Halloween in June Results

I did it! Had Halloween in June! There were costumes and pumpkins. . . Actually, I couldn't get a decent pumpkin so I just stabbed some holes into the biggest orange I could find. And everyone I know said it was too hot for full costumes, so most people just wore bed sheets over their clothes. Then the cops were called because the neighbors reported that we were having a frat party and throwing candy at their children. The police showed up after we had turned off the lights in order to play with a Ouiji Board. We told the officers that there was nothing to worry about, unless they wanted to help us catch the demon we'd accidentally released. I laughed. The police laughed. The demon laughed. And then I don't really remember what happened after that. But I have to say, based on the way my house looked when I woke up, it must have been successful. Now, if I could just figure out who left behind their hat and severed head.

Character Study - Secondary Characters

Writing good sidekicks, best friends, and minor yet important characters is just as important as your main characters. Still, they fall into stereotypes so often that it sometimes wrecks the original mood of a book. So, here's a list:

Secondary character stereotypes to avoid:  

1. The Sassy Gay Friend: it’s always wonderful to create a diverse world filled with people of all backgrounds, but make then real. They become the comic relief  without any real substance.  This was something started by goofy 80s movies and somehow followed our culture into the new millennium. 

2.  The  Harassing/Overbearing Boss:  We all want to secretly stick it to "the man".  We want to pour our own frustrations from work into our books (yes, Young Skywalker, use your anger). But a character can go very quickly from being the usual boss you love to hate to a full blown character trope. The male bosses all become handsy and the female bosses are all bitches with something to prove. They have no family save for a spouse that everyone pities and no friends.  It’s fine if this character is only appearing for a few key moments within the story but if they are a reoccurring character you need to make them a little more human.

3. The Wise Wizard: Have you ever met a wise magic person? Neither have I? I think writers live this because it’s an easy way to move along a hero’s journey. What is a quest without a wise wizard? Less convenient, but might be a better story. 

4.  Talking Heads & Informative Bookworms: Exposition machines who do nothing by data dump need to be stopped - except Bob in the Dresden Files.

5. The Rogue: Oh, he's so sexy, but you know he's bad. Even Jane Austen managed to make most of her rogues well-rounded, but they can borderline onto soap-opera territory.

6. Muscular Barbarian: Make your characters figure out how to open their own damn doors. The D&D equivalent of the Hulk rarely gets to do much beside the occasional mighty chortle and break something.

7. The Bumbling Sidekick: This is really only acceptable in Disney cartoons or buddy comedies.

If you need some good examples, ask yourself "What the Dickens?" Any secondary characters in any Charles Dickens novel are always good first examples. Dickens created people in his books, not characters. No one, no matter how insignificant to the main plot, was ever purely good or purely evil. Some were very eccentric with ridiculous names, but the all still felt like people you could pass in a busy city in real life.  

And people watching. It's both a great writer's tool and a way to creep out the neighbors you don't want to socialize with anyway.

National Tapioca Day

So... apparently this is a thing. Why am I not as excited for this as I am for PI Day or May the 4th Be With You Day or Talk Like a Pirate Day? Well, because it's tapioca. The most mocked of all of the pudding flavors. So, I did some digging as to why anyone would dedicate a day to this and. . . I still don't get it.

Tapioca is made from a South American root and is a starch that can be used in place of wheat. It promotes healthy weight gain and is good for calcium. But the only part I'm really interested in are the balls.

Stop giggling. I'm talking about tapioca balls! In Boba tea! Boba balls! Why did your laughter get louder when I tried to explain. Why are you laughing as someone who enjoys Boba ba-

Oh. I hear it now. I'll be quiet.

History of Pre-Civil War to 1920s Immigration

Although people came here legally through federal government channels (pre-Civil War: individual states had the right to decide immigration policies and quotas), immigrants had zero rights.

Chinese immigrants could only work certain jobs, could not own property (see Chinese Exclusion Act), and were paid next to nothing working hard labor through railroad and mining companies.

The Federal government gave immigrants very few rights or opportunities. They were paid less for doing the same work in factories as American-born citizens (see Nativism) and told that if they did not adopt U.S. culture they would never survive (similar to the forced assimilation of Native Americans). Italian, Irish, & German immigrants were blamed for the rise of corrupt politicians and organized crime. This was because these manipulative groups were the only ones giving immigrants the welfare they needed so the immigrants supported them for the sake of their families.

Theses groups were also used as scapegoats during the rise of both the temperance movement and strikes protesting workplace accidents. When factory workers had a colleague die on the job, the factory owners would spin the blame on immigrants drinking around the machinery so they would not have to fix safety regulations.

Despite exceptions like Jane Addams and Upton Sinclair, many Americans believed in "Social Darwinism" and that immigrants/lower class people would never be able to change their situation because of their background, so changing laws to help them was not a priority.

Halloween in June

Let's face it - Christmas in July is the pits. I don't care how much you say you love it or how many cheaply produced Hallmark movies you binge in the middle of Summer, it's an awful reminder of the stress-inducing, materialism of what should be a time of warmth and kindness. It's a cheap and a lame excuse for decking non-existent halls.

That haven't been said - WHERE IS THE HALLOWEEN EQUIVALENT?

I want a horror movie marathon throughout the month of June!

I want the It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to disrupt my favorite summer non-cable show.

I want an excuse to buy fun size candy bars and awkwardly wait on my porch for kids to come!

I want kids to tell me about Hocus Pocus like it's brand new!

I want to walk around my neighborhood in a witch hat and have no one wonder why!

Let's do this, people! Grab those plastic pumpkins and purple lights! Join the Halloween in June revolution!

Fellow Writers of Phoenix

This is more of a question than a blog. Those of you who are writers, whether established or aspiring, many like to seek inspiration by getting outside and experiencing. Lots of us get our best ideas by people-watching in parks, airports, stores, and other places where we could be mistaken for creepers.

For those of you who live in in the sweltering "Valley of the Sun", where the dry heat makes living in an oven impossible to leave the house during daylight hours, we want to hear from you. How do you seek inspiration during the long 110 degree days? What's the most creative way you can get out and continue your inspirational process in the midst of avoiding mirages and seeking out water?

Submit your answers either in the comments below or send them to our e-mail fivesmilingfish@gmail.com. The more interesting the strategy, the better. All of those who submit an idea will be sent a link to preview one of our upcoming books and be entered into a drawing for a prize! Submit your ideas by July 15th to be elegible.

Character Study - Non-Villainous Villains

When writing fantasy or adventure, one of the hardest parts is writing a believable villain. I have already addressed this subject once with Captain Nemo, but with the television program Once Upon a Time having ended, I realized that I wanted to give some more contemporary examples. Some of you probably just turned up your nose at the glorified soap-opera Once Upon a Time (which Disney did some pretty shady things in order to produce and make sure theirs was the only modern fairy tales show at the time). Here's the thing - it wrote it's villains extremely well. Every villain had a backstory and some redeeming quality. Many of them you felt sorry for or could relate to in some way. And that's the way the villain should be. You don't want to constantly write the James Bond stereotype, who does evil just to be powerful. So, here are a three modern examples of well-written fantasy villains and why.

The first example is a bit of a cheat because the whole book is from the villain's point of view and is trying to make you feel regret for an established bad guy, similar to Gregory Maguire's Wicked. Still, it was well-done and I'm using it. The Fairest of All by Serena Valentino was published by Disney, yet delves into a dark, psychological path that surprises the reader. It's the story of how Snow White's step-mother became wicked. Valentino uses many of the same childhood horrors that shape people in the real world who do bad: abuse, manipulation, low self-esteem, and loneliness, to reveal the queen's motivation for her obsession with beauty. You see a little girl who is told constantly that she is ugly and worthless, then grows up to discover she is actually gorgeous and how she latches onto that concept. It also addresses how childhood trauma follows a person into adulthood, although the book does this very literally when it turns out the slave in the mirror is the queen's mentally abusive father. Lastly, Valentino uses grief and depression to break the character and turn her into the monstrous mother we recognize from the Disney film. She paints an interesting and heartbreaking journey that is not simply jealousy, but the reasons behind the madness.

Second villains to analyze are Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel from the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman. Both are cold, intelligent, and selfish. While one is power hungry and the other is more of an academic fanatic, both lay at the precipice of being purely villainous in different ways. Without giving away too much from the books, both characters have a significant effect and interest in the hero, Lyra. She serves as a different part of a goal for both and both nearly kill her several times. But it is their underlining humanity, their connection to each other and to Lyra which reveals them to be more than simply antagonists.

The last to be given props this week (and in keeping with a YA theme) is Luke Castellan from Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. Luke is one of many antagonists from the series of books, but he unique as the most conflicted of the villains. You see him from many points of view, not just as the former friend and betrayer of the main character. You find his motivations from a childhood of neglect and from his reactions to various harsh life experiences. He was a hero who was manipulated by depression and bitterness, but you have his former friends who want him to be the boy he used to be. You root for them to save him, despite every horrible way he nearly kills them.

 

Shh... (an important repeat blog)

Quiet! Listen carefully. Do you hear that? It's the calm before the glorious chaos that is Phoenix Comic C- I mean Fest

Here is what you need to do to prepare:

1. Deep breaths

2. Create an easy-to-find meeting place for you and your friends

3. BRING WATER - stay hydrated!

4. Walkie talkies work where cell reception might fail

5. Be aware of local eateries for each night

6. Deodorant - Help keep the con funk under control

7. Vitamin C - Help keep the con crud under control

8. Make the world a better place - It's a crowded convention on a hot day. Tensions run high and sometimes people act like jerks. Don't give in to their behavior and don't let them ruin your good time.

Happy Wicked Stepmother Day

Mothers' Day, a day to show appreciation and reverence for the women (and motherly men) who makes our lives a little brighter. But what about all of those wicked stepmothers? Where's the Hallmark card for them? Without them being awful, their mentally and physically abused fairy tale children would have never have found their happily ever afters.

Therefore, here's to you!

To the poisoned apple makers: Poisoned apples take a long time to create and a lot of ingredients that you can't just get at the grocery store. That takes time and effort. Good for you!

To the overbearing, task masters: You taught time management, cooking, cleaning, and other skills which could have been so much more useful than simply singing to birds. Here's a thumbs up for you!

To the power-hungry manipulators: You planed out your perfect marriage to that rich man to the smallest detail. It wasn't your fault that he had kids and that those kids refuse to obey simple little orders like turning into animals or marrying someone equally manipulative to increase your power. Don't let the selfishness of others get you down!

To the insanely jealous and homicidal psychos: Sure, you murdered and lost stepchildren on purpose, but you did it with style. You deserve some you-time!

So, wicked stepmothers out there, tighten the restraints on your burning iron slippers and tell your ugly birth children to give you some room to dance..until you fall over.

In Defense of Rumpelstiltskin

Brief history: This is another old one which is primarily German in origins. For those of you who don’t know it, a big-mouthed miller accidentally condemns his daughter to death by claiming she can spin straw into gold. Locked away in the palace by a greedy king, the daughter is met with a little man who for 3 nights does the impossible task for her. However, each night his fee gets worse, first taking the only 2 items she had left of her dead mom and then insisting on taking her first born. The girl agrees, probably assuming the king will end up killing her anyway. He didn’t seem like a very sound mind. Then, with all of the straw spun and the king, thinking she has this great power, marries her and she gets pregnant. Oops. Just to recap: her dad almost got her killed, her husband is a gold-crazed psycho, and a little man was coming to take custody of her kid (why? No one knows). The little man makes her a deal that if she guesses his name within 3 days she can keep her offspring. The new queen uses her regal resources to find out the man’s name (actually in most versions a solider learns it for her, but she delegated it). After speaking the odd word “Rumpelstiltskin”, the little man gets so angry he stomps a hole in the ground and is swallowed by Hell.

Analysis: This is a tale of a woman surrounded by manipulative men and wins against each of them in some way. Okay, so she’s screwed if the kingdom ever goes into an economic depression and her husband demands she spins more straw into gold, but otherwise she manages to beat the main antagonist by being resourceful. The only analysis I’m never sure of is why Rumpelstiltskin wanted the baby in the first place. I get that it was a frightening overall idea - practitioner of magic kidnapping babies for nefarious deeds - but from a modern point of view it feels like it needs more backstory.

Blame it on the Victorians: Tom Tit Tot was an English version of the tale written down by John Jacobs in the late 1800s. In that version, it’s the girl’s mother who was singing about how that morning her daughter had eaten 5 whole pies. But when she realized that royalty was passing through the town, she changed her song to “she spun 5 skeins today” in order to make her daughter sound impressive. Then, the whole thing continues from there in the same way. The point is that in the English version all blame is upon the women. It’s the daughter who ate the pies in the first place (which in itself is a negative character trait making the story open with an idea that she deserves punishment for gluttony) and it’s her mom, not her dad, that gets her locked away by the king. I confess, I did like this version as a child because if the rhyme, “Ninny ninny not- my name is Tom Tit Tot”. But really Victorians - you had to make the main character earn her intelligence, didn't you.

Last thoughts: Best Rumpelstiltskin – It’s a toss-up between Billy Barty and Robert Carlyle (admit it – he’s one of the top 3 reasons to watch Once Upon a Time).

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

 

Character Study – The Chatter Boxes

You know those characters who take-up a majority of a page with rambling. As with the characters around them, you start to feel annoyed by their constant dialogue and wonder what the author could have been thinking in creating a person in this way. Were they trying to drive away the reader? Didn’t they deal with enough people like this in reality? As a person who talks too much myself, even I sometimes found these constant natterers aggravating in some books. But sometimes, they made me feel better about my own flaws. Instead of focusing on one such character, I am going to focus on three and why their talkative personality trait was important to the author’s purpose. In this case, all three will be female characters for comparison purposes.

The first is, of course, Anne Shirley, the imaginative redhead of Green Gables fame. The first two books of the series give focus on her run-away tongue. L. M. Montgomery molded a young girl who is depicted as unusual by society’s standards and down-right annoying to some of the adults dealing with her. In a time when novels for girls were meant to only show innocence, polite behavior, and the occasional moral lesson, Anne made a generation realize that their own actions and thoughts weren’t that strange. Despite being very intelligent, Anne’s jabbering is a sign of her imperfections. Although she does eventually try to better herself against it, this character aspect drives the plot. Throughout each misadventure that Anne has to talk her way out of, usually using long-winded apologies and a vast vocabulary, the reader sees reactions of those around her. The other characters of the story are defined by how they react to her and her talking. Her best friend, Diana, sometimes mimics Anne’s speech pattern. Her guardian, Marilla, scolds her, yet secretly enjoys Anne’s talk. And of course, her other guardian, Matthew, listens with pride at his smart girl. The characters who do not accept this part of Anne are the antagonists of the story, the people who represent how society just wanted children, young ladies especially, to be seen and not heard. As a writer, Montgomery may have held this mirror up to her world without even realizing it.

The second is Miss Bates from Jane Austen’s Emma. I read this the first time when I was thirteen and got extremely tired of Miss Bates’s pointless dialogue. I confess I started to just skim the page every time she started to talk. However, this was Austen’s purpose in creating the character. Miss Bates the subject of sympathy by all in the town, a poor spinster who was once a part of higher society. She lives with an elderly mother who rarely speaks. Emma, the wealthy main character, visits Miss Bates out of social duty, not enjoyment of her company. As frustrated you as the reader might be with Miss Bates, Emma is that much more so. You wince along with Emma each time this character enters the story. And this was Austen’s plan. The growing annoyance towards this character results in a downfall and turning point for Emma, who is different than other Austen heroines as she is a snob who does not recognize her own faults. It is a mistake that she makes towards Miss Bates that changes her, making the character’s pages of ranting a catalyst to the plot.

Lastly, Princess Eilonwy, one of the side characters of the Chronicles of Prydain. Lloyd Alexander wanted to write a series based around Welsh mythology, but to have characters who readers could relate with. Eilonwy is the token girl of the series which means she had to stand out. Like many princesses in modern fantasy novels, but unique at the time she was written in, she is feisty, able to fight, and extremely stubborn. These are all traits which both exacerbate and are admired by the hero, Taran, who is close to her in age. And, just like relationships between many men and women I know in reality, Taran is annoyed by how much Eilonwy talks. She is sarcastic and loves to make-up strange similes to describe every danger they meet with. Like many intelligent people, she’s also scatterbrained, where her rambling will taper-off or be inconsequential to the situation at hand. Although her talking is not important to the plot in these stories, it is important to Taran’s development as a main character. It is the part of her that he complains about, yet is what he misses when they are apart. The way he reacts to her constant chatter as they grow up shows his maturity and how he is becoming a leader. Alexander is revealing the hero’s personality change in a way that is subtle, yet more entertaining for the reader.

In Defense of the Twelve Dancing Princesses

Brief History: A German tale with way too many underdeveloped characters. The story consists of a king who locks his daughters in their room each night, only to discover their shoes full of holes every morning. The king, who can’t just communicate with his kids, declares that any man who can figure out how they go out dancing without leaving their room will have his pick in marriage. If the man can’t find out the secret within three nights (because it’s always three), he’s executed. . . because the king can’t just be a jerk to his daughters. Enter our hero on his way to the palace, sometimes a shepherd or shoemaker apprentice but usually an aging soldier returning from an unnamed war. He is gifted an invisibility cloak from the cliché mysterious old woman who he’s kind to. The woman also gives him conveniently useful advice – don’t drink the wine. Long story short (too late), the soldier figures out that the wine she’s referring to is roofied by the princesses each night to keep their secret safe (obviously not caring that their dad is going to kill this men when they fail). So, he pretends to drink it each night then uses the cloak to follow the princesses into a magical world under their beds. That’s right. The princesses are literally going each night to a party probably held by the boogie man. He collects evidence of the magical world and witnesses the women dancing happily with enchanted princes.). After the third night, he reveals everything to the king, marries the eldest daughter, and the rest of the princesses are put under a temporary, unnamed curse for their deceptions.

Analysis: So. . . this. The princesses in this aren’t heroes. They’re awful, selfish creatures who were raised by an equally awful man. One the one hand, they are trying to assert their independence and have some small control over their lives. On the other hand, they are allowing their dad to kill each of the potential suitors just so they can go dancing. Not really sure how I can fully defend them.

Blame it on the Victorians: I have to agree with the Victorians on this one. As the story was told and retold through the 19th Century, the king stopped killing the suitors, the soldier/hero becomes more age appropriate, and he manages to get the eldest or youngest princess to trust him a little (they don’t exactly fall in love, but she doesn’t seem to mind marrying him in the end).

Last thoughts: So. Many. Characters. So. Little. Personality.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me

In Defense of the Princess and the Pea

Brief History: Hans Christian Andersen (of Little Mermaid, Little Match Girl, and other depressing tales) wrote this simple story of an unconventional princess. She appears on the castle door of a prince in search of a bride without an entourage and soaked from a storm. The prince is instantly taken with this quirky young woman. The queen suspects that she’s a fraud and, although offers her a bed for the night, places a single pea under 20 mattresses and 20 quilts. She tells her son that only a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel a pea under such a high bed. The next day, the princess politely reports that she didn’t sleep well and that something in the bed bruised her. The prince marries her right off and they put the pea under glass in a museum.

Analysis: This concept creates many questions. When the queen was a princess, was she that sensitive which was how she knew this? Now that she was queen, was she still that sensitive? Did the princess really feel the pea or was she just freaked out all night by being so high up? On the positive side, this is a princess who is purposely unusual. She had to be quirky to make the queen suspicious, yet she is the one the prince wants. This is also sweet because he wants her even if she wasn’t a true princess.

Blame it on the Victorians: What! Andersen wrote a happy story? This must’ve been an off-day for him. As far as Victorian writers go, let’s face it, most of his stories are the pits.

Last thoughts: Best version is the Faerie Tale Theatre episode staring Liza Minelli. Anyone remember that?

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

Snowbirds - A People Watching Study

Instead of a study of a particular fictional character, this month I'm going to take a look at a real group that I have had many opportunities to people watch over the years - Snowbirds.

For those of you who don't know, a "Snowbird" is person, usually of retired age, who escape the harsh Midwestern winters by living in the Southwest for 3 to 5 months out of the year. Some who fall into this category are awesome human beings - the type who exude kindness, intelligence, and a good sense of humor towards this mess we call life.

Then, there are those who think they need to prove some kind of stereotype. It's like they step off the plane each year and are handed a checklist of annoying habits. A few things that are observed year after year include:

1. The number of people who wear perfume instead of deodorant goes from non-existent to 1/3 of the gym population.

2. Complaints about the youth of the world in a tactless, hypocritical way

3. Complaints about not being able to use coupons which are designated for stores that only exist in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois

4. Making constant, unflattering comparisons between their state of origin and the state in which they are visiting

5. Staying in crowded restaurants for a very long time and wearing down the servers who are just trying to seat the waiting public

6. And of course, most notably, the traffic. From November to March, rush hour traffic (both am and pm) is infinitely more crowded. It becomes an epic tale of driving woe at 6:30 in the morning, when all you want to do is merge, but the elderly man in the Buick beside you is too busy listening to his wife to notice your turn signal. Where are they even going so early in the morning?

And again, this not meant to be a generalization, it's more of repeated behavior I have witnessed (especially when I used to work retail near a retirement community). Why is this way it is? If we were to breakdown these actions in the same way we would a fictional character, what would we find? What creates a sense of privilege when you are a place which is only your home half of the year? Is this what Persephone was like when she was in the Underworld? Did she always insist that the pomegranates from the surface world we sweeter than the ones Hades gave her? And why couldn't he just bring pomegranates from the surface? Would that me so inconvenient?

People watching is one of the best tools in a writer's trade. Even if the subject is driving you nuts, let your mind wander as you watch.

April Suggestion

Since Easter and April Fool's Day landed on the same day this year, pulling a prank on the actual day would be too obvious. However, pulling the prank the following weekend would be a "joyful" scene your family would never see coming. Here are a list of suggested pranks (*Disclaimer: I do not actually recommend you try any of theses unless you have unlimited funds, too much free time, and don't think they would leave any permanent emotional scarring):

1. Set-up all of the Easter decor once again and let your family wake up to think they've gone back in time.

2. You can keep repeating #1 to make everyone think they are trapped in a Groundhog's Day scenario.

3. Fill your house with rabbits. Then make everyone else clean up after them.

4. Have Night of the Lepus playing 24-7 on every TV, then hide all remotes and make the TVs impossible to turn off (*Side note: Look up Night of the Lepus if you have no clue what I'm talking about. It's magical)

5. Glue frilly Easter Bonnets to everyone's head while they sleep

6. Cover the front lawn of every house with plastic Easter Grass and replace the street signs with "Welcome to Fluffville."

7. Hide extra eggs which have not been hard boiled, then don't tell anyone about them. When the stench starts, pretend you smell nothing.

8. Replace the chicken eggs with lizard eggs and wait for them to hatch.

9. Give out only licorice jelly beans.

10. Take away the children's candy and tell them that it must be sacrificed or Spring will never come.

11. Paint everything in pastel colors. Ev-er-y-thing.

It will all be so full of the chocolate, egg, Christian, Pagan, and April Fools spirit. Everyone will be impressed that you cared enough to prank them as a surprise. And isn't that real meaning of whichever holiday we're talking about? No. Seriously. I already forgot.

In Defense of Puss in Boots

Brief History: The idea of a clever cat who tricks others in order to help a master is a common theme in many cultures across Europe, Africa, and Asia. This idea is thought to have started in Indian folklore and traveled to Europe. The most popular versions come from Italy or France. Despite what they try to convince you of in Shrek, this is how the story goes: A miller’s youngest son inherits a cat from his dad and the cat (who can of course talk) promises to make him wealthy if the young man gets him a pair of boots. No pants or shirt or cape. Just boots... for his back paws. With the confidence which only a new pair of boots can give, the cat then makes several trades throughout the town until his dealings lead him to the king. He presents the king with gifts sent from an imaginary master, the Marquis of Carabas. In order to introduce his real master to the king, he tells the miller’s son to pretend that his clothes were stolen by bandits. The king then wants to help the young man who he thinks has been sending him so many goodies and wants to match up the “Marquis” with his daughter provided that the lord show them his holdings. The cat then sets up other illusions to make the king think that the miller’s son is a kindly lord, beloved by his people (people who are actually people under the control of an evil, shape-shifting ogre). Not really sure how being the tenant of an ogre works? Would they still pay taxes or would the ogre just demand sacrifices? Off topic. Where was I? Puss in Boots also manages to fool the ogre into turning into a mouse, eats him, and claims the ogre’s property for his master. So, miller’s son, princess, and cat get to live in luxury for the rest of their lives, while the poor people on the ogre’s land wonder who the heck all of these people living in the castle are.

Analysis: Clearly, this is about listening to your cat. Need I say more?

Blame it on the Victorians: In some earlier versions, the cat is a fairy in disguise, is a female cat who is like a replacement mother taking care of the main character, or is secretly trying to play his master for a chump then has a change of heart. By the time Charles Perrault wrote it down in the 1800s, Puss was simply a talking cat. The role of a cat in Victorian society differed based on your social status. To farmers, cats were yet another animal to help around the house and keep down on the best population. For wealthy households, they were simply pets. Still, cats held a stronger sway over women of the time than men. Women who were trapped home all day long relied on the love and distraction of pets to keep them sane. This was when cat funerals, which is something we think of as being more sentimental and modern, came back into “fashion”.

Last thoughts: Stop giggling at the title. It means cat, you sicko.

* Side note: You ever watch the Puss in Boots with Christopher Walken in it? It's so magical you might not be able to stand it.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.

An Ode to Spring

(Clears throat)

Oh Spring, bringer of life

How I hate thee

With both of my watery eyes

I curse each blossoming tree

With my nose which runs like a river

I despise thy flowers in bloom

Due to thy lack of mercy

I may never be able to leave my room

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Banshee

Let’s just take a moment to recognize the lack of banshees used in popular media. Sure, Supernatural used it, as did several other “monster of the week” style TV shows. There are a few times cheesy horror movies have tried to bring back the Banshee without success. Darby O’Gil and the Little People made a good Banshee, which is pretty impressive for a Disney movie where they let Sean Connery sing. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day (and because I’m sick to death of Leprechauns being everywhere) let’s give a little love to the Banshee.

First off, what is a Banshee (for those of you unfamiliar with the creature)? Long answer, it’s a spirit of a woman, sometimes young and sometimes a hag, who combs her hair and wails by the shores of rivers— Eh. Nevermind. Short answer, it’s a spirit that warns of or predicts death by shrieking.

Therefore, let us all shriek, long and loud, in honor of a piece of Irish culture that doesn’t get colored by first graders. Deep breath in and…

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa (gasp) aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

And done.

In Defense of Jack and the Beanstalk

Brief History: This is another one that most of you know: cow traded by dumb kid for magic beans, beans sprout giant beanstalk, beanstalk leads kid to a life of crime, giantess becomes a widow with no magic treasures for economic support. This story is pretty old. Even the earliest written version was published before a lot of other popular tales. Fee Fi Fo Fum can be found in Shakespeare’s King Lear. The English especially loved giant stories and ones where a guy named Jack kills a bunch of them were always the most popular. Sometimes elements from Jack the Giant Killer legends would find their way into the beanstalk story. Sometimes Jack even gets a last name – which never happens in fairy tales.

Analysis: Sometimes people like to look into this story from a Biblical aspect – ascending to Heaven and all that. Sometimes people like to read into the fear of man-eating giants who could have had the strength create some of the United Kingdom’s more impressive stone structures. Then there’s Bruno Bettelheim  who claimed the beanstalk was a phallic symbol. Gross. I’m going to focus on the fact that, although Jack the Giant Killer is always portrayed as an adult (who is constantly marrying different members of King Arthur’s court as a reward), this Jack is a kid. On the one hand, he’s a screw-up who betrays the trust of a giant wife that hides him each time despite his stealing from her. On the other hand, he’s a kid who gets a second chance to show his mom that he can do something to take care of her, an idea that was prominent in past time periods.

Blame it on the Victorians: As the story was retold/republished through the 1800s, Jack’s crimes of taking the harp, the goose, and the life of the giant are softened with added backstory. To keep their hero from becoming a villain or a bad influence on children, the writers start to add in ideas of revenge. A story of how the giant had killed Jack’s father or been the cause of the drought on his farm are told, usually by Jack’s suffering mother. Because it’s okay if little boys steal and murder as long as it is an act of vengeance... I mean justice.

Last thoughts: Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell a near rhyme that really only works if you have a thick English accent.

*If you want know any of the places where some of my research comes from, just contact me.