Susanna Clarke

I recently reread Susanna Clarke’s collection of short stories, The Ladies of Grace Adieu: and Other Stories. Clarke is probably better known for her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell came out in 2006 to wide acclaim. I, being the fantasy lover/reader that I am, heard about it and knew I had to read it. For some reason, I had recently received a gift card to a bookstore that allowed me to buy the hardcover version (an unusual luxury for a poor student!). So I eagerly sat down to read the novel. It was a very engaging read and I definitely wanted to keep reading it but at the end of it I wasn’t really sure what I thought of it. The idea of “everyday magic” was appealing to me and I loved the detailed and accurate Regency setting. But for some reason, my initial reaction was that I didn’t like it.

A few years later, I began working in a public library and came across The Ladies of Grace Adieu: and Other Stories while shelving. I hadn’t forgotten Jonathan Strange, in fact, it was, and still is, one of the books I can’t forget. So I decided to try and give this collection of short stories a try. I loved them immediately. They are all fairy and magic stories and Clarke writes about fairies differently than any other author I have read. Or perhaps it is not so much the subject matter as it is Clarke’s writing style. The tone of the entire book feels more like a scholarly compilation than anything else. But I have read the stories now several times and have enjoyed them more with each reading.

Oddly enough, I have still only read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that one time. Perhaps it is time I read it again.

 

The Red Shoes

Hans Christian Andersen wrote a lot of fairy tales. But he tends to be forgotten for the more aptly named Grimm Brothers, despite the fact that Andersen was the author of, among others, “The Little Mermaid”, “Thumbelina”, and “The Snow Queen”. One of my favorites is “The Red Shoes“. Like most of Andersen’s stories, “The Red Shoes” is a moral tale and tells the story of the vain, selfish and disobedient Karen who is condemned to dance until she dies because of her red shoes. Redemption comes at the end when the chastised Karen feels true repentance.

Plenty of illustrations have been made for this particular story. My sister’s favorite is the lovely watercolor version by Chihiro Iwasaki (right). The website SurLaLune Fairy Tales has a short list of other illustrations for the story here. The color illustrations of course give prime importance to the red shoes. Interestingly enough, most illustrators depict Karen as a young girl. Most likely Andersen did not mean for her to be thought of as such since a young girl would not attend balls. But like most fairy tales,  many people assume that they are about/for children when in reality, they are not.

There have been other adaptations of “The Red Shoes” as well. My sister and I used to watch a film version as kids. The whole thing seems to be on Youtube now and is definitely one creepy ballet. (Quality is not the best.)

Speaking of ballet, the 1948 movie The Red Shoes starring Moira Shearer is a well known movie loved by ballet and fairy tale fans alike. Loosely based on Andersen’s story, Shearer plays Victoria, a woman torn between dancing and the man she loves.

Also loosely based on the original tale is the Korean horror movie, The Red Shoes. I have not seen it, so I can offer no real insight about it here. Imdb.com has all the info here.

Personally, I love red shoes. I am wearing a gorgeous pair of red lace-up boots as I write this and I own about 5 or 6 more pairs of red shoes. Considering I only own about 25 pairs to begin with, that’s quite a bit.  But I can promise you, I always remember the story of Karen when I put on a pair of red shoes, which I suppose is Andersen’s entire point to the story.

But as Andersen himself says, “nothing in the world can be compared with red shoes.”

Brave

 

Pixar’s newest movie comes out on June 22, 2012. Called Brave, it follows the young Scottish princess Merida. The synopsis according to the official Disney website:

Since ancient times, stories of epic battles and mystical legends have been passed through the generations across the rugged and mysterious Highlands of Scotland. In “Brave,” a new tale joins the lore when the courageous Merida (voice of Kelly Macdonald) confronts tradition, destiny and the fiercest of beasts. Merida is a skilled archer and impetuous daughter of King Fergus (voice of Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (voice of Emma Thompson). Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin (voice of Kevin McKidd), surly Lord Macintosh (voice of Craig Ferguson) and cantankerous Lord Dingwall (voice of Robbie Coltrane). Merida’s actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom, and when she turns to an eccentric old Witch (voice of Julie Walters) for help, she is granted an ill-fated wish. The ensuing peril forces Merida to discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it’s too late.

Being Pixar, the animation will of course be gorgeous, and  that is some serious voice talent involved. Also, Merida’s hair is crazy lovely. Can’t wait for this one to come out!

 

Cryptozoology: Chupacabras

Cryptozoology is the study of legendary animals like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, usually in order to prove their existence. It’s something I love reading about and the random stories about monster sightings never fail to get my attention. The chupacabra is one of those animals that seems to have been popping up quite a bit recently.

Here’s a wikipedia article on chupacabras: http://www.monstropedia.org/Chupacabra. (Disclaimer: Wikipedia is NOT a reliable source. However, considering the subject matter, I don’t mind using the information found in the article.) So apparently, they’re blood-sucking creatures, usually with red eyes and a ridge of quills or spikes along their backs. Most recent sightings have them looking like hairless coyotes or dogs and in fact tests have proven them to be exactly that. There was even one “chupacabra” captured in Maryland just this year, however it was let go before any tests could be done on it. I’m not posting any pictures or videos here of them though, they can be a bit unsettling to look at.

So the chupacabra has not been conclusively proved to exist or not yet by cryptozoologists, although many people think it’s a hoax or an urban legend. However, in my opinion, if Brock Samson says it’s true, it must be true!

The Night Circus

I recently finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (who certainly has a great last name for an author, as every time I see it I hear Peter Falk’s voice beginning The Princess Bride). The Night Circus just came out this year and I heard about it before its release date from a review posted on the library comic Unshelved (amazing by the way, and frighteningly true to life). As soon as I saw it was about a circus, it went on my request list at the library.

I was not disappointed. The book is about two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who are locked into a competition by their respective teachers. The venue for their competition is Le Cirque des Reves, where Celia is the illusionist and Marco is assistant to the proprietor/creator. The novel follows their challenges and their relationship to each other, as well as other characters within and without the circus.  Celia and Marco’s love story is definitely the main plot, but the main character here is the circus itself.

Morgenstern’s writing is extremely visual. But that is necessary considering the story. It’s a shame that there were not more illustrations included in the book, although what artwork there was, was lovely. I have always been in love with circuses and carnivals and Morgenstern captures the mystery and beauty of this one. Imagine the circus from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked this Way Comes without the fear and danger, yet with its other-ness and seductive qualities in tact.  It is definitely a novel screaming to be made into a movie. And I mean that in a good way, not in a crass commercial way.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, despite how very romantic it was (not entirely my cup of tea). The magic in the story is realistic, similar to what was seen in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. And the circus. The circus is why I would read this book again. And again. And dream that some morning I will wake to find a field of black and white striped tents with the faintest hint of caramel in the air.

Snow White/Mirror Mirror

Next year, two movies about Snow White will be coming to theaters: Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman.

The trailor for Snow White and the Huntsman came out recently and despite my initial reluctance about it, it actually looks like it’s going to be pretty good. Charlize Theron plays the evil queen and Kristen Stewart is Snow White. I’m not a huge fan of either of those actresses and I’m getting a bit tired of the strong female character type that has been used to the point of ridicule by now. But I’ll probably love it anyways cuz I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff.

The other movie, which presently has an earlier release date, is Mirror Mirror. This version stars Julia Roberts as the evil queen and Lily Collins (Phil Collins’ daughter!) as Snow White. This one to me has the better look of a fairy tale. But it is also directed by Tarsem Singh, whose movie The Fall is possibly the most visually beautiful movie I’ve ever seen. Judging by the stills that have been released so far, this movie will be just as beautiful. More photos available at the imdb site.

Mirror Mirror comes out in March and Snow White and the Huntsman in the summer!

 

TrollHunter


Trolls are real. And the government doesn’t want you to know.

A mockumentary from Norway, the film follows three film students out to get the truth behind an unauthorized bear hunter. Turns out he’s not hunting bears at all, he’s hunting trolls. Bears are just the government cover up.

This is my kind of movie. It’s a monster movie, but more funny than scary. And it looks at how mythological creatures would behave and respond in our modern world. And how we would respond to them. It’s been out for a while now and is available on DVD and on Netflix so it should be easy to find. It’s definitely worth the effort.

And you’ll never look at power lines the same way again.

TrollHunter website