Finally finished my illustration of Howl, Sophie and Calcifer from Diana Wynne Jones’ charming book “Howl’s Moving Castle”. And yeah….the castle may have been a little Miyazaki-inspired. What can I say?? Castles aren’t my forte! Check out updated the updated Fanart and Myths, Fairytales and Fantasy pages!
Tag Archives: fantasy
Films: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bete
Directors: Gary Trousdale/Kirk Wise and Jean Cocteau
Years: 1991 and 1946
So, as you may or may not have picked out from this blog, I’m something of a fan of fairy-tales. As someone who is quite visually driven, I’m a fan of the imagery they evoke – and as someone who likes understanding people, I’m a fan of how the way in which a fairytale is told (what is included, what gets left out) often speaks volumes about the society that produced it.
But that’s not exactly what I wanted to talk about today. Mainly I just wanted to get around to comparing two versions of one of my favourite fairy-tales of all time: Beauty and the Beast.
While the Disney version seems to have taken a lot of inspiration from the Cocteau version (including the design of the beast, the enchanted household items and Avenant, a Gaston-like character); the two movies are very different (as you would expect from the America’s upholder of family values and a French surrealist), and they were clearly made for very different audiences.
Visually, both movies are absolutely stunning. I remember the first time I watched the Disney version I was only a wee-thing but I was so completely and utterly drawn into the world and frequently felt genuine fear – of the beast, of his castle, of the woods – there is so much in this movie that is terrifying for very young kids (as in, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t older than five the first time I saw this). The music and the visuals and the atmosphere in this film are just incredible, and I am not surprised that people still consider this one of Disney’s best animated feature length films.
(Seriously though, this scene. Like holy crap how terrifying is the beast when he first steps into the light?)
Cocteau’s world is just as entrancing, but in an entirely different way. Like the Disney, Cocteau’s world is frightening – but not in an overtly obvious way. There’s just something incredibly unsettling about the beast’s castle (the human arm chandeliers for one) and I think in a way, this difference perfectly demonstrates who the different audiences are. While Disney’s version was terrifying for children (and is still visually dark and impressive at times, though you’ll be glad to know I no longer quake at the site of the best), Cocteau’s version was made for adults. Even in the 40’s (especially after the war, where no horror could amount to what people probably saw in real life) adults are much harder to scare, and I think it’s the familiar made unfamiliar that is so unsettling in this movie, especially for adults.
Also, it reminds me a bit of Joel Peter Witkin’s photography. There’s a kind of visual deception where everything looks as it should be until you notice the disembodied arm. And the arm isn’t even doing anything. It’s just there. But that’s what’s so unsettling about it.
Where Disney’s film was a movie aimed primarily at children to teach them a moral about judging surfaces rather than inner qualities; Cocteau was a movie that asked adults to be children again, to suspend their disbelief and allow themselves to be transported into this world that he has created. He states so quite literally in the very opening of the film:
- Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us. They believe that a rose plucked from a garden can plunge a family into conflict. They believe that the hands of a human beast will smoke when he slays a victim, and that this will cause him shame when a young maiden takes up residence in his home. They believe a thousand other simple things.
- I ask of you a little of this childlike sympathy and, to bring us luck, let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s “Open Sesame”:
- Once upon a time…
Does it succeed? Partly yes, and partly no. But I think this is perhaps true of all films.
While the atmosphere of the film is rich and all-enveloping, the visuals stunning and the music haunting – I had some issues with the characters, namely the Beast and Belle, and to be fair, a lot of it isn’t strictly speaking Cocteau’s fault.
Take the Beast. Admittedly, I believe my issue with Cocteau’s Beast is partly derived from the fact the he is very based on the Beast in the traditional fairytale and also partly derived from the fact that I am a modern viewer and this Beast was not meant to appeal to someone like me. While the Beast is indeed a tragic figure who clearly suffers greatly and who is clearly desperately lonely, I found it hard to like him and I found it hard to believe that Belle could ever love him. As in all versions of this tale, Belle is repulsed and horrified by his appearance and only later discovers his gentle side. Every night the Beast asks her if she will marry him, and every night she says no – because despite the fact that she has grown to like him as a friend, she finds his looks too horrifying to contemplate marrying.
This dynamic makes me super uncomfortable because it makes the basis of their relationship essentially one of pity, which he later uses to manipulate Belle into coming back. When she asks to leave to see her father, he says he will allow her to do so on the condition that she must return to him – otherwise he’ll die. He essentially emotionally blackmails her to return (which isn’t what the film intended, but is how feel when I see Belle and the Beast interact). It means that while I can understand Belle feeling compassionate for the Beast and even feeling fond of him, I cannot understand her falling in love with him – especially when throughout the movie and throughout their interactions there is no indication that she has developed feelings for him beyond a pitiful sense of affection. Moreover when the Beast transforms back into his handsome self his entire attitude and personality changes – from the meek, self-deprecating Beast he turns into a confident-bordering-on-arrogant prince who looks just like Avenant, the attractive suitor Belle originally rejected. Aside from the sudden demeanour change, the fact that Belle openly admires how he looks like Avenant and basically says that this pleases her (Yey! An Avenant who isn’t a dick! I guess…?) makes it hard for me to believe in her love for him and believe in their relationship.
The relationship between Disney’s Beast and Belle on the other hand, I can understand a bit better (but then, this movie was made to appeal to someone of my generation). I tend to feel accusations of Stockholm Syndrome are unfair as Belle doesn’t even remotely like him until long after he’s stopped being a violent douchebag. I also feel it doesn’t play into the “bad boy” trope because in most of those tropes the girls can’t help but be drawn to someone they know is wrong for them – which isn’t the case with Belle. She argues with the Beast and tells him she ran away because he’s a violent asshole and he needs to calm down otherwise she won’t stay. That’s not falling for a “bad boy”, that’s quite rightly standing up for yourself and drawing some boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. (It does however play into another trope: the love of a virtuous woman redeeming a terrible man). But she doesn’t start to love him until after they’ve formed a friendship and more importantly until after he’s realised that if you love someone you can’t force them to stay with you against their will and that you have to let them make their own choices, even if that choice means leaving you. Which she does. Not once does he tell her that she is his last chance at becoming human again and he does not even ask her to come back – he just lets her go free. Simple as that.
Not that the Disney version doesn’t have it’s issues (Oh god comic relief characters why, just why), but overall I am much fonder of the Disney version than I am of Cocteau’s. I know, I know – Ginie you’re such a philistine! Preferring Disney over Cocteau? Pssh! What can I say? Obviously my fondness for Disney is also largely nostalgia-fuelled, and as I’ve stated, the movie Cocteau made wasn’t made for post-WWII adults, not for a child of the 90’s. So if liking the Disney version more makes me a philistine, than I guess so be it. In the meanwhile, share your thoughts in the comments!
Title: The Iron King
Author: Julie Kagawa
I wanted to like this book. And to be fair, there were a great many things I did enjoy about this book. I thought there were some aspects that were quite wonderfully creepy (which is what I always look for in any story involving the fey) and I liked the incorporation of faery mythology that was familiar, i.e. Puck, Oberon, Titania, the Seelie and Unseelie courts as well as faery mythology entirely of Kagawa’s own making i.e. the Iron Fey. I also thought that the concept behind the Iron Fey was really great and quite clever in how it takes into account how dreams and ideals change with time.
However. Oh god however. There were so many things that kept niggling at me throughout the entire book.
First of all – I hate how science and technology is completely demonised. I understand the fey are allergic to iron, and I think it’s a clever way of working in traditional mythology but the way that science is always consistently described as lacking in imagination makes me want to throw the book against the wall. I’m not a scientist, but you know what? Someone had to dream that a man could one day walk on the moon. Someone had to dream that we’d one day be able to transplant one human heart to another in order to save a life. Science requires at least as much imagination as the arts do, and sure – not all of the ‘progress’ we’ve made has been good. In fact a lot of it has done a considerable amount of damage to our environment. But you know what else? It’s the same science and technology that’s trying to find ways to save the planet. To improve our processes so that we don’t hurt the environment any more. So stop giving me this bullshit that science and technology and progress is all just one heap of unimaginative evil. Argh!
My other concerns are somewhat more typical of YA. I love Puck, but then I have a weakness for tricksters. Ash feels like a pale imitation of Rath Roiben Rye from Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series and it annoys me that just about every single YA book with a female lead MUST contain a love triangle as it’s central plot point.
Also, what’s up with the whole “princess” thing? I mean, I get that she’s a princess but all I could think of everytime Puck called her that was:
I’d be willing to forgive the romantic triangle if Meghan (the main character) was a stronger character. She started off quite promising, but I can’t help but feel incredibly frustrated with her terrible decision-making and her general helplessness. Obviously I’m not asking her to be some kind of amazing action hero – I get it. She’s a human in a world where every single being is more powerful than she is (at least as far as she’s aware), but some of the terrible decisions she makes seem to be contrived for the sole excuse of having her saved by one of her two suitors and it is very frustrating.
As for the villain, I felt very let down when we finally got to him. Machina was nowhere near as scary as her younger brother Ethan’s “man in the closet” and his motivations for kidnapping Meghan’s brother seemed very flimsy. Also, he was defeated far too easily. I think it would have been more interesting to have the Iron King be someone Meghan knew, someone like the man she thought was her father. While that may have been predictable, at least it would have provided for more of an emotional conflict beyond “I love Ash, but I can’t have him!”
So yes. I had many issues with this book. But – all of that said I still read it all in one sitting and I’m still planning to read the sequels. Because it is fun. If YA fiction involving faeries is your cup of tea then I would recommend it but just be aware of the above issues. YMMV.
Anyone who has taken a gander at my website will probably have guessed by now that I do love my fantasy fiction. And you know what else I love? Girls who kick ass and take center stage in epic adventures. This list is by no means exhaustive, and it’s pretty much a personal one. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments for any great books I’ve missed out with great female characters in the lead role!
1.) Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones
This entry won’t surprise anyone who knows me. Dianna Wynne Jones is one of my all-time favourite writers and Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my all-time favourite books – mainly because I love Sophie utterly to bits.
Sophie Hatter is a plain, quite mousey timid girl whose life gets turned upside down when she accidentally challenges the witch of the waste. What I like best about Sophie is that she’s not necessarily a very obvious heroine – yes she’s mousey and has a handsome man fall in love with her, which seems to be the standard set-up for most YA stories/romantic comedies/etc. and yet Sophie’s story is very different from all of that. For a start – she’s an old woman for most of the story, which means that for most of the story it isn’t like she’s all pretty but just doesn’t know it – she’s actually an old woman. I like how becoming an old woman actually liberates Sophie because she feels like she has nothing left to lose and everything to gain by becoming more assertive and forward, and best of all I like the fact that Sophie’s heroism is so understated. She doesn’t brandish a sword or physically kick-ass – and even when she’s at her most dramatic, nobly stepping aside so that Howl can be with Ms. Angorian because she believes it will make him happy she does it in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s easy to forget just how much she sacrifices in that moment. She’s extraordinarily brave and at the end of the day she is the one to save both Howl and Calcifer.
2.) The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle
I’ve probably said all that can be said about Kate and The Hollow Kingdom in my epically long review here – but to sum up: Kate is a clever and brave protagonist who looks out for her sister and regularly outsmarts the Goblin king. She resists all attempts by her vile uncle and by the Goblin King himself to remove her of her own agency and for all of these things I find her to be a very heroic character. (The less said about the two sequels, the better. I absolutely adored this book and couldn’t believe how disappointing Close Kin and In the Coils of the Snake were.)
3.) Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
Our first sword-wielding heroine on the list! And also a Katherine. Apparently Kate is a very popular name for girl’s populating fantasy worlds. Anyway, Kate is on my list because aside from being a sword-wielding badass she also matures a ridiculous amount throughout the course of the story, in more ways than one. I also like that contrary to actually quite a few of the other stories here, Katherine doesn’t have a clear love-interest per se, [spoilers] and when she does end up sleeping with Marcus it’s not made out to be like this massive deal. She just did something she enjoyed and felt right doing at the time and that was that. Which I think needs to be done a lot more in YA. Seriously, people make sex out to be like this momentous, terrifying world-changing thing and in a way it is, but once you’ve actually had sex you kind of realise that all in all, it’s not nearly as world-changing as you thought it would be and that you’re very much the same person you were before. If we didn’t make such a big deal out of it all the time it wouldn’t cause nearly so much anxiety for so many girls (myself included, back in the day). [End spoilers] Also yey for LGBTQ representation!
4.) Tithe (Modern Faerie Trilogy) by Holly Black
If you like creepy faery-lore and you like urban fantasy you should go out and get this book now. Tithe tells the story of Kaye, who has always been able to see faeries since she was little, her discovery that she’s actually a changeling and how she ends up embroiled in a political plot between the Seelie and Unseelie courts. Anyway, what I like about Kaye is that she’s flawed, but she’ll always call others (and herself) out on their bullshit. Also more LGBTQ representation!
5.) The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip
Changeling Sea is a nautical fairytale, of course I’d adore it. Peri grew up by the sea, and has always resented it for taking away her father and driving her mother into deep depression. Little does she know that she’s about to become much more familiar with the sea-folk and it’s denizens, including a pair of mistaken princes. Peri is resilient, curious and brave – though I remain unconvinced by the love story.
6.) Matilda by Road Dahl
I’m including Matilda on the fantasy list because of her telekinesis – and also just generally because how awesome is Matilda and how much did I want to be Matilda as a kid? (Answer: a lot). She’s crazy-smart, she loves books and she stands up for herself – even against bigger foes like her parents and Miss Trunchbull. What’s not to love?
7.) The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
It was honestly a very long time ago since I read this book, but I do remember liking it and Aerin (the heroine) does fight a lot of prejudices to go on and become a sword-wielding dragon-slayer. ‘Nuff said.
8.) Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
Fire and Hemlock is a modern re-telling of Tam Lin, and true to legend it is the up to the heroine (in this case Polly) to save her beloved Tam Lin from the clutches of the Faerie Queen and her court. As with anything involving faeries, it isn’t enough just to be brave – you also have to be cunning, because outwitting them is your only means of survival and Polly does just that; despite a whole host of other real-world issues such as a disintegrating family life and the fact that the faerie-folk have messed around considerably with her memory. Interesting FYI about this book, DWJ was very conscious that while she wanted a female heroine she didn’t just want to write a girl into a traditional “boy’s” part. And this is why DWJ is awesome. Because strong female characters are well-rounded and defy stock-character-types and tropes.
9.) The Dalemark Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones
There’s a lot of Dianna Wynne Jones on this list. I feel like some of her lesser-known work needs more love, and just generally I love her stories. The Dalemark Quartet was my favourite for the longest time – the story covers different time periods and spans four books with a rich cast of characters, a believable country and landscape that (unlike some fantasy novels) has all the political and cultural complexities of a real country; and a pantheon of gods that are every bit as fascinating and multi-faceted as the pantheons that exist in the real world. I think what I also like about Dianna Wynne Jones is that she doesn’t shy away from unlikeable characters – like actual people they always have a sympathetic side, it’s true, but she never falls into the trap of giving them some sort of “redemption” and they’re all the more realistic for it. Notable heroines include: Tanaqui and Maewen.
10.) Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marilier
Set in Transylvania and based largely off the fairy-tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Wildwood Dancing tells the tale of a girl called Jena and her four sisters. While their father is away, he has left his estate in the care of his two eldest daughters – but when her father unexpectedly dies, their uncle steps in and relieves the girls of their responsibility, deeming them unfit to manage their own estate. Intrigues occur when the balance between the villagers, the creatures of the woods and the creatures of the night is disturbed. Basically this is an adventure involving Transylvanian legends, faeries and vampires, a talking frog and the awkwardest (read: cute) budding love-story ever.
And that’s it! My top ten. I realise there are some massive gaps, like I’m sure a few of you will cry “but how about Hermione?” (alas, she isn’t the main character of the story) or “where’s Lyra?” (alas, I’ve never read His Dark Materials – blasphemy, I know. But you want to know what’s funny? I’ve read every single other of Phillip Pullman’s novels. No joke.) All I can say is once again that this is quite a personal top-ten (also limited by what I actually remember – most of these I’ve read in the last couple of years, with only a few exceptions). Honourable mention goes to Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy, that I actually really love and find fantastically creepy but refrained from putting on this list because if I were to be honest I find the girls very dislikeable. This isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case I also found the friendship between the girls hard to believe – they’re almost always absolutely vile to each other, I find it hard to see why they’d bother remaining friends.
Also: Twilight will never be on this list. That is all.
Title: The Hollow Kingdom (Book I)
Author: Clare B. Dunkle
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Warning: Possible spoilers ahead and also Trigger Warning for mentions of abusive relationships
So while I was trawling through Amazon looking for my creepy Gothic fantasy fix, I stumbled upon this little gem that had loads of rave reviews and sounded like something that would be right up my alley.
The Hollow Kingdom tells the tale of Kate and Emily, two orphaned sisters who find themselves sent off to the Hallow Hill estate to live with their aunts and guardian – the really quite detestable Hugh Roberts. While there, they discover that the lake and surrounding wilderness has a tragic history linked to their own family and that Hallow Hill is actually part of Marak the goblin king’s kingdom – and that Marak has sinister plans of his own concerning the eldest sister, Kate. Namely abduction, a forced marriage and baby-making to ensure the survival of his own kingdom underground.
My summary isn’t very good, but basically I can’t recommend this book enough. If you like Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy for creepiness or Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tale for both creepiness and the level of research done into faerie-lore then you’ll love The Hollow Kingdom. I think this might be hands-down one of the creepiest YA Fantasy book I’ve ever read and I loved it.
But back to the review. So tell me, what do you think of when you hear the words “Goblin King”? Is it…
Or perhaps even…
To be completely honest with you all, when I read the description of the Marak (Goblin for “Goblin King” – all the Goblin kings are called Marak) all I could see in my mind’s eye was…
This. (Which probably just means I’m wayy too excited about Skyward Sword and absolutely gutted I don’t own a Nintendo Wii of my own). Only instead of being kind of hot and swish, he’s more grotesque and assymetrical – which is exactly as a goblin should be:
What Marak was, Kate didn’t know, but he couldn’t be a human, not with the big, bony head and tough, wiry body. The slightly bowed legs and large, knotted hands conveyed the idea of strength without grace…His face and hands were a ghastly pale gray, and his lips and fingernails were a dark tan – the colours, Kate thought, shuddering, of a corpse pulled out of water. His dull, straight hair fell, all one length, to his twisted shoulders. Most of it was a very light beige, but over one eye a coal-black patch grew back from his forehead, the long black wisps overlaying the pale hair like a spider’s legs. His ears rose to a sharp point that flopped over and stuck out through that rough hair like the ears of a terrier dog.
Most striking of all were Marak’s deept-set eyes.The left-eye was black; the right, emerald green and they gleamed at her as if lit from within.
Also he has six fingers. Now if that’s not a goblin I don’t know what is. It’s quite refreshing in a way, to see that in a YA Fantasy book that does feature a romance-of-sorts the goblin Marak is still very much portrayed as a goblin and not in the least bit beautiful, which I think is a problem a lot of YA Fantasy has sometimes – in that it can’t accept monsters looking like monsters if they’re meant to be a main character and have some romantic entaglements (hullo Twilight vampires, I’m looking at you).
Though I admit I’m only referring to Marak as a love-interest for lack of a better word and it’s not a word I’m particularly comfortable with in this case as The Hollow Kingdom does suffer a bit from Beauty-and-the-Beast syndrome. i.e. hideous monster abducts/forcefully holds beautiful girl against her will, she eventually discovers he’s not as bad as she first thought and they end up in love – and while I’m happy to believe that a girl (or anyone really) might end up trying to make the most of their situation as a captive (hullo Stockholm Syndrome) I can’t really accept that this can be considered love in any sort of traditional sense.
So it’s a good thing then, that The Hollow Kingdom isn’t a Beauty-and-the-Best story – it is very much more. While the premise sounds as unfeminist as I think such a story could get, I would certainly consider Kate and Emily to be very strong and capable heroines. For a good three-quarters of the book Kate spends her time out-smarting Marak and attempting to clever-her-way out of becoming a Goblin King’s bride – because understandably, the thought of being abducted and held captive for the sole purposes of propagating the Royal Goblin line – to put it quite mildly – irks her no end. She does this all the while trying to keep both her and her little sister safe, and she does this on her own as soon as it becomes clear that none of the human adults believe her – indeed they intentionally put her in harm’s way in an attempt to make her “face he fears” and persistently question her sanity.
When she does finally giver herself over to the Goblin King it is in order to save her sister – and when she becomes the Goblin King’s wife she is placed under a charm (in the shape of a snake tattoo) that will strike and paralyse anyone – including the wife herself – who attempts to harm the Goblin King’s wife. The Goblin King then has the option to do with this person as he sees fit. The device is made to control the wife and ensure that she cannot escape – and yet despite this Kate discovers a way to make the charm work for her. The charm was originally placed on her in order to remove her of her agency, and yet she eventually learns to manipulate the charm and use it as a tool to give her back control over her own life, which I love. Also she befriends the snake who has some of the funnier lines in the story:
“Charm, has this happened before?”
“Yes,” hissed the snake softly. “Two other King’s Wives have been outside without the King’s permission. One no longer had a king. He was dead, and she was awaiting the birth of the heir. The other was in danger when the Kingdom Spells gave way and her king was far from home. And one King’s Wife travelled by closed wagon with a loud, fat woman during the migration. But it is true,” it whispered,”that you are the first King’s Wife to travel by closed wagon with a loud, fat woman and without the King’s permission.”
As with Beauty and the Beast, Kate eventually discovers she quite likes living amongst the Goblins and that she has become quite fond of Marak over time – but thankfully unlike Beauty and the Best it isn’t Kate’s gentle womanly ways that softens Marak and convinces him to love her and free her – it’s the fact that she saves his entire damn kingdom while he is incapacitated and this leads to him realising he has no right to hold someone captive who had braved such dangers to save his kingdom.
Despite how strong Kate is as a heroine, there are quite a lot of problematic aspects of her relationship with Marak. Mainly that while he may treat her with respect in the end, at least for a good three-quarters of the novel he is nothing but abusive and controlling and that seems rather too easily forgotten and forgiven. Furthermore, while Marak does respect his new wife’s strength and intelligence even towards the end you get the sense that it is Kate’s baby-making potential that he admires the most and that is pretty problematic in itself, especially considering this.
This is why I can’t really accept Kate and Marak’s relationship as a love story – because I really don’t think it is. Kate makes the best of her time in the Goblin kingdom and grows to respect and admire Marak’s craftiness and magic skills, but the revelation that she has grown to love him feels pretty forced. Not to mention the hints that suggest she accepts goblin life almost because she’s come to fear humanity and how monstrous they can be – for while the Goblins are monstrous at least they cannot lie, whereas humans lie all the time, hiding their monstrousness. This is hardly the kind of ending that I would call happy and hardly the kind of situation that would lend itself towards a truly loving relationship.
As for Marak, I feel that he is very true to his character and makes a very convincing fey. Clare Dunkle has successfully presented him as a Goblin rather than try to shoe-horn in any human expectations or human notions of morality, and this is very refreshing. Faerie-type are meant to be largely amoral, which Marak is – but unable to lie, which Marak can’t – and he has his own set of principles that revolve mainly around honesty and ensuring he does right by his people, which he does – even if it is at the expense of his bride’s well-being.
That said, I am very much looking forward to reading the next book – which will focus on Emily who I felt throughout the novel might have always been the more interesting sister.