In Defense of Jenny Lind (still a fairy tale topic, I swear)

This is a little change from the usual blog. Recently, many of my friends have been renting the Greatest Showman. I saw this movie in theaters with my boyfriend, who knew I'd want to pick it apart and felt it might be best if I only annoyed him about it. But no. There is one element which I must share my irritation over with the world -  how they portrayed Jenny Lind. *Side note: Even though the movie is a beautiful lie and a fairy tale itself, I do still own the soundtrack because I can never resist Wolverine singing. Ever. It is the weakness some evil villain will find a way to use against me someday, I know it.

Brief History: I am going to keep this super brief, but know that you can find out more through the books at our local library. Jenny Lind (born 1820) was a Swedish Opera singing child prodigy who almost destroyed her career before it began because her parents never thought to get her proper training. Luckily, a teacher stepped up, found her, and saved her voice. In her 20s, she toured Denmark, Germany, England, and Austria where her fame once again sky rocketed. She had several supposed relationship that did not turn out, usually because of her career and travel. The one that will be notable for this blog is one I have mentioned before. Hans Christian Andersen asked her to marry him and was refused, which some historians believed inspired several of his fairy tales (see Nightingale and the Snow Queen for both positive and negative depictions).

In her late 20s/early 30s, Lind was invited to New York by the great humbug himself, P.T. Barnum. I could tell you so much about Barnum right now, so much that would upset the character created by Hugh Jackman, but plenty of blogs and list videos have already been dedicated to that topic. I'm simply going to focus on what he did which effected Lind. First of all, Jenny Lind had never been particularly keen on her own looks. Yet, when she arrived in the U.S., she discovered her own face everywhere. This was because Barnum had advertised her arrival by printing a mask of the "Swedish Nightingale's" face in the newspaper. Seeing so many New York children walking around with a print of her face made her dislike of Barnum start pretty much right away.

Thanks to Barnum's hype of his newest attraction, he had to auction off tickets to her show and the U.S. and Canada developed "Lind mania". Look it up! There are almost a dozen places and objects named after her in North America alone. She hated the publicity, but still agreed to go on tour. After nearly a hundred concerts with Barnum (a lot the money from these that she earned went to different charities she selected), she was so sick of Barnum's crap that she finished the tour on her own with her soon-to-be husband, a pianist named Otto Goldshmidt. When the tour was finally over, she and her husband went back to Europe and only occasionally put on concerts (usually only charitable events because she pretty much invented the celebrity charity concert). Besides still singing, she raised 3 kids and became a singing professor at a college.

Analysis: [SPOILER ALERT FOR THE GREATEST SHOWMAN HERE] So why did I just give you the brief history of Lind's life? For those of you who have seen the Greatest Showman - what did I leave out? What? I forgot that very public kiss she gave Barnum that was reported in the newspapers and almost cost him is marriage? And I didn't mention what a bitch she was when he rebuffed her? THAT NEVER HAPPENED! The man turned her face into a paper mask as a publicity stunt. Would you make-out with someone who did that? No.

Blame it on the Theatre: Where does this myth of Lind and Barnum have a secret attraction come from? For once, Hollywood isn't to blame. Most films about Lind did not make Barnum her love interest. It wasn't until 1980 when a musical called Barnum came out on Broadway starring Jim Dale and Glenn Close (which I have to admit was probably fabulous). The film the Greatest Showman takes many plot points from this production, most notably Barnum falling for Lind, but choosing his wife. It creates great drama, but it does an injustice to Jenny Lind, who is barely remembered now. She was giving, talented, and once the biggest star in the world, but instead an entire generation will remember her as that bitch who almost ruined P.T's marriage to Michelle Williams. Dang it.

Last Thoughts: Despite all of my grousing, I was totally listening to the Greatest Showman soundtrack the whole time I wrote this blog - just not the Jenny Lind song because I hate it.

In Defense of the Nightingale

Brief History: In yet another of Hans Christian Andersen's rare happy ending stories, The Nightingale is about a Chinese emperor who demands a kitchen maid to ask a nightingale to appear in his court, because he was told that the bird's song is the most beautiful thing in his kingdom. He adores and favors the nightingale until someone gives him a mechanical bird that he obsesses over instead, so the real songbird leaves. Years later, the mechanical bird breaks and the emperor is dying, but the nightingale sings to Death personified and the emperor is granted a few more years of life. Some historians believe this was yet another of Andersen's tributes to his unrequited love for the Swedish Nightingale, singer and good-deed-doer Jenny Lind.

Analysis: Bad emperor! Bad! Stop prizing material possessions over mechanical ones. Need I say more?

Blame it on the Victorians: A part of this story may have been inspired by the growing industrialization which had started in England. Machinery was replacing what had been known as "cottage industry" and, although mass production made item easier to make and more affordable, the factories changed living conditions and social-economic issues. It also spread urbanization (which is fun to say - try it), which several of Andersen's fairy tales showed in a negative light. Looking at you, Little Match Girl!

Last Thoughts: The emperor was once played by Mick Jagger. Close your eyes. Imagine the cultural appropriation. The 80s were a confusing time.

In Defense of the Princess Who Never Smiled

Brief History: This is a philosophical Russian tale is about a Princess who literally never smiled. So her father declares that whoever can make her smile will be her husband (clearly, Dad just wanted her somber butt out of the house at that point). Meanwhile, a young working-class man suffered several years of bad luck which had been miraculously turned around by catfish, a mouse, and beetle whom he'd been kind to. While traveling near the castle, he was struck in awe of the princess who was watching him and fell in the mud. His animal buddies came to his rescue and the princess finally laughed. Seriously, imagine this for a moment. You see a fish flopping around on land with a little beetle and a little mouse, but all three are trying to help a grown man out of the mud. Yep. I'd laugh. So he marries her and they have a happy life. In other versions, she amused by the sight of him and his golden goose which causes all greedy people to stick to him, resulting in a conga line. In other versions, she breaks down laughing when she sees him struggling to carry a cow as a part of a promise he made. In 20th Century adaptations, the young man not only acts silly, but also tells the princess her own story which makes her realize just how silly she was as well.

Analysis: The main idea is usually that the man she falls for is not only funny, but kind. It's one of the few fairy tales where the princess ends up with a man who compliments her and makes up for something she was missing in her life. Also, her father seems to want her to be happy, not just use her for political gain. Sweet, but completely unrealistic.

Blame It on the Victorians: The 19th Century loved the German Golden Goose version better, which is probably the most ridiculous version of the tale. Apparently, the Victorians could only enjoy the story of a woman laughing if it was under the most absurd of circumstances. I'm not making bitter assumptions, I swear.

Last Thoughts: In Russia, smile never princesses

Character Study - Bantering

Dialogue is hard. You’d think it would the easiest part of writing, making people express themselves like  they do every time you talk.  But sometimes getting people to say what you want to move the story along is difficult to do naturally. One of the hardest parts of this is if you want multiple characters to talk back-and-forth in a way that the reader can see as quick to the point and sometimes funny. A lot of the time we call this banter which was very popular in movies of the 1930s and 40s. It was a good way to establish certain characters (especially independent and strong willed women in a time of strong social restrictions).

 But the idea of this kind of banter can go back even further and it exists in some books that are excellent examples"

Shakespeare’s "Much Ado About Nothing" includes Beatrice and Benedict,  a pair who both loath and love each other. Many of their quick witted conversations are some of the greatest jokes Shakespeare ever included in any of his plays. The speak back and forth seamlessly, which comes through so clearly in the writing many actors have explained how much fun they are to play. 

Of all the strange examples, Jane Eyre is full of excellent conversations, contemporary of their time. Jane and Rochester are not the pure angst they are usually portrayed as in the movie adaptations. The pair actually fall in love through speaking with one another. Jane is a character who makes her opinions known and Rochester's reactions to her blunt manner are give his character as more than dowdy and mysterious.

In modern writing, one of my favorite all-time writers of dialogue is Jim Butcher. The Dresden Files series is littered with interesting, paranormal characters in an urban setting. Many of the characters are contemporary and must speak in that way, however they also must talk about curses, monsters, and knights. Butcher weaves these topics into everyday speech with great skill and humor.

Lastly, this is no better teacher than your own ears. People watch. Listen. Write down conversations of complete strangers. Nothing will give you better ideas than that.

In Defense of the Fairies

Brief History: This story, most famously recorded by the French Charles Perrault, is about an awful woman with two daughters, one good, one bad. The younger, the good and beautiful daughter, met an elderly woman by the spring while fetching water. The younger daughter helps the woman to get a drink and the woman (who of course was a fairy) grants her the "gift" of spitting out diamonds and pretty flowers when she speaks. Yeah. . . that's what she does for mortals she likes. The awful mother of course insists that her equally awful daughter go get the same "gift", but when the older daughter arrives at the spring she finds a beautiful, richly dressed lady.  When asked for help to get a drink from the rich woman, the older daughter is very rude. This results in the lady (who is of course the same fairy) curses the older daughter with vipers and toads coming out of her mouth when she speaks. Mom decides that this is all her younger daughter's fault and the girl runs away before she could be beaten. A king's son found her, fell in love with all of the precious metals coming out of her mouth, and married her. Meanwhile, the elder daughter died alone in the woods.

Analysis: I know that the roses and jewels are supposed to be metaphorical of the kindness of the younger daughter, but I still say that the fairy was a jerk. How does the girl talk clearly? Would her spitting up of expensive shinies result in an economic inflation? What about the welfare of the snakes and toads coming out of the other daughter's mouth? Or would the number of reptiles being added to the forest population unbalance the ecosystem? The mind boggles.

Blame It on the Victorians: Once again, the Victorians shift the blame to the step-parents. In many later versions, the awful mother becomes the awful step-mother. Because the Victorians couldn't let dad's second wife have a break.

Last Thoughts: Seriously? How was that a gift? I think that fairy was the true villain. . . She's right behind me, isn't she?

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

In Defense of King Thrushbeard

Um...should I? Probably not. But I’m gonna anyway.  

Brief History: King Thrushbeard is the somewhat confusing German tale of a Mean Girl princess who thinks she’s better than every prince who comes calling. Each suitor she lists in her burn book with every minor flaw. She even insults the only guy she’s attracted to because she says he has a beard like a Thrush (did you see that coming?). Her fed-up father forces her to marry the next man who comes in, a peasant who takes her home to see how the other half lives. The new hubby insists she pull her weight so they can survive, but when she whines and fails at every task given she ends up getting a maid job in a castle. But not just any castle - King Thrushbeard’s castle. Did you see that coming? You did. Oh. Moving on. While working at the castle, the princess learns about suffering and the importance of being kind and decides she’s going to be helpful to her new husband. That having been said, she still has the hots for King Thrushbeard and feels humiliated when she finds out he’s getting married. Her husband shows up in fancy clothes and asks why she’s crying on her wedding day. Yep, her peasant husband was a clean-shaven King Thrushbeard trying to make her a good person. He grows back the beard and she becomes a decent queen. Sometimes it’s switched, where the king wears an even bushier beard as the peasant and shaves at the end of the story, because the beard is a key character.

Analysis: This Taming of the Shrew style story could be looked at in two ways. The first is the morality tale: the 3 ghosts of Heathers past coming to the princess to show her the error of her ways and all that. She goes from being sassy, but spoiled into full Disney princess who talks to mice. However, as several online articles have pointed out, her husband kinda gaslights her. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, gaslighting comes from a fantastic  play/movie about psychological manipulation. Yes, the princess is spoiled, but she was also strong-willed and wanted to be in control. In the end she’s a better person in a lot of ways, but she’s also becomes subservient to her husband. Plus, he did try to start their marriage on a lie. Not healthy. 

Blame it on the Victorians: Like Bluebeard, this was one of those fairy tales the English loved to put on as a Christmas Pantomime (right along classy stuff like Charles Dickens reading out loud from Oliver Twist). If you aren’t recognizing the reasons for the Victorians liking King Thrushbeard, go back to my blog about Bluebeard. 

Last thoughts: King rode through her pottery in one part of the story. I don’t care how much she needed to learn a lesson, no man should mess with a woman’s crafting! 

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


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.


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 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.