Movie: Aladdin

Aladdin PosterDisney’s movie version of the tale of “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp” from the Arabian Nights stories has become something of a modern classic in animated movies. It is a cinematic masterpiece with sweeping views of a fabulous city plucked directly out of an Arabian fantasy and soaring music that gives an epic feel to what is not a particularly epic story. It is not, however, terribly reminiscent of the original tale. I really like this movie, but not because it in any way resembles the original story (in fact, the changes made to the princess bothered me enormously at first – westernizing her so much seemed just wrong). I think that this is a fun movie and Carpet is just one of the must fun animated characters to watch, but I think this is the perfect example of how Disney takes stories and twists them to be what they want, forever changing how popular culture sees them. Nearly every kid I meet today knows the Disney version of the Aladdin story, but I doubt many of them know the Arabian Nights version. And that’s kind of a shame, even if the movie is awesome.

Book: Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic NovelArtemis Fowl
Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin
illustrated by Giovanni Figano and Paolo Lamanna
2007 (Hyperion)

If you’ve read the first “Artemis Fowl” novel, you know the plot of this book already. I hadn’t read it, so this graphic novel version was new to me. Artemis is a twelve-year-old boy, the youngest of the Fowl family which is a centuries-old Irish family known for being not so honorable. He lives on his family’s amazing estate with his mother, his bodyguard and his bodyguard’s sister. He’s also a genius. Through much digging and correlating of stories he has discovered that fairies are, in fact, very real and each one carries a book with the key to their undoing (among other things, because why would you carry a book that just says how to disable you?). Artemis tracks down a fairy and manages to procure a copy of the book (photographs of all the pages, anyway), which he then carefully translates using his aforementioned genius. Then he sets out to capture an actual fairy. Once this is done, he demands a ransom for her. Understandably, she and her superiors in the elite fairy police force she works for are not at all pleased.

The art in this book was, for the most part, fantastic. I was especially impressed with the characters themselves. Each one was completely distinct. It is so common for art with fairies to fall into the pattern where all fairies look essentially interchangeable, but that was definitely on the case here. Every member of the fairy world was just as detailed and distinct as each of the humans. The character designs themselves were also well done. You could tell a lot about each person just by how they looked (which is important for a book like this where a lot of that information is almost certainly given in the novel, but would be out of place if expostulated on in the book). The one quibble I had with the art was Fowl Manor itself. The text describes how it was built hundreds of years ago as a castle and has been remodeled over and over through the years by the family until it became more of a manor house and less of a castle. What we see in the art, however, is a meticulously planned manor house that shows no trace of castle or, really, even character. It could be the manor house in any Hollywood movie. Even the interior is an unremarkable stereotypical British manor. With this medium they could have gone all-out and shown us an amazing house, but instead we got a fairly boring Victorian-looking one. It was a little disappointing, especially considering the obvious talent of the artists.

The story was well suited to the medium. I can’t speak to the adaption from the original, though. There was a good balance of action, conversation and introspection. It was never weighed down and it clipped along at a good pace. I really liked how much personality was allowed to show through in just the text alone. The bureaucracy of the fairy police forces and the strange plot with Artemis’ mother were both really nice touches to the story. The position and treatment of most of the female characters in the story bothered me a bit, though. And I couldn’t help wondering why fairy society, which is supposedly considerably older and more advanced than ours, is so incredibly far behind in terms of gender equity. Even one strong female character who didn’t spend most of the book locked up by the male ones would have been nice, but it wasn’t there. That was really my one major squabble with the plot.

Overall I thought this book was extremely well done. The art was, by and large, wonderful. The writing was smooth and interesting and the plot well-suited to the format. I would recommend this to people who are already fans of the series and those who like interesting new graphic novels.

This book has been nominated for a Cybil in the graphic novel category.

- Publisher’s Description
- The Official Artemis Fowl Website
- Eoin Colfer’s Website
- Andrew Donkin’s Website
- Giovanni Rigano’s Blog
- Buy it from Amazon

Gender-Flipped Tales: Jill and the Beanstalk

Milky-WhiteThe Tale:

There was once upon a time a poor widower who had an only daughter named Jill, and a cow named Milky-white. And all they had to live on was the milk the cow gave every morning, which they carried to the market and sold. But one morning Milky-white gave no milk and they didn’t know what to do.

“What shall we do, what shall we do?” said the widower, wringing his hands.

“Cheer up, father, I’ll go and get work somewhere,” said Jill.

“We’ve tried that before, and nobody would take you,” said her father; “we must sell Milky-white and with the money, start shop, or something.”

“All right, father,” says Jill; “it’s market-day today, and I’ll soon sell Milky-white, and then we’ll see what we can do.”

So she took the cow’s halter in her hand, and off she started. She hadn’t gone far when she met a funny-looking old woman, who said to her: “Good morning, Jill.”

“Good morning to you,” said Jill, and wondered how she knew her name.

“Well, Jill, and where are you off to?” said the woman.

“I’m going to market to sell our cow here.”

“Oh, you look the proper sort of maid to sell cows,” said the woman; “I wonder if you know how many beans make five.”

“Two in each hand and one in your mouth,” says Jill, as sharp as a needle.

“Right you are,” said the woman, “and here they are, the very beans themselves,” she went on, pulling out of her pocket a number of strange-looking beans. “As you are so sharp,” says she, “I don’t mind doing a swap with you — your cow for these beans.”

“Walker!” says Jill; “wouldn’t you like it?”

“Ah! you don’t know what these beans are,” said the woman; “if you plant them overnight, by morning they grow right up to the sky.”

“Really?” says Jill; “you don’t say so.”

“Yes, that is so, and if it doesn’t turn out to be true you can have your cow back.”

“Right,” says Jill, and hands her over Milky-white’s halter and pockets the beans.

Back goes Jill home, and as she hadn’t gone very far it wasn’t dusk by the time she got to her door.

“Back already, Jill?” said her father; “I see you haven’t got Milky-white, so you’ve sold her. How much did you get for her?”

“You’ll never guess, father,” says Jill.

“No, you don’t say so. Good girl! Five pounds, ten, fifteen, no, it can’t be twenty.”

“I told you you couldn’t guess. What do you say to these beans; they’re magical, plant them overnight and —”

Beanstalk“What!” says Jill’s father, “have you been such a fool, such a dolt, such an idiot, as to give away my Milky-white, the best milker in the parish, and prime beef to boot, for a set of paltry beans? Take that! Take that! Take that! And as for your precious beans here they go out of the window. And now off with you to bed. Not a sup shall you drink, and not a bit shall you swallow this very night.”

So Jill went upstairs to her little room in the attic, and sad and sorry she was, to be sure, as much for her father’s sake, as for the loss of her supper.

At last she dropped off to sleep.

When she woke up, the room looked so funny. The sun was shining into part of it, and yet all the rest was quite dark and shady. So Jill jumped up and dressed herself and went to the window. And what do you think she saw? Why, the beans her father had thrown out of the window into the garden had sprung up into a big beanstalk which went up and up and up till it reached the sky. So the woman spoke truth after all.

The beanstalk grew up quite close past Jill’s window, so all she had to do was to open it and give a jump on to the beanstalk which ran up just like a big plaited ladder. So Jill climbed, and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed till at last she reached the sky. And when she got there she found a long broad road going as straight as a dart. So she walked along and she walked along and she walked along till she came to a great big tall house, and on the doorstep there was a great big tall man.

“Good morning, sir,” says Jill, quite polite-like. “Could you be so kind as to give me some breakfast?” For she hadn’t had anything to eat, you know, the night before and was as hungry as a hunter.

“It’s breakfast you want, is it?” says the great big tall man, “it’s breakfast you’ll be if you don’t move off from here. My woman is an ogress and there’s nothing she likes better than girls broiled on toast. You’d better be moving on or she’ll soon be coming.”

“Oh! please, sir, do give me something to eat, sir. I’ve had nothing to eat since yesterday morning, really and truly, sir,” says Jill. “I may as well be broiled as die of hunger.”

Well, the ogress’ husband wasn’t such a bad sort after all. So he took Jill into the kitchen, and gave her a hunk of bread and cheese and a jug of milk. But Jill hadn’t half finished these when thump! thump! thump! the whole house began to tremble with the noise of someone coming.

“Goodness gracious me! It’s my old woman,” said the ogress’ husband, “what on earth shall I do? Come along quick and jump in here.” And he bundled Jill into the oven just as the ogress came in.

She was a big one, to be sure. At her belt she had three calves strung up by the heels, and she unhooked them and threw them down on the table and said: “Here, husband, broil me a couple of these for breakfast. Ah! what’s this I smell?

Fee-fi-fo-fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishwoman,
Be she alive, or be she dead,
I’ll have her bones to grind my bread.”

“Nonsense, dear,” said her husband, “you’re dreaming. Or perhaps you smell the scraps of that little girl you liked so much for yesterday’s dinner. Here, you go and have a wash and tidy up, and by the time you come back your breakfast’ll be ready for you.”

So off the ogress went, and Jill was just going to jump out of the oven and run away when the man told her not. “Wait till she’s asleep,” says he; “she always has a snooze after breakfast.”

Well, the ogress had her breakfast, and after that she goes to a big chest and takes out of it a couple of bags of gold, and sits down counting them till at last her head began to nod and she began to snore till the whole house shook again.

Then Jill crept out on tiptoe from her oven, and as she was passing the ogress she took one of the bags of gold under his arm, and off she pelters till she came to the beanstalk, and then she threw down the bag of gold, which, of course, fell into her father’s garden, and then she climbed down and climbed down till at last she got home and told her father and showed him the gold and said: “Well, father, wasn’t I right about the beans? They are really magical, you see.”

So they lived on the bag of gold for some time, but at last they came to the end of that so Jill made up her mind to try her luck once more up at the top of the beanstalk. So one fine morning she rose up early, and got on to the beanstalk, and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed till at last she got on the road again and came the great big tall house she had been to before. There, sure enough, was the great tall man a-standing on the doorstep.

“Good morning, sir,” says Jill, as bold as brass, “could you be so good as to give me something to eat?”

“Go away, my girl,” said the big, tall man, “or else my woman will eat you up for breakfast. But aren’t you the youngster who came here once before? Do you know, that very day my man missed one of his bags of gold.”

“That’s strange, sir,” said Jill, “I dare say I could tell you something about that but I’m so hungry I can’t speak till I’ve had something to eat.”

Well, the big tall man was that curious that he took her in and gave her something to eat. But she had scarcely begun munching it as slowly as he could when thump! thump! they heard the giant’s footstep, and her husband hid Jill away in the oven.

All happened as it did before. In came the ogress as she did before, said: “Fee-fi-fo-fum,” and had her breakfast off three broiled oxen. Then she said: “Husband, bring me the hen that lays the golden eggs.” So he brought it, and the ogress said: “Lay,” and it laid an egg all of gold. And then the ogress began to nod her head, and to snore till the house shook.

Golden EggsThen Jill crept out of the oven on tiptoe and caught hold of the golden hen, and was off before you could say “Jill Robinson.” But this time the hen gave a cackle which woke the ogress, and just as Jill got out of the house she heard her calling:

“Husband, husband, what have you done with my golden hen?”

And the husband said: “Why, my dear?”

But that was all Jill heard, for she rushed off to the beanstalk and climbed down like a house on fire. And when he got home she showed her father the wonderful hen, and said “Lay” to it; and it laid a golden egg every time she said ‘Lay.”

Well, Jill was not content, and it wasn’t long before she determined to have another try at her luck up there at the top of the beanstalk. So one fine morning, she rose up early, and went on to the beanstalk, and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed and she climbed till he got to the top. But this time she knew better than to go straight to the ogress’ house. And when she got near it, she waited behind a bush till she saw the ogress’ husband come out with a pail to get some water, and then she crept into the house and got into the copper. She hadn’t been there long when she heard thump! thump! thump! as before, and in came the ogress and her husband.

“Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishwoman,” cried out the ogress. “I smell her, husband, I smell her.”

“Do you, my dearie?” says the ogress’ husband. “Then if it’s that little rogue that stole your gold and the hen that laid the golden eggs she’s sure to have got into the oven.” And they both rushed to the oven. But Jill wasn’t there, luckily, and the ogress’ husband said: “There you are again with your fee-fi-fo-fum. Why, of course, it’s the lassie you caught last night that I’ve broiled for your breakfast. How forgetful I am, and how careless you are not to know the difference between live un and a dead un.”

So the ogress sat down to the breakfast and ate it, but every now and then she would mutter: “Well, I could have sworn —” and she’d get up and search the larder and the cupboards, and everything, only, luckily, she didn’t think of the copper.

After breakfast was over, the ogress called out: “Husband, husband, bring me my golden harp.” So he brought it and put it on the table before her. Then she said: “Sing!” and the golden harp sang most beautifully. And it went on singing till the ogress fell asleep, and commenced to snore like thunder.

Then Jill lifted up the copper-lid very quietly and got down like a mouse and crept on hands and knees till she came to the table when she got up and caught hold of the golden harp and dashed with it towards the door. But the harp called out quite loud: “Mistress! Mistress!” and the ogress woke up just in time to see Jill running off with his harp.

Singing HarpJill ran as fast as she could, and the ogress came rushing after, and would soon have caught her only Jill had a start and dodged her a bit and knew where she was going. When she got to the beanstalk the ogress was not more than twenty yards away when suddenly she saw Jill disappear like, and when she came to the end of the road she saw Jill underneath climbing down for dear life. Well, the ogress didn’t like trusting herself to such a ladder, and she stood and waited, so Jill got another start. But just then the harp cried out: “Mistress! Mistress!” and the ogress swung herself down on to the beanstalk, which shook with her weight. Down climbs Jill, and after her climbed the ogress. By this time Jill had climbed down and climbed down and climbed down till she was very nearly home. So she called out: “Father! Father! bring me an axe, bring me an axe.” And her father came rushing out with the axe in his hand, but when he came to the beanstalk he stood stock still with fright, for there he saw the ogress just coming down below the clouds.

But Jill jumped down and got hold of the axe and gave a chop at the beanstalk which cut it half in two. The ogress felt the beanstalk shake and quiver so she stopped to see what was the matter. Then Jill gave another chop with the axe, and the beanstalk was cut in two and began to topple over. Then the ogress fell down and broke her crown, and the beanstalk came toppling after.

Then Jill showed her father her golden harp, and what with showing that and selling the golden eggs, Jill and her father became very rich, and she married a great prince, and they lived happy ever after.

By Joseph Jacobs (available in its original form at SurLaLune Fairy Tales)

Thoughts:

I actually think that this story flipped really well. The relationship between the ogress and her husband is a little strange (we don’t imagine giants being house-husbands very often), but really, if you were married to an ogre, wouldn’t you do the cooking too? I would, even if I were a guy. Jack/Jill is still basically a freeloading rogue and the parent figure largely just lets her be that way. That works equally well with the genders flipped as it did originally (now the protagonist more like the daughter in “Diamonds and Toads” who ended up with toads, but Jack would have been that kid anyway). I think this worked really well overall. Oh, and I decided for the first time to leave something the way it was. The cow and the hen both retained their original sexes (I just couldn’t write about milking a bull or a rooster who laid eggs, it doesn’t make sense). Since their identities isn’t at all vital to the story, I decided to bend the rules for them in the interests of the story maintaining logical biology (magic beanstalks and golden eggs notwithstanding).

Book: The Qwikpick Adventure Society

The Qwikpick Adventure SocietyThe Qwikpick Adventure Society
Sam Riddleburger
2007 (Dial/Penguin)

What is there to do on Christmas Day if you don’t have celebrating to do? That’s the problem faced by the Qwikpick Society (Lyle, Marilla and Dave). They decide that rather than sit around in the Qwikpick (where Lyle’s parents work) watching movies in the break room, they’re going to go on an adventure. The best thing they can come up with for an adventure is to go visit the local Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is about to be completely renovated. The renovation will remove the “poop fountain” that is part of the workings of the plant and the fountain is going to be turned off in just a few days, so the kids decide to go visit it before it gets shut off for good and no one ever gets to see it again. What follows is a very eventful series of events involving a lot of trouble and a big mess!

I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy this book nearly as much as I did. I mean, it’s about a poop fountain. Normally, things like that don’t entertain me that much. This book, however, had me entertained from the first page all the way through the last. I still maintain that I never want to see a poop fountain, but I did love the adventure and it would have been seriously missing something without the poop.

Part of the charm of this book was in the format. It’s written as if the kids wrote it themselves, recording their adventure right after it happened in an effort to make sure it gets remembered. The pages are laid out in a font that looks like a typewriter font, which fits, since they supposedly wrote this out using an old typewriter in the Qwikpick break room, and there are “photographs” throughout as well as notebook pages with various types of handwriting adding in bits and pieces from each kid’s individual point of view. It’s a great piece of work, even just looking at the layout. I loved the addition of the lined notebook paper. That was perfect.

This is a really fun, funny, and surprisingly smart book (you don’t expect “smart” from a book where you can’t describe the plot without using the phrase “poop fountain”). I really enjoyed this book. Everything from the kids’ relationships to the origami section to the maps and poems were wonderful. It was just really fun to read! I highly recommend this book! It’s a blast to read and just a lot of fun! Don’t eat while you read it, though!

- Publisher’s Description
- Sam Riddleburger’s Blog
- The Qwikpick Adventure Society

Gender-Flipped Tales: The Shepherd and the Sweep

ShepherdTale:

Have you ever seen an old wooden cupboard quite black with age, and ornamented with carved foliage and curious figures? Well, just such a cupboard stood in a parlor, and had been left to the family as a legacy by the great-grandfather. It was covered from top to bottom with carved roses and tulips; the most curious scrolls were drawn upon it, and out of them peeped little stags’ heads, with antlers. In the middle of the cupboard door was the carved figure of a woman most ridiculous to look at. She grinned at you, for no one could call it laughing. She had goat’s legs, little horns on her head, and long hair; the children in the room always called her, “Major general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs.” It was certainly a very difficult name to pronounce, and there are very few who ever receive such a title, but then it seemed wonderful how she came to be carved at all; yet there she was, always looking at the table under the looking-glass, where stood a very handsome little shepherd made of china. His shoes were gilt, and his suit had a red rose or an ornament. He wore a hat, and carried a crook, that were both gilded, and looked very bright and pretty. Close by his side stood a little chimney-sweep, as black as coal, and also made of china. She was, however, quite as clean and neat as any other china figure; she only represented a black chimney-sweep, and the china workers might just as well have made her a princess, had they felt inclined to do so. She stood holding her ladder quite handily, and her face was as fair and rosy as a boy’s; indeed, that was rather a mistake, it should have had some black marks on it. She and the shepherd had been placed close together, side by side; and, being so placed, they became engaged to each other, for they were very well suited, being both made of the same sort of china, and being equally fragile. Close to them stood another figure, three times as large as they were, and also made of china. She was an old Chinawoman, who could nod her head, and used to pretend that she was the grandmother of the shepherd, although she could not prove it. She however assumed authority over him, and therefore when “Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs” asked for the little shepherd to be her husband, she nodded her head to show that she consented. “You will have a wife,” said the old Chinawoman to him, “who I really believe is made of mahogany. She will make you a gentleman of Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs. She has the whole cupboard full of silver plate, which she keeps locked up in secret drawers.”

“I won’t go into the dark cupboard,” said the little shepherd. “I have heard that she has eleven china husbands there already.”
“Then you shall be the twelfth,” said the old Chinawoman. “To-night as soon as you hear a rattling in the old cupboard, you shall be married, as true as I am a Chinawoman;” and then she nodded her head and fell asleep.

Then the little shepherd cried, and looked at his sweetheart, the china chimney-sweep. “I must entreat you,” said he, “to go out with me into the wide world, for we cannot stay here.”

“I will do whatever you wish,” said the little chimney-sweep; “let us go immediately: I think I shall be able to maintain you with my profession.”

“If we were but safely down from the table!” said he; “I shall not be happy till we are really out in the world.”

Then she comforted him, and showed him how to place his little foot on the carved edge and gilt-leaf ornaments of the table. She brought her little ladder to help him, and so they contrived to reach the floor. But when they looked at the old cupboard, they saw it was all in an uproar. The carved stags pushed out their heads, raised their antlers, and twisted their necks. The major-general sprung up in the air; and cried out to the old Chinawoman, “They are running away! they are running away!” The two were rather frightened at this, so they jumped into the drawer of the window-seat. Here were three or four packs of cards not quite complete, and a doll’s theater, which had been built up very neatly. A comedy was being performed in it, and all the kings of diamonds, clubs, and hearts, and spades, sat in the first row fanning themselves with tulips, and behind them stood all the knaves, showing that they had heads above and below as playing cards generally have. The play was about two lovers, who were not allowed to marry, and the shepherd wept because it was so like his own story. “I cannot bear it,” said he, “I must get out of the drawer;” but when they reached the floor, and cast their eyes on the table, there was the old Chinawoman awake and shaking her whole body, till all at once down she came on the floor, “plump.” “The old Chinawoman is coming,” cried the little shepherd in a fright, and down he fell on one knee.

Toy Theater“I have thought of something,” said the chimney-sweep; “let us get into the great potpourri jar which stands in the corner; there we can lie on rose-leaves and lavender, and throw salt in her eyes if she comes near us.”

“No, that will never do,” said he, “because I know that the Chinawoman and the potpourri jar were lovers once, and there always remains behind a feeling of good-will between those who have been so intimate as that. No, there is nothing left for us but to go out into the wide world.”

“Have you really courage enough to go out into the wide world with me?” said the chimney-sweep; “have you thought how large it is, and that we can never come back here again?”

“Yes, I have,” he replied.

When the chimney-sweep saw that he was quite firm, she said, “My way is through the stove and up the chimney. Have you courage to creep with me through the fire-box, and the iron pipe? When we get to the chimney I shall know how to manage very well. We shall soon climb too high for any one to reach us, and we shall come through a hole in the top out into the wide world.” So she led him to the door of the stove.

“It looks very dark,” said he; still he went in with her through the stove and through the pipe, where it was as dark as pitch.
“Now we are in the chimney,” said she; “and look, there is a beautiful star shining above it.” It was a real star shining down upon them as if it would show them the way. So they clambered, and crept on, and a frightful steep place it was; but the chimney-sweep helped him and supported him, till they got higher and higher. She showed him the best places on which to set his little china foot, so at last they reached the top of the chimney, and sat themselves down, for they were very tired, as may be supposed. The sky, with all its stars, was over their heads, and below were the roofs of the town. They could see for a very long distance out into the wide world, and the poor little shepherd leaned his head on his chimney-sweep’s shoulder, and wept till he washed the gilt off his sash; the world was so different to what he expected. “This is too much,” he said; “I cannot bear it, the world is too large. Oh, I wish I were safe back on the table. again, under the looking glass; I shall never be happy till I am safe back again. Now I have followed you out into the wide world, you will take me back, if you love me.”

Broken ChinaThen the chimney-sweep tried to reason with him, and spoke of the old Chinawoman, and of the Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s legs; but he sobbed so bitterly, and kissed his little chimney-sweep till she was obliged to do all he asked, foolish as it was. And so, with a great deal of trouble, they climbed down the chimney, and then crept through the pipe and stove, which were certainly not very pleasant places. Then they stood in the dark fire-box, and listened behind the door, to hear what was going on in the room. As it was all quiet, they peeped out. Alas! there lay the old Chinawoman on the floor; she had fallen down from the table as she attempted to run after them, and was broken into three pieces; her back had separated entirely, and her head had rolled into a corner of the room. The major-general stood in her old place, and appeared lost in thought.

“This is terrible,” said the little shepherd. “My poor old grandmother is broken to pieces, and it is our fault. I shall never live after this;” and he wrung his little hands.

“She can be riveted,” said the chimney-sweep; “she can be riveted. Do not be so hasty. If they cement her back, and put a good rivet in it, she will be as good as new, and be able to say as many disagreeable things to us as ever.”

“Do you think so?” said he; and then they climbed up to the table, and stood in their old places.

“As we have done no good,” said the chimney-sweep, “we might as well have remained here, instead of taking so much trouble.”

“I wish grandmother was riveted,” said the shepherd. “Will it cost much, I wonder?”

And he had her wish. The family had the Chinawoman’s back mended, and a strong rivet put through her neck; she looked as good as new, but she could no longer nod her head.

“You have become proud since your fall broke you to pieces,” said Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs. “You have no reason to give yourself such airs. Am I to have him or not?”

The chimney-sweep and the little shepherd looked piteously at the old Chinawoman, for they were afraid she might nod; but she was not able: besides, it was so tiresome to be always telling strangers she had a rivet in the back of her neck.

And so the little china people remained together, and were glad of the grandmother’s rivet, and continued to love each other till they were broken to pieces.

by Hans Christian Andersen (available in its original form at Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales and Stories)

Thoughts:

This story flipped fairly painlessly, but I’m not sure that it works as well as some of the others have. The shepherd’s weepiness doesn’t seem as appropriate in a man as it did in a woman (now, I never thought it very appropriate or appealing, but still…). The cupboard’s title (Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs) also seems a little odd now. There is nothing inherently gendered in there (I thought about flipping Billy, but since the phrase “billy-goat” gets used for both genders of goats indiscriminately, I decided against it), but it feels like something should change about it. Still, I left it as it was. I liked the meddling grandparent figure just as well as a grandmother, even if the word “chinawoman” is a little more cumbersome than “chinaman”. Neither is a great word anyway, if you ask me. Overall, I think the story works ok. Suggestions and comments are welcome, as always!

Television: Sleeping Bassoon

Sleeping BassoonThe Little Einsteins seem to read the oddest versions of fairy tales. This time, Quincy reads them his favorite story – “Sleeping Bassoon”. In the story a princess Bassoon (complete with pointy princess hat) makes everyone happy by playing a happy song, but the grumpy wizard doesn’t want to be happy or see anyone else happy, so he casts a spell to put the princess in a deep sleep. If no one can wake her up before all the purple pebbles fall in an hourglass, she’ll never wake up. None of the instruments in the kingdom seem able to replicate the bassoon’s happy song (the wedding march) to wake her up. The Little Einsteins rush to the rescue, since Quincy can play the song on his trumpet. After much searching, aided by a fish and hampered by the grumpy wizard, they reach the castle and Quincy manages to awaken the princess. Everyone is happy, even the grumpy wizard (go figure).

Although this was a rather interesting telling of the “Sleeping Beauty” story, I actually found it rather unsatisfying. I think part of the problem was that in changing the focus of the story from the princess to the questing rescuers, the writers ended up kind of removing both the impetus for the action in the first place and the repercussions afterwards. Why did the grumpy wizard suddenly become not grumpy at the end? It really didn’t make any sense. The use of the song to wake her up and everyone else trying to play it (in sort of a more genuine version of everyone trying on the glass slipper) was really interesting and well done. I would have liked to know what was special about the song that made it impossible for any other instrument to play (part of the spell, maybe?), but I liked the element of them trying to awaken her.

I find the fluidness of stories really interesting in Little Einsteins. They enter the books they read as easily as they encounter “real” things, which is very much the way children are able to interact with books and stories. It’s like the fairy tales are games to them, rather than books, and that’s perfect. I love how they’ve made that the case and yet haven’t felt the need to explain or qualify it at all. It just is. This is definitely an interesting series!

Book: Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress

Confessions of a Part-Time SorceressConfessions of a Part-Time Sorceress: A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons and Dragons Game
Shelly Mazzanoble
illustrated by Craig Phillips
2007 (Wizards of the Coast)

Full confession: I’ve been a table-top gamer since I was eleven. This is not typical, particularly since I’m a girl. There are many, many women gamers out there. Many more than is typically believed. However, we’re still vastly outnumbered by the guys and we tend not to talk about our hobby because there is a lot of stigma attached to it. Shelly Mazzanoble gets all that. She gets the stereotypes, the typical responses, the dubious reactions to the whole thing typical from non-gamers (especially non-gamer women) when the subject is brought up. But she also gets that gaming is fun and that it has a huge appeal for women in particular (you get to hang out with your friends, hit or blow up people that annoy you, and pretend you’re way cooler than you are with no one laughing at you for it – all in a safe, consequence-free environment – what’s not to like?).

In this very funny, very witty, very readable book Shelly Mazzanoble discusses how she got into playing Dungeons and Dragons, what she thought before she started, the reactions of her friends, and even the basics of how the game works (for those many people who aren’t actually familiar with it). She does a great job of covering all those basics in a way that makes sense and makes the fun of the game really stand out. This is most evident in her descriptions of game sessions, but the fact that she enjoys playing the game comes out on every single page of the book. The best thing about this book is that she explains why gaming is fun.

My husband and I laughed through this entire book. It brought up memories of games, memories of how we got into gaming, and even fostered discussions about all sorts of things (from what “Jimmy Choos” are to why most women say they are “gamers” as opposed to “roleplayers”). This is a book I’ve already found myself recommending to people, both gamers and non-gamers, and a book that I honestly found myself wondering if I should give to my mother, if for no other reason than to explain to her what the appeal of all this gaming stuff is to me. It’s a very entertaining, approachable book. I’d happily give this to a teenage girl, although maybe not to a ten-year-old. It did make me wish that someone would write something similar for that age group though!

I, obviously, very much recommend this book. It’s a fast, fun read. Even if you’ve never played a roleplaying game in your life, I’d recommend checking out at least the first chapter. Games are everywhere. Literally millions of people play World of Warcraft, and that’s really only a poor imitation of what a real tabletop gaming experience with friends and complicated characters you care about can be like. Shelly Mazzanoble clearly gets it and she’s written a fun book that explains the appeal and shows how very easy the game can really be to play. This is a totally fun read. It made me wish there were books like this aimed at kids and families now!

- Publisher’s Description
- The Official Dungeons and Dragons Website
- Shelly Mazzanoble’s Website
- Buy it from Amazon

Gender-Flipped Tales: The Six Swans

The Wild SwansTale:

A Queen was once hunting in a great wood, and she hunted the game so eagerly that none of her courtiers could follow her. When evening came on she stood still and looked round her, and she saw that she had quite lost herself. She sought a way out, but could find none. Then she saw an old man with a shaking head coming towards her; but he was a warlock.

“Good man,”‘ she said to him, “can you not show me the way out of the wood?”

“Oh, certainly, Madam Queen,” he replied, “I can quite well do that, but on one condition, which if you do not fulfill you will never get out of the wood, and will die of hunger.”

“What is the condition?”‘ asked the Queen.

“I have a son,” said the old man, “who is so handsome that he has not his equal in the world, and is well fitted to be your husband; if you will make him your lord-husband I will show you the way out of the wood.”

The Queen in her anguish of mind consented, and the old man led her to his little house where his son was sitting by the fire. He received the Queen as if he were expecting her, and she saw that he was certainly very handsome; but he did not please her, and she could not look at him without a secret feeling of horror. As soon as she had lifted the youth on to her horse the old man showed her the way, and the Queen reached her palace, where the wedding was celebrated.

The Queen had already been married once, and had by her first husband seven children, six girls and one boy, whom she loved more than anything in the world. And now, because she was afraid that their stepfather might not treat them well and might do them harm, she put them in a lonely castle that stood in the middle of a wood. It lay so hidden, and the way to it was so hard to find, that she herself could not have found it out had not a wise-man given her a reel of thread which possessed a marvelous property: when she threw it before her it unwound itself and showed her the way. But the Queen went so often to her dear children that the King was offended at her absence. He grew curious, and wanted to know what she had to do quite alone in the wood. He gave her servants a great deal of money, and they betrayed the secret to him, and also told him of the reel which alone could point out the way. He had no rest now till he had found out where the Queen guarded the reel, and then he made some little white shirts, and, as he had learnt from his warlock-father, sewed an enchantment in each of them.

And when the Queen had ridden off he took the little shirts and went into the wood, and the reel showed him the way. The children, who saw someone coming in the distance, thought it was their dear mother coming to them, and sprang to meet her very joyfully. Then he threw over each one a little shirt, which when it had touched their bodies changed them into swans, and they flew away over the forest. The King went home quite satisfied, and thought he had got rid of his step-children; but the boy had not run to meet him with his sisters, and he knew nothing of him.

The next day the Queen came to visit her children, but she found no one but the boy.

“Where are your sisters?”‘ asked the Queen.

“Alas! dear mother,” he answered, “they have gone away and left me all alone.” And he told her that looking out of his little window he had seen his sisters flying over the wood in the shape of swans, and he showed her the feathers which they had let fall in the yard, and which he had collected. The Queen mourned, but she did not think that the King had done the wicked deed, and as she was afraid the youth would also be taken from her, she wanted to take him with her. But he was afraid of the stepfather, and begged the Queen to let him stay just one night more in the castle in the wood. The poor youth thought, “My home is no longer here; I will go and seek my sisters.” And when night came he fled away into the forest. He ran all through the night and the next day, till he could go no farther for weariness. Then he saw a little hut, went in, and found a room with six little beds. He was afraid to lie down on one, so he crept under one of them, lay on the hard floor, and was going to spend the night there. But when the sun had set he heard a noise, and saw six swans flying in at the window. They stood on the floor and blew at one another, and blew all their feathers off, and their swan-skin came off like a shirt. Then the youth recognized his sisters, and overjoyed he crept out from under the bed. His sisters were not less delighted than he to see their little brother again, but their joy did not last long.
“You cannot stay here,” they said to him. “This is a den of robbers; if they were to come here and find you they would kill you.”
“Could you not protect me?” asked the little brother.

Swans“No,” they answered, “for we can only lay aside our swan skins for a quarter of an hour every evening. For this time we regain our human forms, but then we are changed into swans again.”

The the little brother cried and said, “Can you not be freed?”

“Oh, no,” they said, “the conditions are too hard. You must not speak or laugh for six years, and must make in that time six shirts for us out of star-flowers. If a single word comes out of your mouth, all your labor is vain.” And when the sisters had said this the quarter of an hour came to an end, and they flew away out of the window as swans.

But the youth had determined to free his sisters even if it should cost him his life. He left the hut, went into the forest, climbed a tree, and spent the night there. The next morning he went out, collected star-flowers, and began to sew. He could speak to no one, and he had no wish to laugh, so he sat there, looking only at his work.

When he had lived there some time, it happened that the Queen of the country was hunting in the forest, and her huntresses came to the tree on which the youth sat. They called to him and said “Who are you?”

But he gave no answer.

“Come down to us,” they said, “we will do you no harm.”

But he shook his head silently. As they pressed him further with questions, he threw them the golden chain from his neck. But they did not leave off, and he threw them his belt, and when this was no use, his garters, and then his tunic. The huntresses would not leave him alone, but climbed the tree, lifted the youth down, and led him to the Queen. The Queen asked, “Who are you? What are you doing up that tree?”

But he answered nothing.

She asked him in all the languages she knew, but he remained as dumb as a fish. Because he was so handsome, however, the Queen’s heart was touched, and she was seized with a great love for him. She wrapped him up in her cloak, placed him before her on her horse. and brought him to her castle. There she had him dressed in rich clothes, and his handsomeness shone out as bright as day, but not a word could be drawn from him. She set him at table by her side, and his modest ways and behavior pleased her so much that she said, “I will marry this youth and none other in the world,” and after some days she married him. But the Queen had a wicked father who was displeased with the marriage, and said wicked things of the young King. “Who knows who this boy is?” he said; “he cannot speak, and is not worthy of a queen.”

After a year, when the King had his first child, the old father took it away from him. Then he went to the Queen and said that the King had killed it. The Queen would not believe it, and would not allow any harm to be done him. But he sat quietly sewing at the shirts and troubling himself about nothing. The next time he had a child the wicked father did the same thing, but the Queen could not make up her mind to believe him. She said, “He is too sweet and good to do such a thing as that. If he were not dumb and could defend himself, his innocence would be proved.” But when the third child was taken away, and the King was again accused, and could not utter a word in his own defense, the Queen was obliged to give him over to the law, which decreed that he must be burnt to death. When the day came on which the sentence was to be executed, it was the last day of the six years in which he must not speak or laugh, and now he had freed his dear sisters from the power of the enchantment. The six shirts were done; there was only the left sleeve wanting to the last.

When he was led to the stake, he laid the shirts on his arm, and as he stood on the pile and the fire was about to be lighted, he looked around him and saw six swans flying through the air. Then he knew that his release was at hand and his heart danced for joy. The swans fluttered round him, and hovered low so that he could throw the shirts over them. When they had touched them the swan-skins fell off, and his sisters stood before him living, well and beautiful. Only the youngest had a swan’s wing instead of her left arm. They embraced and kissed each other, and the King went to the Queen, who was standing by in great astonishment, and began to speak to her, saying, “Dearest wife, now I can speak and tell you openly that I am innocent and have been falsely accused.”

StarflowerHe told him of the old man’s deceit, and how he had taken the three children away and hidden them. Then they were fetched, to the great joy of the Queen, and the wicked father came to no good end.

But the Queen and the King with their six sisters lived many years in happiness and peace.

by The Brothers Grimm (available in its original form at SurLaLune Fairy Tales)

Thoughts:

There were two places in this story where oddnesses crept up in the gender-flipped version. The first was when the protagonist is throwing clothes down to the huntresses/hunters. I contemplated leaving it a girdle and dress, but decided to change them instead. It just makes more sense this way and I don’t see that it changes the scene in any meaningful way. The second place was near the end when the children are being born and taken away. I decided to leave it “the King had his first child” rather than fiddle with it because it doesn’t actually say he gave birth to the children and because fiddling would have been too complicated. I think it works ok, but it is slightly odd.

Overall I thought that this story flipped pretty well. I wasn’t sure how it would work at first, but somehow it seems fine even with the boy sewing the shirts and the Kings being changed to Queens. The sisters being the swans actually works pretty well as far as story symbols go (girls turn into swans and things regularly in fairy tales, but it doesn’t seem to happen to boys as often). This story when gender-flipped does put the power of textile arts in the hands of men, where it rarely is. It’s an interesting story. I’m glad it worked out as well as it did.

“I Want to Play Her”: Monster Hunter

Ramona the PestThere is a tabletop roleplaying game called “Little Fears” where you play a little kid fighting closet monsters. The image of Ramona by Tracy Dockray on the cover of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest strikes me as a great character image for that game! Look at that no-nonsense pose! And those are totally monster-stoppin’ boots! She even has a war wound covered with a cute Band-Aid on her knee! I think she would make a fabulous and incredibly fun character in “Little Fears” or a game like it! I totally want to play her!

Poetry Friday: Because I Could Not Stop For Death

Emily DickinsonMy favorite poems are always story poems, but sometimes a poem has such evocative images that even though it doesn’t actually tell a story it almost seems too. Emily Dickinson has a whole bunch of poems like that. She was great at images, but rarely put a narrative to them (and rarely did they need it). One of my favorite of her poems is “Because I Could Not Stop for Death-” because it does have such amazing imagery and creates such vivid pictures.

Because I could not stop for Death-
He kindly stopped for me-
The Carriage held but just Ourselves-
And Immortality.

We slowly drove-He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility-

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess-in the Ring-
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain-
We passed the Setting Sun-

Or rather-He passed Us-
The Dews drew quivering and chill-
For only Gossamer, my Gown-
My Tippet-only Tulle-

We passed before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground-
The Roof was scarcely visible-
The Cornice-in the Ground-

Since then-’tis Centuries-and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses Heads
Were toward Eternity-

I hope that the images in this poem pop out as sharply for you as they do for me! Check out the other great Poetry Friday offerings at the round-up over at A Wrung Spong’s round-up today!

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