Signal Boost: Drown the Cat: The Rebel Author’s Guide to Writing Beyond the Rules

Amazon: Drown The Cat: The Rebel Author’s Guide To Writing Beyond The Rules

Drown the Cat is a complete guide for the fiction writer who wants to develop an individual voice and understand the reasons underlying the so-called rules of writing. Although a few rules really are necessary, the vast majority are either dogma or passing fads. Worse, so much advice like “show don’t tell” and “open with action” is often poorly explained and entirely misunderstood, causing writers no end of problems.

Drawing on fifteen years of writing, critiquing, editing and mentoring experience, Dario Ciriello explodes writing myths, shreds conventional wisdom, and dissects the often misleading advice and diktats shouted at writers by books and blogs, agents and publishers. Drown the Cat gives authors the necessary tools and insights to retake control of their story and make it unique.

Whether your interest lies in novels or screenwriting, Drown the Cat shows you how to tell your story in your voice and place it before your audience, eschewing formulas and cookie-cutter fiction to remain true to your own, exceptional vision while adhering to the few rules that actually matter. Because writing isn’t about prose wonks and industry insiders: it’s about the reader, and most of all it’s about telling a story. Your story.

Drown The Cat hits the points that every new writer should learn in their journey, most importantly encouraging writers to be themselves. It’s very easy to read, and well organized and formatted. There are some standard writing points in there, but this encourages you to stretch your mind more than follow everyone else in the field. You can read some of Dario’s thoughts over on the Hugo-nominated Castalia House blog.

If you don’t know who Dario Ciriello is, it’s a shame. He is one of the best editors in science fiction and fantasy, and very few have heard of him. If you can hire him, do it, you won’t regret it. He’s edited Doug Sharp’s Channel Zilch, which is one of the most unique and innovative science fiction works of our time, as well as Bonnie Randall’s Divinity and the Python, of which is a great work of horror/romance fiction every writer could and should read as a study in how to write characters readers connect with. He’s got his own fiction as well, of which I equally hail. Bottom line is, if you want to improve your fiction fast as a new writer, you should listen to his writing advice.

CASTALIA: Want Superversive Pulp? Try Eoin Colfer’s “The Wish List”

The superversive conversation at the moment has more or less centered around two topics (things tend to move in cycles; we’ll move on eventually):

  1. What makes a good “strong female character”
  2. The connection between superversive and pulp

I’m not going to rehash that conversation; if you want to see the relevant posts, try these, and click through the comments for discussion. Instead, I’m going to try to give you an example of a relatively modern superversive novel that seems like it would fit pretty firmly in the pulp tradition: Eoin Colfer’s “The Wish List”.

Colfer is best known for his Artemis Fowl series, which is a ton of fun (and pretty pulpy itself) but leans hard into feminism and environmental politics. And it’s not his best work; that would be “Airman”, which is a superb adventure novel that I may also write about one day.

“The Wish List” is something very different than both of those, and in some ways it’s a remarkable book.

Let me try and make my case in order:

1) It has a clearly and unashamedly Christian cosmology. I’m not sure if any other modern work by a mainstream writer is as overtly and clearly Christian as this one. I’m not talking about Christian themes here. I mean St. Peter and Beelzebub literally debate each other at the gates of Heaven (A brief note: the theology is occasionally fudged somewhat, but it’s still undoubtedly Christian):

Even though the archangel  and the demon came from different ends of the spectrum, theologically speaking, they had, over the past few centuries, established something of a rapport…

“So what’s the problem, Bub?” [St. Peter] grinned down the phone line. His opposite number would be spitting fire, but he’d have to swallow it if he wanted a favor.

“The Master is looking for a soul.”

“What about that lawyers’ convention?”

“No. A specific soul. I thought if you had her at the Pearlies, we might trade.”

Awesome. The coolest part of it is that there’s none of that universalist “All religions are true in their own way” crap. “The Wish List” is a novel with a Christian soul, and it tackles its fantasy elements from that perspective.

2) Evil is kicked in the face. In the earlier pulp conversation, Jeffro said this:

I mean the point of a pulp story is to have somebody punch evil and kiss the girl, right?

Good news! Evil might not be punched (Well, sort of, but not really…), but it is kicked in the face. And it’s amazing:

Belch wrapped himself around Meg’s torso. Insane gibberings leaked from between his slobbering lips.

“Finn,” he muttered. “Finn going down.”

That was it for Meg. She’s just about had it…

“Belch,” she screamed, raising down a booted foot, “You can go to Hell!”

She brought the boot down squarely on his wet nose, and the creature that had been Belch Brennan spiraled into the flames, with Meg’s name stretching behind him like a prayer. Or a curse.

3) Yes, the girl is kissed. Not our protagonist in this case, but the deuteragonist gets what surely must be one of the most spectacular kisses in all of fiction:

“Well, Lowrie,” she said, echoes of the teenager in her voice. “Why have you come here?”

It occurred to Lowrie then that he was probably on television.

“Lost love,” he said simply, and kissed her on the lips.

And the crowd went ape, especially when Cicely Ward draped a hand over the dapper old gent’s shoulder and kissed him back. It was fantastic, stupendous.

An ethereal ray of white light exploded from the point of lip contact…

Belch felt it too…”What the hell is that?” he growled, peering over his shoulder.

…”Good,” [Elph] said. “Pure, one hundred percent good.”

Meg felt a rush of blue in her aura.

4) Things get weird. In fine pulp fashion, we get this creation:

Someone, or something, was spinning along beside her. Canine features bubbled under a human skin, poking through like computer animation effects. It was horrible. Grotesque. Yet somehow strangely familiar.

“Belch?” said Meg uncertainly. “Is that you?”

…The dog-boy could only stare in horror as his fingers morphed from stubby digits to pit bull claws. Tears and slobber rolled down his face, dripping in large gobbets from a furry chin.”

Cool!

5) Genres are mixed. In the middle of the fantasy, we get bits like this:

The computer wizard grinned smugly. “No problem, Beelzebub-San, I can uplink him.”

…Myishi removed a nasty-looking object from his box of tricks. It resembled a small monitor on a metal stake. Without hesitation the programmer plunged it into the morass of Belch’s brain. 

…”The brain spike. I love this little baby. The brain’s own electrical impulses provide the power source. Ingenious, if I do say so myself.”

Pure science fiction, baby.

You can’t argue that this one doesn’t hit the pulp beats, right? Unashamedly Christian cosmology? Genre mashing? Weird imagery? Gals getting kissed and demons getting kicked in the face?

It’s all there.

But is it superversive?

You better believe it is.

Remember the infamous redemption story post?

Well, “The Wish List” is that story and more. It’s a redemption story, and it’s a resurrection story. It’s about not giving up, and living without regret, and making up for past wrongs, and all of that other stuff that’s corny when it’s executed badly and amazing when it’s executed well.

“The Wish List” is executed very, very well. It’s not just fun, it’s not just funny, it’s not just inventive, it’s also moving and inspiring. It’s incredibly superversive.

Is it perfect?

No, it’s not. The Chekov’s gun at the beginning is flashed rather obviously, and many of the plot beats are very predictable. The characters sometimes lean a little too far into the stock end. But you’re having so much fun when you read it that you hardly even care!

Isn’t that also the exact thing that folks like Jeffro have been talking about? Those supposedly “cliche” and “predictable” plot beats were used so much because they were incredibly effective?

“The Wish List” is the sort of book that we just don’t see much of anymore, and fans of pulp fiction or superversive fiction owe it to themselves to give it a shot.

Corroding Empire: Amazon’s Civil War

The controversy over The Corroding Empire just gets stranger and stranger.

The Corroding Empire

Amazon KDP has given Castalia House’s new science fiction parody more green and red lights than a drag racing track.

First it was thought that the book had been pulled at the behest of Tor Books, publisher of The Collapsing Empire.

Suspicion also fell on Collapsing Empire author John Scalzi, who tweeted this message the same day:

However, details emerged last night that neither Tor, Scalzi, nor Amazon per se were to blame for The Corroding Empire’s publication delays. Castalia House Lead Editor Vox Day explained:

UPDATE: Since some people seem to want to go on the warpath, let me be perfectly clear here: Amazon is not to blame. I even suspect that it is entirely possible that Tor Books is not to blame either, based on a) when the book was pulled and b) the fact that the book has shown as Live for nearly 24 hours but still does not have a page on any Amazon site. The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is a rogue low-level SJW employee, possibly two, in a specific department.

I have already spoken to the manager of one department and they have begun to investigate why Corrosion is Live but not available. They’ve done everything we asked and we have no problem with the way we have been treated.

Today, Vox announced that Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1) was finally live on KDP.

As we suspected, there appear to have been internal shenanigans taking place at Amazon, as one or more SJWs appear to have abused their positions to interfere with our ability to sell THE CORRODING EMPIRE.

We’re still working with Amazon to sort out exactly who was responsible for precisely what, and to establish what, if anything, legitimately needed to be changed according to their guidelines. This should all be nailed down by the end of the day, but in the meantime, you can now order the book and post reviews again.

The Corroding Empire isn’t out of the woods yet, because following that conversation, it was blocked again, reinstated again and blocked a third time in short order.

Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1)

Here is where the matter stands as of this writing:

UPDATE: Finally got to speak to a supervisor. She’s not only escalated the matter to legal, but has assured me that the book will be unblocked, stay unblocked, and that the matter will be fully investigated. It’s not just the three blocks, the culprit(s) also put the book on the Excluded list for Amazon Associates, which prevents others from being paid when someone buys the book.

The publisher insists that the issue is with rogue elements within KDP quality control and not with Amazon itself. If so, we could be witnessing a civil war within the world’s largest book distributor. However the situation gets sorted out, the resolution should be informative for publishers, authors, and readers alike.

@BrianNiemeier

CASTALIA Miyazaki Retrospective: “Castle in the Sky”

Image result for castle in the skyI was going to call this a review, but considering that it’s a film from the 80’s universally considered a classic it would sort of be like writing a “review” of “Casablanca”. It’s obviously not on quite that level (though certain Miyazaki films might be – if you haven’t seen “Spirited Away”, do so right now), but you get the idea. Hayao Miyazaki is a director I heard praised so much by critics and friends I trusted that I figured I might as well try him out eventually. So I went with “Spirited Away”, his 2002 Oscar winner and widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

So was THAT particular film as good as promised?

In one word: Yes.

In two words: HELL, yes.

“Spirited Away” is what “Alice in Wonderland” should have been, adding the plot and character development “Alice” always lacked. This review isn’t for that film (though one will probably be forthcoming), so in lieu of a full explanation of what made it so great I’ll say that if you haven’t seen it…see it. Not “If you like anime”. Not “If you’re okay watching a children’s movie”. If you like films at all, see “Spirited Away”.

Okay. That out of the way, what about “Castle in the Sky”?

“Castle in the Sky” was the first film released under the acclaimed Studio Ghibli banner (“Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”, also considered a masterpiece, was actually NOT an official Ghibli film as many think – it was more like a test case to see if the production team could make enough money to justify a studio), and the third film by legendary director Hayao Miyazaki.

At this point, Miyazaki was already fairly well known in Japan. He was a popular manga writer and a writer/artist for several different animes. His first feature film, a Lupin III piece titled “The Castle of Cagliostro”, received mixed reviews by Lupin III fans but in later years has become widely recognized as a classic thanks to its stunning visuals and compelling action setpieces – two aspects of Miyazaki’s work that are used to full effect in “Castle in the Sky”.

Miyazaki’s second feature film, “Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind”, is the first film that made people sit up and realize what an exceptional talent they had on their hands. “Nausicaa”, like several of Miyazaki’s works, is widely considered one of the greatest animated films ever made, known – as Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films always are – for its striking visuals and fascinatingly original story. The success of the film spawned the creation of the also-legendary Studio Ghibli, an animation studio whose unbroken string of successes was at one time rivaled by only classic Disney and Pixar (all three have since diminished somewhat, alas).

So how to top that?

By creating one of the best adventure films ever made (“best ever made” is a phrase you get used to hearing with Miyazaki).

“Castle in the Sky” was both intensely familiar and like nothing I’d ever seen before. The movie feels sort of like a children’s “Indiana Jones”. The action scenes are absolutely stellar; there is a chase scene aboard a train early on in the movie that is possibly the best I’ve ever seen, and things only get crazier from there.

The plot: A young girl – somewhere between 12 and 14 – named Sheeta has been captured by the army, lead by the villainous Colonel Muska (in the English dub a wonderfully hammy Mark Hamill), who are holding her aboard their giant airship, Goliath. A family of sky pirates lead by their matriarch, Captain Dola (an ugly old crone played by a perfectly cast Chloris Leachman), attack Goliath in an attempt to kidnap Sheeta themselves; the distraction gives Sheeta a chance to escape. She slips from the airship and goes tumbling towards the earth….

…Right into the arms of Pazu, an adventurous and outgoing young orphan boy about the same age as Sheeta. For Sheeta did not fall the whole way; the crystal she carries around her neck apparently has magical powers, and it allowed Sheeta to float safely down into Pazu’s arms (who immediately almost drops her).

From there, events move at a breakneck pace, as it becomes clear that both the pirates and the army haven’t given up on finding Sheeta and stealing her crystal. Together, Pazu and Sheeta try to escape from the pirates, the army, and maybe – with luck – perhaps find Laputa, the City in the Sky of the title and the source of Sheeta’s crystal, themselves.

The movie has a sort of optimism and enthusiasm for life I don’t think I’ve ever seen replicated before. When Pazu meets Sheeta, there’s no hesitation whatsoever – he believes her story immediately and designates himself her protector with absolutely no strings attached and  no regard for his own life. The townspeople, when they realize Pazu and Sheeta are on the run, do their best to aid him – none think for a second to doubt his story or convince him to go to the police. Later, at the end of the aforementioned train scene, the army shows up. At first, Pazu and the train conductor are pleased until they see Sheeta’s terrified reaction – and then the army is an enemy. No doubt, no hesitation, no fear of reprisal.

And the amazing thing is that this is all so effortless. No attempt is made to convince you that people would act like this – it’s just assumed. At one point in the story, before a rescue attempt, Pazu yells “Sheeta means everything to me!” To be clear, Pazu met Sheeta perhaps two days ago – and the wonderful thing about this moment is that you believe him. The scene could come off as weird or creepy, but instead it’s sweet and sincere, because Miyazaki has sold you that this is the sort of world, and Pazu is the sort of person, where a relationship forged with a stranger could inspire such love and devotion.

This protective giant robot makes an impression in one of "Castle in the Sky"'s most memorable scenes.

“Wait, you mean a giant robot took on the army and this WASN’T worth mentioning to you?”

As good as the action scenes are – and they really are remarkable – the relationship between Pazu and Sheeta is perhaps the best part of the film. There’s never one big romantic gesture – never the Big Damn Kiss – but it’s tons of little things throughout the movie that all add up to one of the best movie romances I’ve ever seen. And between twelve year olds!

If there is one moment  that I had to pick to convince somebody that “Castle in the Sky” is worth watching, it would be this one:

Pazu and Sheeta have just landed in Laputa for the first time, having barely survived a horrible storm. They are alone, on top of a sort of outcropping and tied together (as a safety precaution from the flight – if one fell out, the other can hold onto them).

They decide to go and look down at Laputa for the first time, but Sheeta is unable to undo the knot binding them. So instead of waiting, Pazu simply picks her up and carries her over to the edge of the outcropping. With Sheeta in his arms, they stare in awe at the City in the Sky for the first time, a breathtakingly gorgeous view of a crumbling castle overtaken by nature, clouds drifting through the scene almost like ghosts. The two take a moment to simply stare, as Joe Hisaishi’s incredible score plays in the background

And that’s Miyazaki in a nutshell. It’s a small act of love transforming an already visually stunning scene into something quietly transcendent.

And that, my friends, is the very definition of superversive.

 

laputa 13 (1200x647)

Men With Screwdrivers and Men With Magnifying Glasses

In the spirit of moving the discussion off site and getting readers moving back and forth, I offer you Jeffro’s excellent review of A.E. Van Vogt’s “Black Destroyer”…and a comment on one of the main points of difference between the superversive movement vs. the pulp revolution movement (I said something similar in the comments to the post; this is an expansion).

From Jeffro:

The “hero” of the story isn’t really the Hari Seldon-like Elliot Grosvenor. Granted, the guy has a knack for navigating the tedious and byzantine bureaucracy that encysts almost any sufficiently complex STEM-related activity. But the real “star” here is Nexialism, a sort of meta-science that allows this guy to be way more insightful than the stodgy and blinkered scientists of his space collective.

I’m sure that this seemed like a really good idea at the time. And the resolution here is way more developed than the typical “reverse the polarity” and “re-route a phase inducer” tricks of science fiction television. But really smart guys thinking their ways out of difficult problems is only ever going to be just so compelling. Nevertheless, the heavy and the setting do manage to overcome this inherent weakness of the unrestrained Campbellian ethos.

Okay. Let’s pretend we’re not reading science fiction for a moment. What sort of fiction is made up mostly of “smart guys thinking their ways out of difficult problems?”

Anybody?

Give up yet?

Yeah. It’s detective fiction.

If you want to categorize more specifically here (like Campbellian vs. pulp sci-fi), we can talk about Agatha Christie style detective fiction (Sherlock Holmes stories were as much or more adventure tales as mysteries, though there were certainly “Men with magnifying glass” varieties of Sherlock Holmes as well – see “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”). Christie is famous/notorious for ending her mysteries by gathering all of the subjects in one room as her detective marches around and explains all of the clues you missed that point to the killer. Her most famous story and her masterpiece, “And Then There Were None”, has only the most lightly sketched characters, and the setting might as well be random. There is little to no action in the entire story. It is notable for one and only one thing: Its brilliant, mind-bogglingly ambitious, and incredibly shocking plot. And coming from a fan of that book – yes, it lives up to its promise. It’s a brilliant book. And if you take away the plot, there’s just about nothing to recommend it except maybe atmosphere, which Conan Doyle was better at anyway.

“Well,” sez pre-Christie-ites, “What character is more famous, huh? Sherlock Holmes, or Agatha Christie’s clone of Sherlock Holmes? Answer me that, smart guy!”

Sure, okay, you can make that argument. But you’ll also need to explain why Agatha Christie is the bestselling fiction author of all time* along with Shakespeare, and, by the way, ahead of J.K. Rowling.

So what is the point of all of this? I can hear the complaints now – “Wait, so you’re denying we have a problem? Didn’t you see the sales numbers? Are you denying that the pulp works have been shoved down a hole? Are you saying you don’t want to see a revival of pulp works? Do you just hate fun? Huh?”

(Okay, those last two are a bit over the top, but the others are variations of questions I’ve been asked virtually every time I disagree in some manner with one of the pulp revolutionaries.)

Well, no, I’m not saying any of those things. I’m just saying – be careful not to extrapolate personal taste into objective fact. What you might consider to be an Obviously Worse tic of a certain style of books may well be exactly what somebody else loves about it. Because apparently smart guys thinking their way out of difficult problems is something people do like to watch quite a bit after all.

Go figure.

*In case you were wondering, the highest rated sci-fi writer on the list is Stephen King, followed by R.L. Stine, Roald Dahl (of course he was a sci-fi writer; what else is “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”?), and then, yes, Edgar Rice Burroughs. The highest rated fantasist is Rowling, naturally.

CASTALIA Review: “Stardust”, by Neil Gaiman

Stardust by [Gaiman, Neil]Neil Gaiman is a guy who I’ve noticed gets a lot of flak around these parts. It is true he has SJW tendencies, but then, most authors do. And he IS immensely popular.

Mostly – and I am going by anecdote here – it seems that people believe that he (along with Ursula Le Guin) is somewhat emblematic of post 1970’s fantasy and science fiction: He is a good pure storyteller but with little depth (like “A Study in Emerald”, a fun and clever Lovecraft/Holmes pastiche that has little to distinguish itself besides its cool premise) even though people act as if he’s wiser  than he deserves credit for.

He is also known for lapsing into stupid SJW propaganda, such as the notoriously terrible story “The Problem of Susan”.  So that gets him a lot of flak from these parts as well.

Still, something about him seems to capture people. I decided I simply needed to find the right book, and picked “Stardust” (the novel version, though I’ll purchase the comic/picture book version soon if I can.

“Stardust” is an excellent book that showcases all of Neil Gaiman’s strengths but also highlights some of his flaws. It is a fairly straightforward story about a half-fairy young man who goes to fetch a shooting star for his beloved in Faerie and ends up falling in love with the star, who turns out to be a beautiful woman named Yvaine. Along the way they are harassed by evil witches who wish to steal Yvaine’s heart and use it to regain their youth. Occurring concurrently is a subplot about the sons of the current, dying king of the kingdom of Stormhold struggling with each other for control of the throne.

The story is very straightforward, which is to its credit. Gaiman set out to write a fairy tale for adults, and that’s exactly what he did. Some sections are simply wonderful, like this bit of dialogue early in the story:

“For a kiss, and the pledge of your hand,” said Tristran, grandiloquently, “I would bring you that fallen star.” He shivered. His coat was thin, and it was obvious he would not get his kiss, which he found puzzling. The manly heroes of the penny dreadfuls and shilling novels never had these problems getting kissed.

“Go on, then,” said Victoria. “And if you do, I will.” “What?” said Tristran. “If you bring me that star,” said Victoria, “the one that just fell, not another star, then I’ll kiss you. Who knows what else I might do?

Tristran Thorn went down on his knees in the mud, heedless of his coat or his woolen trousers. “Very well,” he said. The wind blew from the east, then. “I shall leave you here, my lady,” said Tristran Thorn. “For I have urgent business, to the East.” He stood up, unmindful of the mud and mire clinging to his knees and coat, and he bowed to her, and then he doffed his bowler hat.

Or this:

“He stared up at the stars: and it seemed to him then that they were dancers, stately and graceful, performing a dance almost infinite in its complexity. He imagined he could see the very faces of the stars; pale, they were, and smiling gently, as if they had spent so much time above the world, watching the scrambling and the joy and the pain of the people below them, that they could not help being amused every time another little human believed itself the center of its world, as each of us does.”

That is grade A, classic fairy tale stuff right there. That is exactly what you want and should see in a fairy tale.

The witches, his villains, are also excellent. They are something of a hybrid between the new trend of the seductress witch and the classic crone variety, stealing back they’re youth by capturing hearts – and, we learn, the heart of a star is especially potent. Gaiman ends their story with neat little lesson about how pathetic evil is before we lose sight of them for the last time.

The way my book was written it had a preview of Gaiman’s next book BEFORE the epilogue, so I had stopped reading. I only learned there was an epilogue after I looked up the book online, so I went back and read it later. It provides closure to the story and ends on a mostly positive but bittersweet note just a little bit reminiscent of “The Lord of the Rings”. It’s a nice little coda.

Gaiman explicitly says that the book was meant as a throwback novel reminiscent of Lord Dunsany, C.S. Lewis, and James Cabell, which is all to the good, and he is mostly successful in his attempts to conjure that sort of mood.

The problem – and this gets at, I think, why the old-fashioned Castalia crowd tends to dislike him – is the “adult” part of the adult fairy tale. The truth is that the things that supposedly made it more adult added absolutely nothing to the story. There is a graphic sex scene at the beginning of the novel where we see the conception of our hero, Tristran:

She wriggled and writhed beneath him, gasping and kicking, and guiding him with her hand.

She placed a hundred burning kisses on his face and chest and then she was above him, straddling him, gasping and laughing, and he was arching and pushing and exulting…

There is more, but I trust you get the idea.

And no, it did not have to be there. Contrast that scene with this scene from Josh Young’s story “The Secret History of the World gone By”from “Forbidden Thoughts”:

He was gratified, then, to see a pair of dainty breasts topped by dark nipples and that the dark thatch of hair between her legs lacked the equipment with which he was most familiar.

Anders was in the spring of his manhood, and so it went as such things go.

So why was Gaiman’s scene there? Well, it’s Adult, and you know how the Adults like all of the Sexing! Isn’t he so Adult?

Later, a unicorn is killed and then decapitated in a manner described as gorily and graphically as possible. After Yvaine falls to the earth, she drops the only serious curse word of the book, an F bomb so out of place for both the novel and the character (who never comes even close to cursing again) as anything one can possibly imagine. Again, there is no reason for this; all it does is jack up the rating from PG to R.

So why did Gaiman do it? Why was it important to him to add these sections specifically to create an “adult” fairy tale, and why did his concept of “adult” depend on the additions of sex, gore, and curse words, three things that even the great J.R.R. Tolkien had no use for? I think the answer is interesting, and gets to the heart of the bad taste Gaiman leaves in a lot of the Castalia folks’ mouths: Gaiman is ashamed of fairy tales.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by [Gaiman, Neil]These sounds odd, and even somewhat counter to some of Gaiman’s quotes, so I’ll try and make my case.  In the book’s afterword, written by Gaiman, he describes a time where he had to make a speech at a symposium of academics discussing myth and fantasy. The day before the speech, listening to the conversations, he got angrier and angrier, believing they did not understand the power of fairy tales. The next day, he tells a story to convince them of their power – a story with a twist:

It was a retelling of the story of Snow White, from the point of view of the wicked queen. It asked questions like, “What kind of a prince comes across the dead body of a girl in a glass coffin and announces that he is in love and will be taking the body back to his castle?” and for that matter, “What kind of a girl has skin as white as snow, hair as black as coal, lips as red as blood, and can lie, as if dead, for a long time?” We realize, listening to the story, that the wicked queen was not wicked: she simply did not go far enough; and we also realize, as the queen is imprisoned inside a kiln, about to be roasted for the midwinter feast, that stories are told by survivors.

Do you see the issue? The power Neil Gaiman sees is not in Snow White. He claims it is Snow White, but it isn’t, because Snow White is about something utterly different, teaches a different lesson, has a different hero and villain.

This isn’t the only time he’s done this. See here as well:

Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty in this fairytale mash-up where things are not what they seem. When three dwarfs learn of a sleeping plague spreading throughout the land, they alert their queen. The queen, already feeling that marriage means the end of her ability to make choices in her life, gladly postpones her wedding, grabs her sword, and sets off with the dwarfs to get to the bottom of the magical curse.

This is not somebody with a respect for fairy tales as is, but with an idea for ways to turn them into something they’re not – something that is the opposite of what they should be.

I reject that, and I believe we all should as well.

Strong Female Characters in the Castle in the Sky

This is a companion post both to my “Castle in the Sky” retrospective (consider that my official “Castle in the Sky” addition to the full Miyazaki retrospective) and colleague Marina Fontaine’s excellent article on strong female characters. This was originally written as a section of the Castalia post until I realized it both made the article too long and didn’t really fit with the rest of the piece. But I liked how it came out, so here you go:

After reading Marina Fontaine’s terrific article on strong female characters, it got me thinking.

Sheeta is a GREAT character, one of my favorite female characters perhaps in all of fiction. She is brave, she is competent, she is important, and she is very, very girly. In frightening or dangerous situations she’ll cry, she clings to Pazu for protection often and throws herself into his arms, and she never even attempts to fight anybody head-on; the few times she engages with someone physically it’s always when they’re paying attention to somebody else, and even then she’s sometimes overpowered.

And yet, she is very much a heroine; her bravery and intelligence are essential to defeating Muska, and even when she is kidnapped she’s always actively trying (and sometimes succeeding) to escape and foil Muska’s plans.

And Sheeta is likable too, even lovable – and I think this is a testament to both her and Miyazaki’s portrayal of men in”Castle in the Sky”.

I’ll explain. There is, of course, that notorious scene at the beginning of “The Force Awakens” where Rey is surrounded by unsavory characters and beats them all up with her amazingly fantastical stick-fighting skills. When Finn tries to jump in and help, Rey snarls at him and throws him away; she is a wymyn. Hear her roar! She don’t need no man.

Well, you know the scene.

In order to make Rey appear more competent “The Force Awakens” minimizes the skills and bravery of its men. When Finn goes to help and is rebuffed, he dutifully obeys; apparently he got the memo that Rey is a Magical Stickfighting Master. I’d say he was hoping that the desperado gang would beat her up, but considering how he follows her around like a puppy dog the rest of the film this is definitely out.

In contrast, whenever Pazu goes to help Sheeta, she is always, always tremendously grateful. Even the several times she doesn’t want Pazu to help her, her rebuffs are never angry, but instead take the form of desperate pleas, made not because she doesn’t need him, but because she’s worried he’ll be hurt. Sheeta knows Pazu is trying to help, knows Pazu is protecting her, and – quite unlike Rey and those other Strong Wymyn Characters (See: Black Widow in “Iron Man 2”) – she appreciates it. When Pazu is obviously outnumbered and unable to effect a difference and he still stands up for Sheeta, unlike in films like “Star Wars” and “Iron Man 2”, it’s never once played for laughs. Pazu isn’t a loser for standing up to people stronger than him. He’s a hero!

And – importantly – sometimes, Sheeta DOES need Pazu’s help. Even more shockingly – shockingly, I say! – she’s actually humble enough to ask for it!

Can you imagine something like this being made in the west? It’s simply not done anymore. Strong Wymyn Don’t Need No Man’s help, right?

And somehow, with pigheaded ignorance, western feminists praise Miyazaki as One Of Them. Nonsense. None of them would dare to make a character like Sheeta the lead when there are Reys to be worshiped.