{feminist armor}

Yesterday, after two sold-out shut-downs, I finally saw Snow White and the Huntsman. At our pre-screening dinner and drinks, my friend and I discussed what we’d heard about the movie so far: unexpectedly good, Charlize Theron is brilliant, an empowering feminist slant. Though neither of us had read it, we discussed an apparently well-known review of SWatH as the beginning of a new genre of feminist film, led (really??) by Kristen Stewart.


After the movie, our collective response was: That constantly oscillated between expected and surprising! Daring ending! Strong female characters! Entirely unsubtle female Jesus figure!

At home this morning, I attempted to find the review we had discussed through a brief Google search. I was resoundingly unsuccessful—instead, Googling “snow white and the huntsman feminism” results in a barrage of reviews bashing the movie for its misplaced feminist interpretation of the classic fairytale.

In some scruffy, unbathed, unshaven, older-alcoholic way, the huntsman is supposed to make sense as Snow White’s true love. . . [I]t is his lesson about a knife to the heart that ultimately saves her. So, even though Snow White kills the Queen, he gave her the knowledge to do so. Her moment in armor? That was just a brief blip in drag. By film’s end, she is wrapped nicely back in a flouncy blood-red dress and will seemingly soon trip down the aisle with Sir Skirt Ripper. Gag.

Alright, Ms. Magazine blog. While I may devour “No Comment” like there’s no tomorrow (favorite), imma have to disagree with a lot of what you’re putting out there right now. Namely, the huntsman did not make sense to me as Snow White’s true love—rather, I came away from the film with the impression of a conscious effort to point out that they were not going to be tripping down the aisle soon, or at all. And that’s a bold move—flying in the face of the biggest mainstay of both Hollywood and fairytales. Did the huntsman teach Snow White to fight? Yes. Did that make sense, given the gender roles of their society (and the fact that she had been locked in a tower for a decade, and so had had no other opportunity to learn to fight)? Also yes. (Did K-Stew look like a total bad ass leaping through a wall of fire in full sword-wielding armor? Yes.)

To my understanding, a feminist revamping of a fairytale does not (and probably should not) completely ignore the admittedly chauvinist lean of the original. Let’s face it—if I was running for my life through the Dark Forest, I would probably want someone with me. You say that you know a man who can wield a battleaxe, which straight-up physical fact makes a difficulty for me? Fine, male companion it is. Even Katniss—whom this blogger seems to regard as the paragon of feminist hero, an opinion I partially agree with but also find a little questionable—had almost constant male companionship or protection, especially in the second and third Hunger Games books.

In any case. I am likely getting in over my head here. Suffice it to say that sometimes it is just pretty cool to watch a girl leap through a wall of fire in full sword-wielding armor.


{blowing through a rough patch}

So both Sunday and Monday night, I made the mistake of starting a Hunger Games book after dinner. And then did not go to sleep until I had finished. It’s been a rough couple of days.

Now that I have finished the entire HG series, I did some serious reflection slash coworker discussion today in preparation for the movie extravaganza on Friday. (And I did do a cut for this. I don’t want to risk THG fan hatred.)

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{i’m a little unpopular}

My fellow Book Blobber Morgan recently “live-blogged” his experience reading Game of Thrones. My coworker lent me his copy of The Hunger Games and insisted I read it. In my head, these logically combined into me live-blogging THG.

Here’s what happened:

The Hunger Games Live Blog, March 4, 2012

2:08 p.m. Am I really starting this now? After everyone else has read it and raved? I probably won’t like it. Urgh. I’m nervous.

2:17 p.m. “Gale spreads the bread slices with the soft goat cheese.” Why would you write it that way? You spread the soft goat cheese ON the bread slices. I already don’t like Katniss. Or this writing. Urgh.

2:20 p.m. “We easily trade six of the fish for good bread, the other two for salt.” BUT YOU JUST SAID YOU CAUGHT 12 FISH.

2:25 p.m. Oh. Now you have 4 fish left. Still. Why did you say THE OTHER two?

2:44 p.m. Her family is saying goodbye to her so calmly! So weirded out right now.

After 2:44 p.m., I was no longer able to force myself to put down the book long enough to write anything. And so ends my failed attempt at live-blogging.

Now clearly, I am the last person on the planet to read THG. This means two things: 1) I didn’t include a cut for spoilers on this post, and 2) it had been talked up to me so much that I was worried. I went into it expecting to be disappointed, and for the first 36 minutes, I was. (And, as my live-blogging shows, bitterly cranky about it.)

But here’s the thing: I never liked Katniss. I never liked the writing. And yet dear God I could not put this book down. That is how incredible the plot was.

I know I’ve pretentiously nattered on here before about appreciating good writing and relating to characters, and how I can’t enjoy a book without that. Suzanne Collins floored me not only with her incredible storyline, but with proof that I was, in fact, wrong about this. I loved THG. Not to obsession, not to midnight-movie-premiere craze, but much more than I thought I would and enough to make me drool after my roomate’s copies of Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

And enough to make me watch the preview and get goosebumps. Here’s another way THG has turned me on my head: I read the book first, but I actually think I might enjoy the movie more (un. heard. of.). Take out the writing style and Katniss’s first-person narration, and what you are left with is a sheer unadulterated adrenaline rush. Thank you, cinema.

In sum: I read the entire book and watched the trailer multiple times on Sunday afternoon. At work on Monday, I spent most of the day listening to the Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” on repeat and trying not to indulge in tears of exciting emotion.

{blast from the past}

So in a combination of wanting more variety to my posts (Death in the City of Light is STILL dragging out… SHEESH) and picking up some tips from other blogs I love, I’ve decided to add a weekly feature of Friday Favorites. Every Friday, I’ll post on a book, author, or series I consider to be at the top of my biblio-list. I like this plan, especially because I really don’t like blogging about books I read that I didn’t enjoy… and sometimes that happens.

And how could I forgive my 8-year-old self if I didn’t start my list of favorites with the Chronicles of Narnia?

I was pretty much obsessed with these books for the latter half of my elementary school career. I saved up my allowance quarters for weeks and bought the very boxed set you see pictured here out of the Scholastic book orders they handed out in school (remember those?). In a fourth-grade biography assignment, I researched and wrote about C. S. Lewis. When I came home on breaks from college, I still reread them frequently.

When I first read these, I was young enough that the Christian allegory didn’t sink in at all. I’m actually not sure how it would’ve changed my perception of the stories had that happened—as it is, they’ve always remained just amazing magical stories to me. And, like Harry Potter, they’re not just books for kids. In fact, IndieBound doesn’t even list them as children’s books. And who could forget the Lonely Island’s breakout hit??

I figure at this point, especially with the recent movies, if you don’t know the general plot to the Narnia books, you’re probably living under a rock and don’t read this blog in the first place. So I won’t go into it. But fellow Narnia fans should (maybe) read The Magicians, the Lev Grossman book that I blogged about earlier. As a big Narnia/HP fan growing up, I was pretty shocked by Grossman’s treatment of fantasy worlds and magic. I’m actually not sure if fantasy fans would necessarily enjoy The Magicians—but it’s definitely worth a read if you like questioning your own perspective. Has some pretty good meta passages about reading in general, for sure.

Have a good weekend! My goals for this weekend include finishing DitCoL and not drowning in small-town ennui.

{for want of a ball}

I read a few Terry Pratchett books in middle school (namely because my brother’s National Geographic Kids said he was DanRad’s favorite author), but I don’t really remember them. They all sort of blended together in a blurry humorous fantasy world. In Unseen Academicals, I actually found the humor to be somewhat lacking, or perhaps of a sort that I enjoyed more when I was younger. UA‘s redemption, however, was found in two particular themes that I found very interesting.

In a small, small nutshell, UA is the story of Unseen University’s decision to field a football (soccer) team for the first time in years. With rival teams and their fans constantly wreaking havoc both on the field and in the streets of Ankh-Morpork, the wizard professors decide to reinvent the game as a more civilized form of entertainment and sportsmanship. In doing so, they unintentionally deprive the local riffraff of the source of satisfying violence and excitement that the sport had become.

The first half of the book contains a handful of encounters between fans of rival teams, all of which carry the threat of street violence. Of course, everyone is familiar with the undying Romeo and Juliet theme of rival gangs warring in the streets, but after watching The Outsiders while in the middle of UE, I thought long and hard about said theme and its applications in the real world. The characters in both works are in very real danger of being jumped in public in broad daylight—or significantly worse. I’m the first to admit that I’ve lived a sheltered life. Growing up in a quiet neighborhood, I’d—perhaps unwisely and certainly to my parents’ distress—never though twice about walking alone at night until around the age of 20. Even after spending last year volunteering at a sexual assault hotline, I’ve never felt seriously afraid of or threatened by someone coming around a dark corner (fact: you are far more likely to be assaulted by someone you know in a private setting). Now, (obviously) the dark corner type of danger is not confined to the works of Shakespeare and Sondheim, and you might just see this as the ramblings of a naïve girl with too much time and security on her hands. But this is why I love to read (and watch movies)! So that I can see what living with the daily threat of physical harm must be like!

In the second half of the book, these football-(soccer)-playing street toughs get a little more human when they’re blindsided by the government and university’s decision to regulate their favorite pastime. The toughs are drunk, illiterate, and frankly have no idea what’s going on. As a football (real football) player myself, I understand the need to get a little violent on the playing field. It’s satisfying. It makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. And to have that taken away from you by a self-proclaimed tyrannical government? I mean, sure, Ankh-Morpork was dealing with civilian injuries and deaths at practically every football (soccer) match. But they signed up for it, right? Even the fans! And the players who died young of head injuries and the like—they still had the glory, didn’t they?

Disclaimer: I’ve known people who have died or been permanently injured while playing a sport. I don’t mean to trivialize or excuse that. But—coming from a fictional standpoint—don’t you think it would be just a bit tough to have something you love taken away because higher-ups didn’t like it? I mean, haven’t we all felt that way about our parents at some point or another?


{go big or go home}

“Are you kidding? That guy was a mystery wrapped in an enigma and crudely stapled to a ticking fucking time bomb. He was either going to hit somebody or start a blog. To tell you the truth I’m kind of glad he hit you.”

Thank you, Lev Grossman. Always a pleasure to know my place in the world as a blogger. Grossman’s The Magicians is usually billed as a Harry Potter-Narnia conglomeration, and while I can see why it is dubbed as such, it’s not—really.

Let me be clear: I absolutely love both Harry Potter and Narnia. I have waited in midnight lines for HP books and movies, and when I was 9, I saved up my allowance and bought a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia from the Scholastic book club that I still reread almost every time I go home. But Grossman’s The Magicians treats magical schools and adventures with a certain misanthropic cynicism that I happen to enjoy at this point in my life.

Quentin Coldwater is at the top of his class in everything. He’s slated to have his choice of the Ivy Leagues, if he can fend off all his cutthroat academic equals. Does he care? Is he happy? Not particularly. He dreams of Fillory, the magical land visited by British siblings in his favorite childhood books (which bear distinct similarities to, if not are replicas of, Narnia and the Chronicles). In Fillory, you could be special. In Fillory, you could really prove that you were worth something.

But wait—Quentin receives an invitation to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. He is special. But Brakebills turns out to be less like Hogwarts (although there are passing—usually drunken—references to Quidditch and Hermione’s buckteeth) and more like the college experiences enjoyed by normal individuals: Quentin makes some great friends, starts dating a nerdy sexbomb, and spends his time having houseparties. Actually, though, he gets a little sick of it—he’s stuck in this bubble of self-involved twerps who think they’re something special. But really, in the scheme of things, they’re not.

It’s all good, though. Kinda. Post-college is more drunken debauchery, including some forays into sketchier stuff from his friends’ Manhattan penthouse. None of this magic stuff has really been quite as cool as Quentin thought it would be.

But wait—a third huge plot development occurs (this book is jam-packed, by the way—don’t read it unless you’ve got a fair amount of time on your hands and are in relatively good cardiac health). Quentin and his friends find a way to actually go to Fillory. Now Quentin can prove himself as the questing magical adventurer he always knew he was.

One of the reasons Quentin loves the Fillory books is when the children happen across an entrance to it, it’s like “opening the covers of a book, but a book that did what books always promised to do and never actually quite did: get you out, really out, of where you were and into somewhere better.”

That’s what Quentin is searching for throughout the entire book, and that’s what he thinks he has found once he finally gets to Fillory. But is Fillory as great as he’d always thought it was? What happens to people who go through life always waiting for the next big thing—and then find it? What are you supposed to do once you get there?

I liked this book for its magic, for its adventure, because it was recommended to me by a list for adult Harry Potter readers. And it really is a good fit for that list, but not because it’s about a school of magic.

As a recent post-graduate (and a member of the true Harry Potter generation), I can tell you that all of Quentin’s misdirected cynicism and debauchery rang fairly true to me. Not in the sense that I, too, am living a wild and hedonistic life (just today I managed to bend my knees without crutches! Then my mom took me out for froyo), but because I totally get what it’s like to wonder when something really cool is going to happen. When is my hard work going to pay off? Why can’t the magical stuff I read about as a kid be real? Why is life just so dang boring most of the time? (What if you’re not the Chosen One? What if you don’t happen to stumble across a fantasyland of Christian metaphysics?)

The Magicians does not answer these questions. It does not put a positive spin on them (or on anything, for that matter—I had to have a short recovery period after finishing this one). It attempts to teach you things only in the sense that it brings up these questions and forces you to think about them. Which could be the kick in the pants you need. Or it could just send you spiraling down in a fit of apathy. Take your chances.

He was going to sign the papers and he was going to be a motherfucking magician. Or what the hell else was he going to do with his life?