes, happily ever after, etc., etc. Whatever. I don't even care who lives happily ever after. You got what was coming to you, Cat Cinderella. Murder is not the answer, Cat Cinderella. Murder is never the answer.