Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Modern Fairy Tales"

It seems everywhere I turn lately, I see another trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman. It has me thinking about the general idea of modern interpretations of a fairy tales.

There are different ways that these interpretations can work. They can try and tell the story in its original way. Or they can add twists like this movie will be doing, or like Ever After does. Or they can be removed to a different time and setting, like Enchanted or the ten movies named some variation of Another Cinderella Story. The latter two ways are something like inverted the fairy tale.

I say this because fairy tales represent aspects of their cultures, maybe in more or less abstract ways and often in changing ways. Snow White can stand for a complacent woman waiting for the marriage that will define her life, or she can be a patient and ingenuous person maintaining hope for better times. The fairy tale acts as a kind of carrier for ideas like this. But when we reinterpret fairy tales, we pull out certain aspects of it and put those into a new picture. Probably we are taking out from the original the pieces that feel most applicable to ourselves, but still we are not really making another fairy tale. It's still just inspired by a fairy tale. It has something of the abstract nature of fairy tales taken away, and it didn't form as part of a natural process (that no one remembers). We can track the progress of the creation of Snow White and the Huntsman or Enchanted, but not of the original Snow White or Cinderella tales (maybe of recordings of them, but their actual first origins).

But I don't mean to say that fairy tales are never intentional. It's a complicated thing to define a fairy tale; Tolkien, though, describes them quite well in his article "On Fairy-Stories."

I think my main point is that "modern fairy tales" aren't so much stand-alone fairy tales as they are conversations with the collective body of fairy stories. They're one person's (or one group's) take on what all these stories or versions of stories say, mean to say, should say, or could say.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Adventures of Connor Temple: Part 2

You can view Part 1 of this series here, and note that nothing in either post will make much sense if you haven't watched Primeval.

At first look, it appears Connor is just outdoors here; but what was he watching with a look of caution?

Just inches away, a group of birds twice his side flocked under a tree. Terror birds he must have thought them. And we all know how close a call he had with them in Season 3 Episode 6.

I tried to explain that they were just adolescent chickens, but Connor insisted they were dangerous predators.

They do look an awful lot like the Terror birds.

Connor sought refuge in a tree--luckily, he didn't fall off like he did in the Cretaceous (but that was sort of Danny's fault, wasn't it?)

A brief respite next to giant flowers . . . perhaps they're from the future?

Then he was back to another tree--the overall environment must have felt hostile.

Or maybe he was just looking for Abby again. I've told him not to worry: she should be on her way over right now, though I'm not sure how long it will take her to get here from England.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Where She Went

A while back, I posted my thoughts on Gayle Forman's If I Stay; you can read that post here. As you can see, I very much enjoyed that book. When I heard, however, about its sequel, I wasn't sure what to think. If I Stay just doesn't seem like a book that can have a sequel: the point about it was encapsulated in one moment in time.

But I was underestimating an author I had enjoyed. (Light spoilers below, I suppose.)

While If I Stay is from Mia's perspective but is very much about her loved ones and her relationships with them, Where She Went is from Adam's perspective but is very much about Mia and their relationship. In the first chapter or so, I wasn't too keen on the perspective change. But it works out wonderfully: it allows the sequel to do the same thing that the original did without repeating itself. Like its predecessor, Where She Went is heartbreaking, sweet, tragic, raw, and lovely. It, too, is about a single moment, but a moment influenced by other moments and that also will influence future moments.

I suppose you could call it sentiment, but that doesn't sound quite right. I was one of the few people on the planet who thought The Notebook was a boring movie (maybe not boring: it just didn't affect me). So it isn't so much sentiment, but emotion brought out into center stage. I'll also say that this book was one of the cases where a present tense narrative worked: sometimes I even forgot that it was present tense (as opposed to some other books where the tense might just drag the pace down into slowness).

There is a reason I haven't said much about plot: summarizing would just remove the elements from how they exist in the book. I don't want to do that: they're quite comfortable where they are. It's hard to look at just one element when they're all part of a whole.

So, yes, Gayle Forman managed to put together a sequel that did justice to the first book I enjoyed. If you read If I Stay but haven't gotten around to this one yet, you must.

Monday, May 21, 2012

You Are(n't) What You Wear

During middle school and some of high school, I didn't like clothes. At my worst, I would wear the same three or four shirts all the time and the same jean jacket all winter. But then I questioned why I purposely held myself away from the world of clothes; I started dressing a little better and actually doing my hair (although, ironically, I often don't do anything to my hair now--its half-curliness fits in well with certain hair trends). And now I like clothes.

I like them as an extension of myself, so I like them to reflect things I care about. I love Arizona, so even if Southwest isn't my general style, why not throw in a pair of moccasins sometimes? Or silver heart earrings with a little turquoise? A basic garnet ring from Sedona and a Native American beaded necklace are two other Southwest items I own.

Nineteenth-century is my favorite literary era (overall) and my decorating style is also Victorian-ish. So I love my outfits to have lace, vintage floral patterns, skirts, cameos or other antique/vintage jewelry, and whatever small amount of layering an Arizonan is able to do (not much in summer, but late fall and early spring can be perfect for layering).

When I wear my black Guess dress, which has a sixties-inspired skirt shape and exposed zippers that give it a modern touch, I often like to pair my cameo with it to add contrast. Alternately, with black-and-white checked dress I might put a vintage silver-colored, twisty-patterned necklace that adds a little edge to the outfit.

You see where all this is going? I didn't like clothes before because I thought of them as clothes, as established things that were an entity of themselves and would define and categorize you. But I like them now because I choose them and put them together as I want to. I try to dance around trends and never really put together an outfit exactly as someone else would. It's the creativity of the process and where I'm drawing my inspiration that I love. That's why I love vintage jewelry a thousand times more than new jewelry: it has already lasted through at least a few decades, so it won't go out of vogue in two years and it's more likely not to be cheap material than something you buy at Buckle or wherever. And you probably won't bump into someone who has a piece like it.

While I am on this subject, let me guide you on to a YouTube channel I have been enjoying: whisperingsandstars. (Notice that the channel name comes from a Great Gatsby quote.) Robyn Schneider is author of four books, with two more on the way, (her sometimes pseudonym is Violet Haberdasher), and many of the clothing pieces she uses are vintage. More than wanting to copy her exact outfits, her videos lead me on to think of clothes in my strange, half-vintage-style way. Clothes don't have to define you, but if you like, you can define your clothes.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Arizona Pride: The Past Year

Since I randomly threw out the idea of "Arizona pride" in my last post, let me take you on a picture tour of some of the things in Arizona I have enjoyed in the past year. (Not that any of these are brilliantly good pictures, but you'll just have to excuse, as usual, my lack of photographic skills.) All the pictures are marked with the month in which they were taken. 

First are these yellow desert daisies. During spring, they crop up on their own and make the world ever so much prettier and brighter. (5/11)

Then there are the friends you can go visit. What's wrong with small towns? And what's wrong with chickens that you can hold as if they're dogs or cats . . . ? (5/11)

But drive a little and you can come to pine country like in Strawberry: (7/11)

Or you can drive up a bit to the historic mining town, ghost town, funny little town Jerome, which sits precariously on Mingus Mounain: (10/11)

For a short afternoon's hike, Montezuma's Well does nicely. Besides the section overlooking the well, there is also a short trail shaded by trees. (1/12)

For an outing in spring, try out a boat ride on Tempe Town Lake. (3/12)

And of course we must not forget about the lovely Sedona. (3/12)

There is more than a multitude of trails there to keep you busy for weeks.

If you like, you can head to Jerome afterwards for dinner.

Be careful in March, though: the weather can be nice, but it can also be bizarrely unpredictable (until, that is, the point that its unpredictableness begins to feel predictable). This is what I found to welcome me into Spring Break: (3/12)

(of course, a week later, it was much warmer)

On the other side of the mountain from Jerome, you will find the not-as-small-but-still-with-some-small-town-feel Prescott. Visit the square for a quiet walk in the shade, some of the best pizza, and an entire row of antique stores to sift through. (5/12)

Since this year celebrates Arizona's 100th as a state, there were some Arizona flags set up.

One hundred years? Though the official day was on Valentine's Day (how fitting, eh?), I say we celebrate all year. I only wish they sold little Arizona flags in the stores like they sell U.S. flags for the Fourth of July. I would put one up in my room next to my mini, vintage, silk U.S. flag (which was one of many used to welcome Theodore Roosevelt to the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Movie Rundown

I suppose, given my Primeval obsession, I haven't been watching as many movies lately. But here is a list of the some of the ones I have seen in the recent past:

1) The Woman in White (1997) - This movie was, naturally, rather abridged from the original Wilkie Collins novel (which, if you haven't read yet, you should look into). But the parts that it did include were done alright. I don't know if I would call it perfect, but it got the main points rights, and the people I watched it with (who were unfamiliar with the story) also enjoyed it.

2) The Devil Wears Prada - I enjoyed Confessions of a Shopaholic, and had heard that these two were similar. But they were much more different than I was expecting. Frankly, this movie bored me. Performances weren't bad and the story wasn't really, either; it just didn't draw me in.

3) Melies the Magician - This was a DVD with a documentary on Georges Melies (whom watchers of Hugo will recognize as a silent movie maker from back when) and many of his short films. I didn't watch all of the documentary, I confess, as I was short on time when I had the DVD. But most of the films were, yes, magical. Amazing, dreamlike, stirring, intriguing, silly, unique, all that sort of thing fits. Melies was able to do things with film that people don't really do anymore . . . yet he influenced things that we do now. Very intriguing to study and to just watch.

4) New Year's Day - Another movie I watched because Andrew-Lee Potts (of Primeval) was in it, I really enjoyed this one. I would equate it in some ways to Remember Me, maybe with a little of The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. Thoughtful and reckless, sad but still funny, completely innocent yet completely not. It's an indie-type movie. It was the way that it balanced opposites and asked questions and threw questions across the room in rebellion jumped summersaults on the line between tragedy and joy that kept me super-focused the whole time. Not a movie I would re-watch every day, but one I'm really glad I saw.

5) The Help - Although this one had such good reception, I didn't like it terribly. But let me be clear: I don't think it wasn't a good movie. It just didn't interest me much personally. Was the plot too non-relatable for me? Was it the style? I'm not sure. All the same, it was a good period piece with a good message and good characters. Just not for me.

6) Julie & Julia - I enjoyed this movie. The foodie-ness about it was cool since I have my own slight foodie side (in terms of chocolate, that is--check out Chocablog to see my chocolate reviews). I liked the combination of delirium and sophistication, the life analysis and the life enjoyment.

7) Rango - I wanted to like this movie since it's animation with desert animals. What's more cute to a proud Arizonan? But it was only so-so. It had a little experimentation, which was nice to see in an animated movie. But overall, it felt like just a basic plot. Nothing stood out to the point of endearment.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jess: The Modern Marian?

One would think I am trying to win the prize for Primeval nerdiness.

The sad part about my post today is that probably even less people know about The Woman in White than they do about Wuthering Heights (whose character Cathy I compared to Helen previously). This is also sad because The Woman in White (by Wilkie Collins) is quite a good story. To compensate for any lack of knowledge about this novel, here is what you need to know about Marian. She is the half-sister to Laura, whom you might say is the heroine of the novel. Laura goes through some Gothic-ish danger because people want her money, and Marian helps to save her and uncover the mystery of the novel. Marian's help comes in the form of Walter Hartright, the sisters' former drawing teacher who also eventually marries Laura.

So Marian is an intellectual character in a Victorian novel. She is very much the antithesis of Laura, who is pretty and fairly flat of a character. Marian is more developed, but she is also described (very starkly) as ugly. You see how it works?

The reason I compare Primeval's Jess to Marian is obviously for physical appearance. It's because Jess is also intellectual; she knows computers backwards and forwards and is very good at her job as team coordinator. Sometimes it seems like she's team leader, not just coordinator: she organizes so much of what goes on. So she gets things done in just as hands-on a way as Marian does, letting nothing stop her and never being intimidated by other people.

The difference is that Jess is not a Victorian character. The Woman in White addresses a lot of women's issues, and I think the contrast between Marian's ugly/intellectual self and Laura's pretty/one-dimensional self is intentional as a part of this. But Jess is able to take both sides of Marian and Laura. She is smart and bold, but she is also pretty and very girly (and wears wonderful outfits). In a sense, Jess is what Marian and Laura (particularly Marian) are not allowed to be in Victorian society.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Literary Trends & Conversations

Bear in mind, during this post, what I have said before about the similarity between the current supernatural trend and the Gothic. But this time, I want to focus on the how of the similar content in these two periods.

This past semester, one of my classes read about half of a book called Pamela, following up with sections from Anti-Pamela and Shamela. As you can tell, the second two books were parodies of the first; they were two of many more such books. Such things became literary conversations of sorts. It seems dull to look back on piles of the same basic plot, but the concept is understandable. We have the same type of thing now in YouTube form, where you can search for a particular parody and come up with dozens of results. But do we also have it in book form?

I think so, in a way. Let's come back to the supernatural trend (and we can include fantasy in this). There are the big titles everyone or most everyone knows. But there are also the piles of "similar" books. Most of them aren't as good or as original (though not necessarily), and some in the overall bunch parody parts of others (or at least respond to them). Let me take my friend Twilight for instance. Though it appears to have helped launch the trend because of how timing worked out, it wasn't really the first of its kind. And there are responses even stated outright in the text. Bella tries to remember what fiction has said about vampires and compare it to her observations, etc. The reader, looking in, does something similar. Twilight is a different world from previous vampire fiction. It therefore takes on a different focus and a different theme, even while including a few of the same elements within its framework.

It's in these little differences that the big changes often happen. Back in the eighteenth to nineteenth century, texts shifted (though with rather similar plot lines) from showing essentially trapped and powerless women to independent figures. Now, very much through parodies, we seem to be shifting the supernatural from something to be feared or to be cautious of to something that analogizes aspects of our real lives. (It always has done that, true, but it's a bit different now, isn't it?) So in Twilight, it isn't about certain characters being vampires; it's about what they choose to do with who they happen to be. It's a similar sort of thing in Harry Potter.

And I do hope I didn't ramble or stray overly much in this post.

Monday, May 14, 2012


It was just a quiet little afternoon, a plan to spend the later part of the day in pleasant ambling. We drove over to Pine, the tiny and cute town in a wooded area that also happens to be minutes away from where desert plants grow.

The plan didn't go much further than to reach Pine, but it was inevitable that once there we started antique store hopping. Pine may be tiny, but its antiquing isn't bad. I found a three dollar vintage felt hat in the first store and called myself happy. I hadn't been aiming to actually find things on this trip.

But I couldn't help it. In a later store, we were talking about how items have to speak to you, and I saw a 100% wool, green, very slightly almost Fedora-looking hat sitting on a top shelf. It spoke to me, yes. I snatched it up, saw its eight dollar price tag (usually twenty or thirty is more likely for a basic hat, maybe fifteen for a low price), tried it on just quick enough to make sure it fit okay, and then announced that it had to come with me. It was green, after all.

Outside the store, I put the hat on and my grin grew wider than the brim. So much for going to Pine just to hang out--I remain guilty: I don't regret my ridiculous green purchase.

Edit: here is a picture of the hat, taken on the drive back.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Helen: The Modern Cathy?

I usually try and spread out my posts on Primeval, but I don't have another topic I really want to focus on right now and my Primeval posts have been getting a decent amount of views, so here I go with more rambling about the show.

Cathy, assiduous readers will recall, is from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (and it is Cathy senior I am discussing). Cathy is, of course, at the center of a love triangle with Heathcliff and Linton--she chooses Linton, but really loves Heathcliff. She is also, at certain points, sort of like the unrestrained feminine force. She even seems on the psycho side at times. (It's things like this that make the novel so entertaining to read and analyze . . . )

Like Cathy, Primeval's Helen sets up her own triangle. Back when she was married to Nick, she had an affair with Stephen. In Seasons 1 and 2, Helen seems to go back and forth between the two, trying to gain the trust of whichever one she thinks will listen to her. It doesn't take long for Cutter to dismiss her, so it is Stephen who ends up trusting her (essentially to his doom, you could melodramatically say). Would that make Cutter Helen's Linton and Stephen her Heathcliff? Maybe. But you could also argue for the opposite. Cutter also becomes the man Helen can't have (since he keeps rejecting her), like Heathcliff (although Cathy could have chosen Heathcliff--sort of).

Let me return to the "unrestrained feminine force" idea. Helen is completely mad. And completely smart and driven. She's disturbing because she always lies and we hardly ever know everything she knows or what exactly her plan is. She says things against humanity, but always comes back to humanity--back to the ARC, to Cutter, to Stephen. I suppose you could say that she's disturbing to Stephen because she's desirable, even though he knows what her personality is like. Is she femininity gone completely off? Sort of. Although this isn't because she has been, like a nineteenth century character, suppressed--it's just because she's Helen.

I wonder what Cathy would think about Helen. She might think Helen has some good ideas, but I think Cathy would be very unlike Helen if she were born today. If that were the case, would she have had any reason to ever pick Linton over Heathcliff? The two of them could have just lived their life together, not like Helen who had to constantly be discovering new things and feeling in power essentially over existence. Since Helen's character isn't responding to repressed Victorian women's ideals, she has to respond to other things. Technology, science, ethics, knowledge, awareness, privacy and publicity, that sort of thing.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Primeval Family

Time to talk about some of the character dynamics in my current favorite show, Primeval.

Even before they "get together," Abby and Connor always seemed a pair, if not yet a couple. Add Rex (who is essentially Abby's baby) (and later the two other critters) and you essentially have a family unit, with Abby at its head. If Abby is the head, then, it follows that Connor and Rex share certain similarities (correction: it doesn't necessarily follow, but it makes sense).

Consider how many near-death experiences the two have. Connor hitting his head has almost reached the level of a running joke (of course it is his head that has to be most vulnerable--as the "smart person," it's what would be worst, symbolically, for him to lose). Then there was the time he almost froze and the time he was dragged underground by the burrowing creature. For Rex, there was the time Caroline shut him up in the refrigerator, when he was shot, and when he almost suffocated. I'm sensing some direct correlations: both characters almost froze and both had a bad experience in the environment-controlled room.

And of course Abby is always willing to risk herself for these two--she's smart, but when it comes to them, she'll stop at nothing. Just think of all the times we hear Abby's voice shout out, stressed and worried. She's either calling to Connor or Rex. She has to protect them both.

They share other traits, too. Both are in the small handful of characters introduced in the first episode that actually make it all the way to the end. Both are quirky--often comedic, usually smiling. Neither one exactly fits in, though being a refugee from an anomaly to the Permian is (just a bit) more drastic than being the nerd.

I wonder what the actors would think about this comparison . . . Next time, I will compare Helen to Cathy from Wuthering Heights.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Popcorn Break

I am having an extraordinarily difficult time focusing on writing this paper, this last item of work for the semester. As I sat staring at the blinking cursor on Word, I pondered not on how to finish my sentence but on how it might help if I had some chips to snack on while writing. But I don't have any chips in the cabinet, and almonds just don't seem interesting right now. Then I remembered the jar of popcorn and jumped up to put some on the stove. Anything to avoid my paper.

It's been months since I last made popcorn--I was worried I would just make a burnt mess or add too much for the size pot I was using (I mildly detest the idea of microwave popcorn). But, no, it turned out perfect, the perfect amount, too, and in hardly any time at all. There is nothing so jovial as the sound of popcorn kernels popping up against the sides of a metal pot, bursting into pretty white flowers of edible joy. Add a little salt and you have perfection.

. . . Did I say perfection? Oh, dear, that means this is also the perfect snack for paper writing, in which case I am out of excuses to delay any longer. (Have you noticed that it is become my ritual to "warm up" for paper writing by posting ramblings about what food I am eating or some such other random topic? Whatever works.)