In Defense of Columbia

Brief History: This isn’t really a story, just a character. Before Uncle Sam, the United States (and originally the Americas) was personified by a goddess-like woman called Columbia. The first time she appeared was in a poem by Phillis Wheatley in which Columbia is guiding George Washington into victory. Washington loved the poem so much he bought multiple copies. In the 19th century, paintings and political cartoons depicted Columbia in her flowing gown and stars in her hair leading pioneers across the plains or protecting Southern African Americans from Confederates. In the 20th century, Columbia stood with Uncle Sam in favor of imperialism and World War I. By World War II, Uncle Sam had taken center stage and Rosie the Riveter was the representation of women doing their part. Now, the only place you really see Columbia is the Columbia Pictures Logo and Uncle Sam rules as champion of the U.S. personification. 

Analysis: Phillis Wheatley’s use of Columbia as a woman/goddess instead of just another name for America shouldn’t really be a surprise. Wheatley was an enslaved woman who had been taught Greek and Roman classics before the owners  set her free (that’s right, they highly educated her then set her free which was illegal in some colonies). Wheatley used her intelligence to be a best selling writer. So why not represent the new country as a strong woman?

Blame it on the Imperialists: When the U.S. started to join European countries in the controlling of smaller countries, Columbia and Uncle Sam were the mom and dad who had adopted countries like Puerto Rico and Samoa. These children countries were usually drawn in the most racist ways possible with crooked teeth and wild stares. Meanwhile, Columbia is the loving mother. That was her primary role. She was the guardian and care giver. If you did was America wanted of you then America would take care of you. WWI used her as a symbol of what you were protecting if you went to war, but by WWII they needed everyone to be as active as they could be. It was decided that a motherly goddess could not accomplish that. 

Final Thoughts: Anyone else think the Columbia Pictures logo look like Annette Benning?


In Defense of Vasilisa the Beautiful (Part 2)

Where we left off last week was the tale of Vailisa who used her magic doll and her own savvy to trick the famed Russian witch Baba Yaga.

Blame It on the Victorians: Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev who famously recorded these tales in the mid-1800s liked to mix some social commentary in with the traditional tales. One of his books which focused on Christian-based folktales was banned for contradicting the official word of the church. He was a part of the academic circles in Russia who studied “liberalism” and philosophers who wished to keep Russian heritage seperate from ‘western” culture, while still keep rulers from being dictators. Okay, so I think I made that sound more complicated than it is. Just think of it as yay to Russian history and culture, boo to oppression of the common people. This could be why his collection included so many of these tales of clever young women like Vasilisa. Mostly, he saw stories like Vasilisa the Beautiful as metaphors for light triumphing darkness (darkness interestingly being the step-family not Baba Yaga). Still, as stated in another blog, his collections were not the best sellers that the later Grimm and Lang collections were.

Enter Edith Hodgetts. In 1890, Russian born, but English bred Hodgetts wrote her own collection of Russian folktales called Tales and Legends from the Land of the Tzar. Many of the stories are the same ones Afanasyev wrote down, but her claim was that nannies and servants told her these tales. This is probably true as her book was not a direct translation of his work, being much shorter. Still, her book sold. Where no one in England ever bothered to fully translate his work into English as they’d done with the Grimm Brothers, her work was already in English. So, this was the country’s introduction to Vasilisa and Baba Yaga.

Last Thoughts: Come on. Baba Yaga’s house has to be the coolest in fairy tale land. You know, I know it, the Russian people know it.

In Defense of Vasilisa the Beautiful (part 1)

This fairy tale is really long so I’m going to split the blog into 2 parts.

Brief History: Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev also collected this story, which starts off in a way similiar to so many western fairy tales. Vasilisa’s mother dies and leaves her a wooden doll which if she feeds and gives drinks to will help her. I’m not sure if the doll feeding was a like a Betsy-Wetsy situation or like a Golem or more like when a little kid holds food up to a toy’s closed mouth. Either way, the doll is clearly magic. . . creepy, creepy magic. This, of course, comes in handy when dad remarries and allows the new wife and step-daughters to treat Vasilisa terribly. In true Cinderella fashion, step-mommy dearest gives Vasilisa impossible tasks which the doll helps her with. Years pass like this and Vasilisa can’t get a date because no one wants to marry her step-sister, so she is also trapped in that life (remember, can’t leave home unless married in this time period).

One day, her step-sister breaks a rule and extinguishes all fire in the house. She sends Vasilisa out to get a light before the parents come home (they don’t have matches, I guess?) and this leads our hero to a hut on chicken feet surrounded by a fence of human bones. The door has hinges made of human hands. The locks were made of human jaw bones. This witch doesn’t waste any part of her kills. You have to give her credit for that.

In case you haven’t guess - it’s Baba Yaga in her flying mortar time! Vasilia tries to hide but Baba Yaga sniffs her out and asks if she was sent. When the young woman explains that her step-sister sent her, Baba Yaga ominously replies, “I know her and she’ll know me.” The witch keeps Vasilisa as a slave, telling her she will give her fire if she completes all o the impossible tasks. Once again, the doll helps her. Not every good decision she makes is based upon her imaginary friend. Vasilisa has her own subtle smarts to keep herself alive. She tries to escape every chance she gets, using the same spells as Baba Yaga. Another example, the witch dares her to ask questions. She chooses to ask about the red, white, and black riders she sees going by the chicken feet hut at various times of day over asking about anything personal related to Baba Yaga (like why does she have animated disembodied hands or need poppy seeds).

When day pass and the exhausted Vasilisa completes every disgusting and difficult task she’s given, a frustrated Baba Yaga asks how she’s managed to do this. In true Baba Yaga fashion, she was looking forward to killing the young woman when she failed. Vasilisa doesn’t lie, but also doesn’t say outright that she has an enchanted doll in her pocket. Her response is “with my mother’s blessing”. This answer grossed out Baba Yaga, who thinks sentiment and blessings are icky, so she cast Vasilisa from her house and gave her the fire she’d come for. This fire was placed within a skull turned lantern (admit it, sounds like a boss Halloween decoration).

Vasilisa finally goes back home where her step-mother and step-sister have been cursed with darkness (no candles could be lit and fires would instantly extinguish). Imagine their happiness when Vasilisa brings home the skull lantern. . . which then burns them both to ashes. Witch fire. What are you going to do, right? Handle with care. After burying the skull, Vasilisa runs away, becomes a weavers apprentice, and weave a cloth so beautiful she marries the Tsar.

Analysis: Vasilisa the Beautiful has also been titled the Brave and the Wise because of her calm, leveled head. In some versions, she doesn’t marry the Tsar, instead living happily with her father and looking forward to a brighter future. Get it? Brighter? Because she brought home fire? Okay fine. To start, the fire thing is a pretty big theme in Russian folklore. It’s like it’s freezing cold there or something. Being saved by the blessing of her mother is where old Slavic folklore and the contemporary Russian Christianity meet. A witch of the ancient world would not being able to stomach prayers from the monotheoist religion. This theme is pretty common in Eastern European stories.

The name Vasilisa and her titles of wise and fair and brave accompany other stories as well. One where she tricks a Tsar into believing she’s a brave soldier. One where she outsmarts a sea king. One where she enlists the help of a prince to end her curse of being turned into a frog in daylight hours (in that one Baba Yaga is helpful). The point is that name goes hand-in-hand with tales of women who are trying to save themselves or ask for help needed.

By the way, it turns out the riders are the personification of day, sunshine, and night. This is never really made important to story other than showing the measure of time and the suggestion that Baba Yaga somehow controls the day and night, but illustrators love the imagery and the riders are usually in every picture book version of the story.

To be continued next week.

Vasilisa 2.jpg

Reflections of Con

Now that my brain has rested, I feel that it’s safe to  assess another convention year survived. Let’s mixed together the negative and the positive in one big soup. One. Big. Con. Funk. Soup. You know it’s an acquired smell, but it’s something you are totally used to. So here’s my reflections list:

 1. No fire alarm was pulled this year! As much as I enjoy leaving my table to stand in the heat alongside one of those Phoenix guides in the bright orange windbreakers, I was thrilled not to lose an hour of my life to walking outside, then back inside of the convention center. Still, fire alarm is always better than a dude with assault weapons (see I know people complain about security, but all is better than the horrific alternative.

2. The good news was the lack of fire alarm, however there was a decade of minutes full of eardrum destroying music. This was probably the result of some bored child who found buttons to press... or aliens. Although this is understandable, the question stands as to where the person was to keep this from happening and to stop it as soon as it started. Thank you to the officer who killed the bloody pop. I really did not enjoy yelling at customers for 10 minutes.

3. The truth of crowd mentality is not that the crowd as a whole is a jerk. People as a whole are actually careful in a large group, especially those who wish to be careful of their own personal space. Everyone thinks it’s like cattle in a stockyard pushing and shoving until we all trample each other. Really, it’s only a few people who are in a rush so urgent that they step on toes, cut through families, and swear about the movement of other people. If you don’t believe me, here’s another link explaining the truth of crowd mentality ( My point is, good on you Phoenicians for being better walkers than you are drivers. :-P

4. The sheer, simple pleasure that is going home to utilize toilet paper that is not 1 ply and made of burlap. You probably read this, were momentarily grossed out, then realized that you thought the same thing. 

5. Root beer. All the root beer. I am still coming down from a glorious sugar high.

6. The social experiment of being ignored as a vendor is always interesting. Although there is a number of people who say hello and hold polite conversation, this year was full of people who chose to avoid eye contact. This included people I knew personally who were so busy not looking at me or addressing me, that they didn’t realize they’d ignored a co-worker or acquaintance.

7. On the other hand, there was a plus side to the observable human interaction. Most weren’t on their phones. Large groups conversed and pointed and enjoyed each other’s company. It was like living in 2001 again.

8. I have to complain about the side curtains in artist alley. It was an annoying hazard and I don’t know how the fire marshal didn’t complain too.

9. The best part of con is watching people light up. They see something they love or someone they admire and the gushing and stumbling begin. I, myself, turned into an excited child at seeing Walter Keoing in a restaurant. It’s nice to see people like that.

10. There is no number 10. I just hate lists that end at odd numbers. Leave me alone! My brain is still is not fully rested!

In Defense of Maia

In honor of Mother’s Day, let’s look at a Greek goddess who most overlook.

Brief History: As most Greek Myths do, this one starts with Zeus being a habitual predator. Maia did not like the company of other gods, so she lived in a mountain cave, yet somehow Zeus managed to knock her up. Hermes, the result of this assault, was a difficult baby as he liked to sneak out of the cave when his mom slept and mess with Apollo. She stood up for her child, refusing to believe an infant could do such things (nevermind that gods do weird stuff as babies in all of these stories). Beyond her own son, Maia acted as surrogate mom to another of Zeus’s kids, Arcas, when his mother Callisto was turned into a bear by Hera. Arcas grew up to be a king who taught his people how to weave and bake bread, talents he probably learned in a cave from his foster mom.

Analysis: Maia is also a Greek word for midwife. The Romans celebrated the introverted nurturer at the start of the moth of May. May is also when the U.S. celebrates Mother’s Day in May. Coincidence. . . probably since most mother’s day festivals in the Roman times were to two entirely different goddesses, Rhea and Cybele.

Blame It on the Victorians (technically Edwardians and Roaring 20s): Before the American Civil War, an activist named Ann Jarvis started a club of women called the Mothers’ Day Work Club. Their goal was to improve sanitation and health care especially when it came to sick children. The clubs volunteered during the Civil War to help keep down disease in the camps. In 1908, three years after Jarvis died, her daughter Anna petitioned for a holiday honoring the sacrifices of mothers. President Woodrow Wilson (who I have other choice words about that will remain out of this particular blog) made it a national day in 1914. It didn’t take long before capitalists turned Anna Jarvis’s day into a commercial gain. As more greeting cards and flower sales began each May, Anna Jarvis hated what her own idea had become. ‘Merica strikes again.

Last Thoughts: In honor of Maia, these blogs will be on hiatus until Phoenix Fan Fusion. . . no it’s just cause prepping for con is exhausting. Blogs will return in late May/early June.

Anna Jarvis

Anna Jarvis

In Defense of By Command of the Prince Daniel

Brief History: Let’s dive into some Russian folklore. Do you love Baba Yaga? Of course you do! Okay, calm down John Wick fans. And if you don’t love Baba Yaga then you shall. This one was collected by Alexander Nikolaevich Afanasyev (say that 3 times fast). For those of you unfamiliar, Baba Yaga was the most wicked and feared of witches in Russian folklore. This particular tale is of a dying queen tricked by a witch into ordering her son to marry only the girl whose finger fits a ring given to the family. After the mom dies, Prince Daniel searches for the wearer of the ring, but the only person it fits is. . . his sister. You have permission to be grossed out. Daniel, pretty hung up on tradition, forces his sister to be his wife. Two beggars comes across the sister clearly upset and tell her to make four dolls, put them in the bridal suite, and stall as much as she can on the wedding night. She does this and while her brother (gross) thinks she’s getting ready for bed (again gross) the dolls start to sing and chant (now gross and creepy). The chanting opens a hole in the earth that swallows the princess and takes her to a hut on chicken feet deep in the woods. Meanwhile, Prince Daniel the Nutter realizes he’s been tricked and beheads then burns the four singing dolls.  In the hut, the daughter of Baba Yaga, who is beautiful, kind, and appreciates that the stranger offers to help her in her knitting, turns the princess into a needle in order to hide her before her cannibalistic mom comes home. This trick works a couple of times, but Baba Yaga catches the princess in her home because she can smell “Russian bones”. She makes her daughter prep their giant oven in order to make a princess casserole, but the two younger women trick the witch into the oven instead. This gives them just enough time for a head start through the woods before Baba Yaga hunts them. They throw a brush and comb at her which become thick lines of shrubs and trees to slow her down. Finally, they throw the cloth they’d been working on at the witch. It becomes a river on fire to burn her up (yeah, not sure how that works). The pair end up back in the princess’s home and Baba Yaga’s daughter tricks Prince Daniel into letting himself get stabbed. The princess mourns her brother, which then cures his stab wound and apparently his case of the crazies as well. He marries Baba Yaga’s daughter (the ring of course fit her too, probably because that had been Baba Yaga’s original plan) and find a non-related husband for his sister.

Analysis: Singing dolls? I would have probably beheaded and burned those creepy Chucky wanna-be’s as soon as they opened their mouths. But it’s safe to establish that the brother was crazy so maybe he thought the singing was in his head at first? The theme of insanity and incest in fairy tales really isn’t uncommon, probably because so many royals were marrying first cousins and their DNA was paying the price. A common theme in Baba Yaga tales (besides the cannibalism which I can address in a different story)  is betrayal by those closest to her who she has abused and to use magic against her. In this story it’s her own daughter who never appears in any other tales that I know of (if anyone has another story featuring Baba Yaga’s daughter I’d love to hear about it and please comment below). There’s clearly an element of child abuse here. The daughter does not appear to be cannibal and lives in constant fear of her own mother. It comes to the point where she would rather help to murder her mother in order to save the princess she just met then to continue living in this environment. For those of you who currently obsessed with Hulu’s The Act or the case of Gypsy Blanchard, you know this is not that far-fetched. The last analysis I want to point out that it’s common in Baba Yaga stories that she’s outsmarted by other women or girls. As I keep trying to point out, more fairy tales have heroines than heroes.

Blame it on the Victorians: Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev was one of the most prominent folklorists of the mid-19th century with one of the largest collections of fairy tales at the time. So why, non-Russian reader, have you never heard of him? Probably because he was Russian. His own government shunned him for writing socialist articles, but as an amateur anthropologist this guy was pretty impressive. Unlike the Grimm Brothers who molded certain tales into their own preferences, Afanasyev recorded each version of the same tale he heard for comparison, taking into account the language he heard them in, the depictions of Pagan versus Christian religions, and where the story came from. His works were translated by a British man in the 1800s named Leonard Arthur Magnus (who seems to be the primary translator to this day - no one else has taken a stab at translating this stuff? Come on.). Still, the stories he collected really didn’t gain popularity in the rest of western culture until ballets like the Firebird were produced. Why is this? Again, I’m not really sure. Based on what I know of the English at this time, I’m going to say it was because Victorians didn’t want to try to pronounce his name. Of course, I could be wrong.

Last Thoughts:  I actually find the cannibalism less gross than the crazy brother trying to marry his sister. Hm, incest and an abusive mother. I wonder if V.C. Andrews ever read this story?

Little Bunny Foo Foo - What's up with that?

Let’s fight some foo - Calm down, Dave Grohl fans. I’m referring to a rather ridiculous song that hops into being and multiplies amongst all children this time of year. Little Bunny Foo Foo, for those who have been spared this repetative earworm, is a nursury rhyme/folk song about an abusive rabbit. His chosen victims of blunt torture are field mice. He’s told by a fairy that if he doesn’t stop then she’ll turn him into a goon. Long story stort (too late) the moral of the song is “hare today, goon tomorrow.”

Now that you’ve been bopped on the head like an unsuspecting field mouse with that pun - I ask you what the hell is up with this song? First of all, I tried researching it and no one can decide on how old it is or where it comes from. There’s some suggested connection between the song and Popeye, but I’ll let you look that up on your own so I can continue ranting. 

I know that this song is only a part of the Easter rotation because it’s about a rabbit. is this really appropriate, people? Would Jesus like it if he was awoken from the cave only to use his ressurection to scold Foo Foo? Would fertility goddesses of old feel honored by Foo Foo using the Spring bopping field mice instead of bopping other bunnies in order to reproduce?

What? Why do you look like that? These are serious and totally appropriate questions. No. Shut up! Or I’ll turn you into a goon.  


Writique's Critique - Women of Early Science Fiction Film

Science Fiction was the original breaker of barriers. A place where writers could challenge social norms without alienating the audience. Get it? Alienating? Huh huh.

Some of the earliest stories of space, technology, and exploration had no women or only sidekicks whose job it was to observe the action. Even the movies where the female lead is meant to be scientist in her own right becomes the glorified coffee bringer in the time before the second wave of feminism. Here’s a shout-out to the earliest women of sci fi whose creators tried to make them more than a pretty face to scream at the monster.

Metropolis (1927): Maria

The inspiration for the famous robot clone of herself who seduces an entire society, the actual Maria is a progressive freedom fighter and empathetic voice of the people. She has a soapbox that no one can push her from (until she’s kidnapped and nearly murdered that is). Still, her goal to free her people from the oppression working within the underground prison the upper-class has cast them into. Her character is brave, sincere, and, although a bit aggravating her sentimental speeches especially for a silent film, passionate. A part of this comes from her creators, Fritz Lang and his wife/creative partner at the time, Thea von Harbou. She was a novel writer first and always put research and logic behind her books and scripts. However, she would later cow tow to the Nazi Party in an attempt to protect her second husband, who was Indian born.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951): Helen Benson

I love Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly, but nothing can beat Patricia Neal. Also that remake looked just awful. This Jesus allegory about atomic weaponry (you know it’s true) features a widow and single mom, Helen Benson, who is level headed and independent. She works, she looks out for her precocious youngster Bobby (because they are always named Bobby in the 50s), and still has her own social life with boyfriend that she doesn’t need. Her character is also brave. The military don’t dare to go near the impressive robot, Gort, except with heavy fire power. She instead has a moral compass that brings her face-to-face with Gort. The original short story that the film is based on, Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates, did not feature any leading ladies so Helen is the invention of screenwriter Edmund H. North. North also wrote Dishonored Lady, in which Hedy Lamarr plays a business women and party girl who suffers from a mental breakdown. On the feminist level, that movie sends mixed messages, but the character is still a well-written woman.

Forbidden Planet (1956): Altaira “Alta” Morbius

For those of you who have the words to Science Picture Double Feature memorized, yes, it’s that Forbidden Planet. Alta is an intelligent, but naive woman who has grown up without human contact beyond her father. This nod to Miranda from Shakespeare’s the Tempest (yes, science fiction can be classy) is suddenly surrounded by a ship-full of good looking young men led by Leslie Nielson. Alta faces these hormonal Earth men as her own science experiment, making out with each and commenting on the results like a curious child. Her character wears outfits considered scandalous for the 1950s, so are of course called out as inappropriate by ship’s captain (and don’t call me Shirley). Cyril Hume, the screenwriter on Forbidden Planet, was the man who adapted the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan for the big screen as well as an early version of The Great Gatsby. I don’t know much about him beyond his IMDB credits, but he tried to create a woman who was more independent than women at the time were considered. Still, I object to her changing her style in order to accommodate the man she wanted to attract. Two steps forward and one step back.

Flash Gordon (1930s & 1980): Dale Arden

The most popular of the early science fiction sidekick love interests (yes, she is a sidekick, but she’s the sidekick love interest who inspired all other science fiction love interests of later science fiction). Dale was based on the comic strip character created Alex Raymond and enhanced by serialized films where she changes from a passenger on a doomed rocket who is constantly needing to be rescued to a reporter, scientist, and diplomat. . . who constantly needs to be rescued. Baby steps, I guess. Either way, without her we wouldn’t have Princess Leia. Point made.

Images belong to Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer


In Defense of Thumbelina

Brief History: Hans Christian Anderson claimed to write this story based on what a bluebird told him. In reality, it was included in one of his story fairy tale books that had little success when first published in 1835. A peasant woman plants a barleycorn which was given to her by a beggar and a girl sprouts from the flower that grows. However, this woman has little time with her new child when Thumbelina’s walnut shell bed is kidnapped by a toad. The toad tries to force the kidnapped girl to marry her warty son, but a fish and butterfly rescue her from matrimony… this time. This is followed by ill treatment from a beetle, almost freezing to death in winter, and being pressured by a field mouse to marry a pretentious mole who hates sunlight. Luckily, a swallow who the mole had left for dead takes Thumbelina to a patch of flowers (not home to her mother, because that’s not a happy ending I guess). She meets a flower fairy prince, marries him, and gets wings. Because apparently she was cool with getting married so young, just not to a non-human-like creature.

Analysis: Why did everyone want to marry this girl? And what was with all of the inter-species dating? But Thumbelina isn’t just the story of a girl who must marry to have a happy-ever-after. It’s the story of escaping and making one’s one choices. She gets away from Toad, she doesn’t allow the Beetle to shake her confidence, and, despite the field mouse trying to manipulate her, she runs away from her wedding to the mole (who some historians think was based on a distasteful professor Anderson had in school).

Blame It on the Victorians: Marrying up is the only chance at socio-economic advancement a young lady has. Remember that, kids. But, luckily Thumbelina holds out for her choice of husband, not the rich, but gross mole.

Last Thoughts: But really - where’s the mom’s happy ending? Her kid was taken almost instantly. Not cool.


In Defense of The Changling

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day - Time for an Irish story!

Brief History: Instead of focusing on a single story, I’ll just give a broad history of the Changeling legend. The general myth is that elves and fairies kidnap beautiful human babies and replace them with their own horrid children or with a piece of faeryland like a branch or log. Sometimes they also kidnapped grown women, creating beautiful mothers to care for the fae children. In order to bring back the kidnapped, you had to make the changeling laugh, treat it with love, or say the right prayer.

Analysis: The idea of having a child who did not seem “right” was a fear of all mothers in the time before psychological or scientific reasoning. The belief that such a child could be saved through simple magic must have been too great of a hope to let go of, which is probably why questioning the belief in changelings lasted until the 1800s in some countries and cultures.

Blame It on the Victorians: In 1895, Bridget Cleary was burned to death by her husband in front of a group of witnesses. Why did the townspeople of Ballyvadlea, Ireland stand by while this man allowed his sick wife to catch fire and burn? Well, because Bridget Cleary had been spirited away and this imposter had to die in order to bring her back? Due to this belief, Michael Cleary was only charged with manslaughter instead of homicide. In Ireland, this true event inspired more nursery rhymes and new fairy tales in which Bridget was a witch.

 Last Thoughts: A good way to make a changeling baby laugh is to boil and cook within an eggshell. Yeah… not really sure how that works, but best to try that before setting someone on fire.


Writer’s Critique: The Possible Benifits of Gothic Novels

I was re-reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. For those who don’t know the British Regency satire, Austen’s first written and last published work, is about a young woman obsessed with Gothic novels and how that leads her to rather embarrassing misadventures. This was a nod to the popular novels of her day, novels that Austen herself read. I’m not sure if Austen ever tried to write within this genre and decided it just wasn’t for her or if she knew she just wanted to give some recognition to what was considered the “buy at the airport trash novel” of the age.

The point is that you can’t read just your own genre when preparing to write.  I know this sounds like tired knowledge, the “if you want to be a writer you must read, read, read” advice which is always the first given in any class, workshop, or panel. The reason why you always hear it is because it’s good and true advice. So I’m just adding to it. You need to read more that simply the genre you want to write.

“But I only like romance which I why write romance,” I hear you say. That’s good, but you aren’t experiencing as much that could help you grow as a writer. 

For example, within Northanger Abbey Austen purposely mimics the adjective laden style of Anne Radcliffe, a popular Gothic author. She does this for the parts where the heroine is allowing her imagination to run away with her, added suspense that makes the reader wonder if something shocking might in fact be about to happen. Then, as truths are revealed she goes make to her normal style. 

I’m not saying use precious time reading things you hate, but broaden your scope just a little. Maybe start with a non-fiction book on a topic that interests you. Just don’t start with Anne Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho. That book is long or at least it felt long. 

In Defense of The Disobedient Daughter who Married a Skull

This month I want to do one more non-fairy tale in defense of (because I was reading random folktales and this one caught my eye). 

Brief History: This story was written down by Elphinstone Dayrell, the District Commissioner of South Nigeria in the early 1900s. This Nigerian tale is about Afiong, the most beautiful girl in her town, who rejected all of the young men asking for her hand. Her beauty was told of in the spirit wold where Skull convinced his friends to lend him legs, arms, a body, and a handsome head. He went to the market of Afiong’s town and she was instantly in love with him. She brought him home where her parents were (understandably) super weirded out that she wanted to marry a complete stranger she had met in a market. Still, eventually they gave in and their daughter was taken away by her new husband. Once arriving the spirit world, Aifong discovered that her new husband had borrowed his good looks and was really just a literal skull. Still, she tried to be obedient and helpful to her new mother-in-law. The old woman was so grateful, she started to like Aifong and worried about their neighbors eating her (because apparently that’s a thing). So, she used Juju (aka magic) to summon a wind that took Aifong home to her parents. From then on, the town passed a law saying that their daughters could not marry strangers from far away lands.

Analysis: I tried to read more on the cultures of the Efik-Ibibio peoples (a joint language between two cultures that Dayrell was collecting the stories from) in order to better help my analysis. It didn’t. I think internet failed me. This has left me so shaken, all I can leave in defense of this story is - Be nice to your mother-in-law. If she sides with you the divorce can be made that much easier.

Blame It on the Victorians: Victorian England was busy being imperialistic, destroying culture and ignoring what Belgium was doing in the Congo, to pay attention to folklore for another continent. Don’t get defensive. You know it’s true.  Still, this story was written down in the early 1900s within a book with an introduction by folklorist Andrew Lang. I’m not going to lie. I spent a good amount of time on the internet looking for information about Elphinstone Dayrell and. . . yeah. I know he died in 1917 and that’s about it. His books of Nigerian folklore was published by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland so… there’s… that… I guess.

Last Thoughts: All I can think of is Bob the pervy skull in Jim Butcher’s the Dresden Files.

Folk stories from nigeria.jpg

Seriously - Can anyone tell me more about this guy?


Random Arizona Facts

Last week, I did a Valentine’s related post on Valentine’s Day instead of my normal Arizona’s Birthday post. But you did not escape - muwahahahahaha. But I also have little time this week, so I’m phone this blog in as a list. Here it is, a list about random things in Arizona that even sometimes Arizona residents don’t believe:

  1. London Bridge (the one from the song) is here. It was brought brick by brick by someone with too much money and time on their hands.

  2. A David Hasselhoff movie with filmed at London Bridge over Lake Havasu where he had to battle the ghost of Jack the Ripper. You know you want to look it up now.

  3. The squirrels at the Grand Canyon carry plague, but we have a cure for that now so … I guess it’s okay?

  4. Donkeys can’t sleep in bathtubs. It’s the law, man. Actually, it’s not any longer, but no one ever bothered to really have it disputed.

  5. Women had the right to vote in local elections before Arizona even became a state (that’s right, it used to be slightly more liberal here).

  6. Dick Van Dyke lives here.

  7. It’s not illegal to refuse someone a drink of water - but it should be and most people think it’s the law so let’s just keep it that way.

  8. The Gunfight at the OK Corral was super short and didn’t even happen IN the corral (it was in a nearby vacant lot). But Doc Holiday can still be your huckleberry.

  9. The first college in the U.S. built on a reservation was Navajo Community College.

  10. A group of German-Nazis being held in Papago Park in 1944 tried to escape down a river, then discovered it had no water and were re-captured. Suck it, Nazis!