About Me

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Lake Charles, Louisiana, United States
Hello, and welcome to my blog! I like to write about children's literature, fandom studies, video games, feminism, and pop culture in general. I've recently earned my Ph.D. in children's literature ( Fall 2012) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I also teach English (composition, British literature, and women's literature) at Sowela Technical Community College. Oh, and I like cats! [Banner image artwork by Yuki Midorikawa]

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tim Burton to direct Sleeping Beauty

So says the Guardian: LINK

Angelina Jolie is allegedly being courted to play Maleficent, which is, of course, the name of the "evil" fairy in the Disney version of the tale. That name never makes an appearance in Perrault's version, so does that mean Burton will be following in Disney's footsteps? I hope not. Disney's Sleeping Beauty is probably one of my least favorite Disney princess movies. Well, I'm not a fan of any of the three original princesses (big surprise), but there's just something about the film (and perhaps the character Aurora ... why did Disney feel they had to name the characters so particularly?) that never touched me on a personal level.

I find it strange the article translates the original French to "The Beauty Asleep in the Woods" as opposed to the more traditional "The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods."

Got the heads up from Fairy Tale Review, by the way, to give credit where credit is due.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Future of Publishing

Intriguing little presentation ... continues with the same theme I've been contemplating of late (and obviously, something everyone else has been contemplating as well) about the usefulness and sustainability of physical books.

Bluebeard, the ultimate ladykiller

Is Bluebeard not the most terrifying fairytale out there?

Apparently, it's been made into a movie. French director Catherine Breillat says that the tale's most horrifying aspect is that its monster, it's male "ogre" figure, isn't an ogre at all but an actual man. I like that Breillat's heroine is only 14 years old. "Bluebeard," like so many of the French tales, is a marriage tale, similar to my personal favorite, "Beauty and the Beast," only sans the happy ending. The beast aspect in "Beauty and the Beast" is just the way I like it: in the literal sense. The Beast is a big hairy monster with messy habits and a booming voice (forgive me if I mix Beaumont's version with Disney's; it's been awhile since I've read or seen either one). But once he falls for Beauty, he not only cleans up his ways, but he also transforms back into a man: a handsome man, a genteel man, and a proper husband for Beauty.

Bluebeard is not a proper husband for any girl. But he was the husband that many girls were given (or given to). Sadly, that kind of thing does still go in this world. Just the other day I heard a story on NPR about a 9 year old girl in Yemen who was sold by her father to another man in marriage. Her new "husband" brought her home and raped her while she screamed, her new "family" still in the house, apparently unconcerned. She's ten now, and was able to secure a divorce. Here's the original story: LINK. Supposedly, 1 in 4 girls in Yemen becomes a child bride.

I wonder if Breillat was thinking about these girls when she filmed her new movie. In the NYT's article, Breillat claims the fairytale has been her favorite since she was a girl. I have to wonder about a little girl whose favorite fairytale is something like Bluebeard. I'm kidding, of course. When I was little, my favorite tale to read was about an old woman and a talking bone. The penultimate line in the tale made both my sister and me scream like banshees -- and we loved it.

Today, I find stories like Bluebeard terrifying. I never had to fear becoming a child bride. But sometimes the "threat" of marriage, even contemporary marriage, is daunting to a girl, particularly those girls who had poor male role models growing up or who fear a loss of grown-up independence. We're far past the days when women stayed home and balanced the check book for a living .... Aren't we?

Addendum: And I just discovered it's to be made into a movie yet again. Here's the IMDb entry: LINK. I don't know much more about it, though, nor does anybody else seem to.

*Artwork is by Matt Mahurin

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The future of children's books -- online after all?

It seems an absurd thing to even question -- of course the future is online. But (like my first post on this blog suggests) it seems some of us, maybe a whole lot of us, still feel wary about making the move from print books to online books.

The Washington Post had an article recently about "Wimpy Kid" author Jeff Kinney's own online strategy. Apparently, Kinney originally posted the entire novel online. I'm not sure how that affected the publishing rights for the novel (??) but it's intriguing nonetheless. I wish I knew more about Kinney's story so I could comment on it more.

Now, this article isn't so much about Kinney's rise to stardom as it is about the children's book publishing industry in general, so get ready. One particular analyst's comment stood out to me: "If you think about the long-term future of the industry, the people who are reading 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' today will hopefully be reading a thick piece of literature in a few years." So it's interesting that children's literature is viewed as a marketing "gateway drug" to adult literature. Granted, this is an industry insider, so of course he's going to think that way, but does it not also seem as if children's literature is only considered valuable for its ability to eventually lead readers towards more adult, more "serious" literature?

Maybe I'm too sensitive. (Probably.) And I'm happy, of course, that people are trying to think of ways to keep the publishing industry alive. Part of keeping that industry alive is moving it online. Is that really the future of children's literature? (Of all literature? But I think I already answered my own question.) Why does the thought of reading literature online terrify us so much? After all, wouldn't it be cool if we could carry little electronic readers around the way they did on Star Trek?

Wait a second -- we already do that. Hmm.

That same insider warned that skyrocketing sales of young adult novels may be "skewed" by the number of adult readers who purchase young adult books. I always find statements like that amusing. Why are those numbers considered "skewed"? If teens were buying "adult" books in droves, would we consider that "skewing" the numbers? Here's an example: I used to work in a bookstore. (Seriously, what lib arts academic hasn't.) We shelved Tolkien's LOTR and The Hobbit in the adult Sci-fi and Fantasy section. I'm willing to bet that at least 50% of those books were bought by customers under the age of 20. And if you ask most people who have read LOTR when they first encountered the series, a great many will say that they first read them in their teens. The Hobbit is sometimes classified as children's literature (probably thanks to Tolkien himself), but LOTR really isn't. Are LOTR sales therefore skewed? I like to think that I seriously upset the book publishing industry's projected sales numbers when I read books like Gone with the Wind and Once and Future King at the tender age of 11 and 12 respectively -- not to mention all those "adult" sci-fi and fantasy books I was reading.

And here's something even curiouser: An online comic/illustration (by Maira Calman) written by a children's book author/illustrator, originally published in The New York Times (which I understand has something of an adult readership, ahem) as a regular column, and now to be published as a print book.

Do you like how I tied that all neatly together?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

When I first saw Mallard Fillmore's comic in The Chronicle, pretty much the first thing I did was laugh. But to be honest, I was probably bringing my own dislike of the Twilight series to the experience rather than reacting purely to the comic itself. Doesn't hurt that Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time.

Can we even try to understand the Twilight phenomenon? Is it really all about sex? Last October, Mark Morford wrote about the reasons behind his own disgust with the series: it's nothing new. Sure, vampires have been around for about 120 years (Morford refers back to Bram Stoker's Dracula), but so have most other fantasy and horror phenomena.

I have been told by at least one adult Twilight fan that she was surprised at how sexual the books are, being that they are written for "kids." I'm surprised that adult readers don't know what their teen-aged peers are reading -- that their books contain as much sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, so to speak, as most adult books. This particular age group of readers are classified as "young adults" for a reason, after all.

I haven't yet figured out the success behind the Twilight books. I never quite figured out the reason behind the success of the Harry Potter franchise, either. (But at least those were quite well-written.) I'm amazed by the number of academics (not to mention feminist academics) who profess to being enthusiastic fans of the novels. At the same time, I dislike "bashing" the books. In fact, I am far more comfortable with the thought of adult women, especially highly educated, empowered women, reading these books than I am of children -- sorry, young adults -- reading them.

As Morland pointed out, it seemed we were headed down the right path with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So what went wrong? No wonder those of us who grew up with Buffy look down on poor Bella Swan with such disdain.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More on "Rapunzel"/"Tangled"

Disney execs took creator Glenn Keane's vision and twisted it beyond recognition: "The Tangled Trouble with Rapunzel."

Disney's "Rapunzel" ... now "Tangled"!

I had been eagerly following the progress of Disney's "Rapunzel" ever since I found about it being in production, sometime around the time "Princess and the Frog" was getting ready to be released. Now the LA Times somewhat breaks the startling news: Not only is the film being retitled ("Tangled"), but the focus is shifting from the female lead to the male lead.

(Read the article HERE)

The reasons given are concerning: Disney is afraid it's original "girly" script and title would not appeal to boys. Box office returns for "Princess and the Frog" were apparently less than desirable, but Disney seems to have forgotten that super "girly" films like "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" did very well and continue to earn revenue, in part thanks to the insidiously brilliant "Disney Princess" marketing concept Disney began running in 2000.

So why the abrupt shift in focus for "Rapunzel"? It's terribly frustrating. And it's a topic that just won't seem to go away. Publishers (and some writers) in the children's and YA book industry keep insisting that boys simply will not read or watch girl-centric media. I know at least two little boys who saw and loved "Princess and the Frog," not to mention several male adults. And why is Disney now running away from its own Disney Princess brand?

In case you're curious, here's a bootleg recording of the NEW boy-centric concept trailer for "Tangled": HERE.

Anyone else reminded of Joanna Russ' "What Can a Heroine Do?"?

Oh yes, and for those who are interested, here is Shannon Hale's (one of my favorite YA authors) response to the whole debacle: HERE.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Books v. eBooks ... and the winner is?

An intriguing post from Maria Tartar's blog got me thinking.

It’s an interesting debate—which are better, books or online readers? Traditionalists are going to fight vehemently for the book; people already talk depressingly about the death of the book. Those who consider themselves more in tune with the times boast about how often and easily they use their kindles, laptops, iPhones and iPads, but sometimes guiltily admit that they still enjoy reading a good, solid book.

I wonder how this might be turned toward fanfiction and fan culture.

This is a wholly online culture. A great many (impossible to guess how many) members of these various online communities are children or young adults. I have sat in front of my laptop, enjoying a nice long fic or series of fics, all likely written by someone half my age, with a hot cup of tea and a cat in my lap for hours. It’s no more or less comfortable than sitting in my comfy white chair in the living room with an actual book (likely written for someone half my age) in my hands. Regardless, at some point I have to get up and stretch my legs, take a bathroom break, or what have you. But the story always brings me back, regardless of the medium.

That being said, I’ve had people tell me that they actually print out stories I have posted online, so that they can read them at work, at school, in bed, wherever.

Maybe this is our own 21st century Battle of the Books?