A Murderous Comfort or Murder, Most Foul?

Over the craziness of the past eighteen months, I’ve thought a lot about what I find comforting. I’ve shared some of those answers (here, here, here and here). But one thing has emerged as unexpectedly comforting. Murder. That’s right, cold blooded murder.

image credit: tvpassport.com

During lockdown I was bored and stressed (who wasn’t?) and I started randomly watching Murder, She Wrote. It felt like a sigh. It was exactly what my brain needed. For those who have never seen it, the TV series ran from 1984-1996. It stars Angela Lansbury as mystery novelist, Jessica Fletcher. Fletcher started writing mysteries for comfort herself, as a way to distract herself following the death of her husband. Her books became instant hits, and Fletcher became a worldwide bestselling author. She remains in her hometown of Cabot Cove, Maine, but travels extensively. And everywhere she goes, murder seems to follow. There are actually fan theories that Jessica Fletcher was the one whodunnit all along! I mean how else are we to account for the fact that people around her just seem to drop dead?

But kidding aside, watching a few episodes of the show got me thinking, and thinking got me googling. Angela Lansbury had played Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in the 1980 film The Mirror Crack’d. The film flopped, and Lansbury was never asked to play Miss Marple again. However, it made the series producers think she’d be just right for the role of Jessica Fletcher. The two characters are very similar really. Both are older women (Fletcher is a widow and Miss Marple’s a spinster) who have a curious nature and a shrewd intelligence that helps them outwit both criminals and law enforcement officials. Both can latch on to a seemingly casual comment and use it to unravel a whole case.

image credit: agathachristie.com

That made me realize that I find Miss Marple very comforting too. So is it old lady detectives that I find soothing? Yes, but not just them. I started thinking about other mysteries I find comforting. Agatha Christie (not just Miss Marple), Murder, She Wrote, Midsomer Murders… Is it cozy mysteries that give me the comfort factor?

For those not aware, goodreads defines the genre as follows:

Cozies very rarely focus on sex, profanity or violence. The murders take place off stage, and are often relatively bloodless (e.g. poisoning), while sexual activity (if any) between characters is only ever gently implied and never directly addressed. The cozy mystery usually takes place in a small town or village. The small size of the setting makes it believable that all the suspects know each other. The amateur sleuth is usually a very likeable person who is able to get the community members to talk freely about each other. There is usually at least one very knowledgeable, nosy, yet reliable character in the book who is able to fill in all of the blanks, thus enabling the amateur sleuth to solve the case.

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Do the books and shows I’ve mentioned count as cozies? Yes and no. In the above examples, not all the sleuths are amateur. Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher are. But Inspector Poirot is a retired police officer. Not technically “on duty” but not an amateur either. In Midsomer Murders, a British TV series based on Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby series (which I haven’t read), the main character is the titular police detective. The setting of my comfort mysteries isn’t always a small town either. It is in Midsomer Murders, but Jessica Fletcher leaves Cabot Cove quite often. She’s solved crimes in big cities, remote islands, and everything in between. In some cases the suspects all know each other, but in some cases they don’t. They all have elements of the cozy dynamic though.

image credit: clearviewlibrary.org

I think most of us here can agree that murder is a very bad thing. (really, really hoping no one disagrees with that!) So why should watching a film or reading about murders being solved be soothing? Well, I think the importance lies in the being solved part of that sentence. Things on screen or on the page get pretty bad. An innocent (or not so innocent…) person(s) is murdered. People around them, usually the people the victim(s) trusted most, had reason to want them dead. Within the immediate pool of suspects and bystanders there are likely to be a number of secrets, lies and betrayals that will be uncovered. As a reader/viewer and armchair detective I don’t know who to trust. But from the first page, or the first image onscreen, I know it will all be uncovered. That’s not to say everyone will have a happy ending. But the case will be solved. I’ll know who was responsible, and why. It will make sense.

Over the last few years, I’ve felt like very few things make sense: the pandemic, civil unrest, ecological disasters… We can and should hold our lawmaker’s accountable. But we usually can’t look at any one person and say “it was all his fault.” Even in cases where there is a single perpetrator, we’re realizing that there are systems of circumstances that are involved in what they do. But a fictional mystery is comforting because it really is that simple. The killer did it. Maybe other people are culpable in some way too, or maybe not. Even if justice can’t completely be restored in these stories, something is usually set to rights at the end. There’s a sense of stability and a restoration of order.

In an article for Psychology Today, David Evans actually compares the way that murder mysteries work to the way that fairy tales work for children: “Several years ago, there was some very significant work that psychologists did, suggesting that the fairy tales children read have a very helpful effect on their emotional lives. The psychologists found that the fairy tales gave children a format that allowed them to deal with their fears and traumas and be less troubled by them.” He suggests that mysteries serve a similar function for adults. “Murder mysteries may give us hope by telling us stories that begin with evil events, but call forth the efforts of people who can rise to heroic heights and reassure us that, with great effort, evil can be overcome. We love murder mysteries because they are redemptive, they give us hope, and help us move from fear to reassurance.” Leaving aside the fact that I believe that fairy tales are appropriate for all ages (see here and here for more about that), and that fairy tales serve purposes other than just comforting children, I agree with what he’s saying.

There are certainly mysteries that don’t give comfort. If I want a mystery that will soothe me, I don’t look to writers like Gillian Flynn, Tana French or Stieg Larsson (in some cases, I’ll enjoy their work for other reasons, but comfort isn’t one of them.) But it’s nice to know that if I need to be soothed I can pick up an Agatha Christie novel, or turn on an episode of Murder, She Wrote.

Top Ten Tuesday: Things That Make Me Pick Up A Book

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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April 2: Things That Make Me Pick Up a Book

  1. It’s by one of my favorite authors. There are authors who are pretty much automatic reads for me:  new books by Susanna Kearsley, Kate Morton, Kate Forsyth, Margaret Atwood, Juliet Marillier, Diana Gabaldon, Sara Donati,  and older stuff by Daphne DuMaurier, Mary Stewart….and I’m starting to notice that most of the authors  who are automatic reads for me are female…
  2. 81vgodosbvl._ac_ul436_It has an intriguing title. Case in point: I recently picked up Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters by Mark Dunn.  I haven’t read it yet, but  the wordplay in the title (and the corresponding pictures on the cover) caught my attention.

 

 

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_3. It was recommended based on another books that I loved. For example, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield was recommended based on my love of Jane Eyre and Rebecca. I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale too.

 

4. It involves a genre or trope that I love. I have a weakness for all things gothic. I love a good fairy tale retelling. Time travel, dual timelines, magical realism etc. I can’t get enough!

5. There’s a film/tv adaptation coming out that looks promising. This seems pretty self explanatory, but I like to read the book first. Of course 9 out of 10 times the adaptation fails to live up to the book, but it’s still helped me discover some good books.

6. Popularity. This can be a double edged sword. Sometimes something is popular and it deserves to be. But sometimes hype can make my expectations hard to live up to. If a book is getting a lot of buzz, I’m drawn to it, but I try to keep my expectations modest.

51r0lxqtqll-_ac_us218_7. It’s about books. I love a book featuring a bookish character. I feel an almost immediate sense of kinship. I often like nonfiction books about books.

 

 

8. It was recommended by someone I trust. There are bloggers and friends who I trust because I know that we often have similar tastes.

9. It has a pretty cover. Yes, I know I’m not supposed to judge books that way. And yes, sometimes a pretty cover hides a not so great book. But somehow I fall into the trap again and again.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The above quote is from Albert Einstein. He was a fairly intelligent fellow himself.

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Last week, @theorangutanlibrarian shared this article (Five reasons to stop reading your children fairytales now) along with some humorous responses as to why it was absurd. But even though the advice in the article is troubling, people listen. Keira Knightly and Kristen Bell are among the people who have listened to this advice. While I think that looking at artistic/literary material through a critical lens is always worthwhile, I think that this trend  is troubling because the lens through which it looks at the material is flawed.

Yes, there are troubling, sexist tropes in Disney films and in the fairy tales on which they’re based. But banning them is not the answer. For one thing, forbidding children to read/watch something is just guaranteeing that it will be more interesting to them. Have people really not figured that out by now? Children will seek it out, especially if it’s something as universal and commonly referenced as fairy tales. But if they seek it out themselves, parents will have lost the opportunity to make those troubling elements explicit and discuss them with kids. Instead of having that critical lens, the children will only have the lens that’s given to them in the story/adaptation.

But beyond that, some of out problems with these stories come more from perception. I discussed that a bit in this post.  You could look at Cinderella as a  girl who waits around for a prince to save her. Or you could look at her a survivor of an abusive environment, who never loses her characteristic good nature. Instead of perpetuating the cycle of abuse, she’s kind to even the lowliest mice. Why not highlight that when a child wants to read/watch Cinderella? Maybe speculate as to why her stepmothers and stepsisters would be so cruel to her (are they in pain? was someone cruel to them?). Present it as a story about the ways that people respond to cruelty.  Point out that while Cinderella was tormented by her step family she had the loyalty of all those to whom she’d been kind.  Point out that her stepmother wanted one of her daughters to marry the prince, and that she could have had that if she accepted Cinderella as her daughter. Show them that it’s better to be kind even when it doesn’t seem like a reward is imminent.

The same can be done for other fairy tales. Yes, you could see The Little Mermaid as a woman who changes who she is to impress a guy. But you could look at her as someone who was so fascinated by another culture that she she made sacrifices to live among them. Snow White could be seen as a foolish girl who takes gifts from strangers. But you could also see her as someone who escaped a threatening situation. She was a princess who had probably never worked a day in her life, and in order to survive, she rolls up her sleeves and takes a job cooking and cleaning for seven men. Is it troubling that men kiss sleeping/comatose women in these stories? Point that out to kids! They can understand from an early age that touch is only OK with consent.

But there are so many fairy tales out there in which a female character takes an active, even heroic role. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle saves her father by going to live with the Beast. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the princess goes on a quest to rescue her prince. In The Snow Queen the girl travels to the frozen north to save her male friend. In The Six Swans the princess endures years of silence and hardship to free her brothers from a curse. In Hansel and Gretel, Gretel outsmarts the witch and saves her brother. Disney hasn’t adapted all of these as films, but there are other adaptations out there. Why stop with Disney? Why not expose children to all that fairy tales have to offer?

Frozen may be loosely based on The Snow Queen but it changed a lot. If you have a kid who enjoyed Frozen maybe read the original story with them. Check out some of the more faithful film adaptations. There’s the 1950’s Russian cartoon that was dubbed in English by Sandra Dee and Tommy Kirk.  Or check out the 2002 miniseries with Bridget Fonda in the tile role.

If they like Frozen, introduce them to another wintery fairy tale with a kick-ass heroine. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon we see the princess go on a long quest to save the prince.  While there’s no Disney film, there is a live action film adaptation called The Polar Bear King. Compare it to the story. Compare the heroine of this story to Gerda in The Snow Queen. Ask your kids who they think is braver?

There are several film adaptations of Hansel and Gretel. The 1987 Cannon Movie Tales film with Cloris Leachmann is fairly child friendly.  There’s also a 2003 film featuring Lynn Redgrave. Or why not introduce your kids to opera while you’re at it? This film uses stop-action animation with Kineman dolls (a precursor to claymation) and lavish sets as a backdrop for Englebert Humperdinck’s opera.

Actually some of the fairy tales with female agency are ripe for adaptation. This was the only film version of The Six Swans that I could find!

And why limit your kids to the traditional Western canon? There’s a whole world of cultures that have their own fairy tales. Some of those are thematically similar to the ones that we’re familiar with. Do some research and draw parallels with kids. Appreciate the diverse world in which we live!

My point is that instead of conflating Disney’s fairy tale films with fairy tales in general, separate the adaptation from its source. Kids can appreciate from a very young age that there is more than one way to tell a story. Introduce them to stories that Disney hasn’t yet adapted to show that there are many values that are espoused in fairy tales, not  just the ones that get mainstream adaptations. Let them watch Disney films. Point out the good in them and make the bad explicit too. Instead of banning things that are difficult, raise your kids to be critical thinkers. Don’t just “throw out” stories that have endured for generations.

 

 

 

Mini Persephone Readathon: Day 2

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Well, I breezed straight through Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day in about 36 hours! Much like the film it inspired it’s delightful. In some ways, it had a lighter than air quality that the film lacked.

The novel was written in 1938, a year before the beginning of WWII. The film, made in 2008, has an awareness that these characters are living under the looming specter of the coming war. While things are breezy for the characters on this particular day, they’ll be facing the Blitz in the next few years. The film’s Miss Pettigrew and her love interest, Joe, are old enough to remember WWI, and have some idea of death and destruction that are imminent, while the younger characters were small children when WWI ended, and find the coming war exciting.

All of this larger historical context is absent in the novel. We’re given hints that both Miss Pettigrew and Joe have seen difficulties in the past, but it’s nothing that we learn anything more about. Because Winifred Watson (presumably) couldn’t see the future when she wrote the novel, none of this is addressed. Yes, a reader with an awareness of history knows that this historical moment holds a lot of significance, which I think is why the film decided to address it directly. But as a result, even though the film was a screwball comedy, it had some darker undertones. The book, on the other hand, is a simply a comedy or strange bedfellows, witty misunderstandings, and smart dialogue.

For some of the optional challenges:

In Six Words: Describe your current Persephone read in 6 words: fizzy, frothy, funny, optimistic, charming, light-hearted.

Quote This: Share a quote from your current read

“All the men send you orchids because they’re expensive and they know that you know they are. But I always kind of think they’re cheap, don’t you, just because they’re expensive. Like telling someone how much you paid for something to show off.”

Watch This: Give a TV or film recommendation based on a Persephone book

Well, based on this one I’d recommend the film version of Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, certainly. Aside from that, I’d suggest several other screwball comedies of the era. Bringing Up Baby came out the same year as the novel, and has a similar plot in that it involves a stuffy professor who has a wild, out of character day with a free-spirited nonconformist. Ball of Fire is also about a sultry, vulgar, siren who stirs up the lives of seven fusty academics and teaches them about living. It Happened One Night features a spoilt, rebellious rich girl, who is thrown through a day and a night of trains, busses, and hitched rides with a journalist hired by her father to bring her from Florida to New York to rejoin her fiance.

All of these had a certain effervescence due to the time they came out. In the 1930’s the world was going through the Great Depression. Audiences sought to escape from their troubles in movie theaters (Miss Pettigrew considers movies her one guilty pleasure) and these comedies gave them a chance to experience a glitzy world, full of quick talking characters, witty banter, and romance farce.

Thanks again to Jessie @ Dwell in Possibility for hosting this readathon and being my unofficial Persephone sponsor!

25 Bookish Facts About Me

I saw this on someone else’s blog and decided to copy it, because why not? Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery after all.

books-bookstore-book-reading-159711.jpeg1. I don’t like ebooks. I mean I’ll read them when they’re free, or really cheap, but they feel less like they’re mine. I’ll actually feel less like I’ve read a book if I read it in ebook form. If I love a book that I’ve read as an ebook I have to buy a physical copy.

2. I hate it when publishers change the size/shape/design of book series mid-series. I’ve actually re-purchased certain books so that they’re all consistent. Which probably doesn’t go a long way toward discouraging publishers who want to make money…

3. I can’t stand when publishers release box sets of series that haven’t been completed yet. I remember seeing a lot of box sets of Harry Potter 1-6 just before the 7th book came out. Why would anyone buy a six-book set of a series they know will be seven books? Then you’ll be stuck with a lovely box set, and an odd book out!

3. I hate movie tie-in editions. Even if I like the movie poster, it doesn’t belong on the book.

4. If I enjoy a film adaptation of a book before reading the book, I’ll still read the book, but I’ll worry about not coming to it “fresh”. I never worry about going into movies fresh though.

5. I’ve never really embraced audiobooks. I don’t dislike them, I just don’t usually opt for that format.

6. Reading in a car, train, bus or other moving vehicle doesn’t give me motion sickness. I tend to do a lot of reading while traveling.

7. I always have a book in my purse. If the book I’m reading doesn’t fit, I have a back up “Bag Book”. I dread the thought of being stranded somewhere bookless.

8. I dog-ear pages. I know, I know, it’s one of the worst bibliophile sins…

9. I love used books. I feel like I’m getting someone else’s history with the book.

10. When I was about nine years old I got the chicken pox on the same day that Ann M. Martin (of The Baby-Sitter’s Club) was doing a signing at a nearby bookstore. I didn’t show my mom the first pock marks until after the signing so that I wouldn’t have to miss it.

11. I had about a million fairy tale anthologies as a kid. I liked to compare and contrast the different tellings (as in, “the Grimm version is  much scarier than the French version…) I was about four or five when I was into this. I was a weird kid.

12. A book has to be pretty bad for me not to finish it. Usually, my craving for closure is such that I’ll endure a boring read in order to have it.

13. I’m a conflicted re-reader. There are so many books that I want to revisit, but I’m afraid that they won’t hold up. And there are so many books out there that I haven’t read yet. Can I justify spending more time on the ones that I have read?

14. There is no genre that I absolutely won’t read. There are some genres that I tend to dislike, but I’m always willing to make an exception for a great book.

15. Books actually, physically feel different to me once I’ve read them. It’s hard to explain how. They feel weightier.

16. I currently own 19 books that I haven’t read yet. That’s actually not too bad for me!

17. I almost never read a book immediately after it’s released. There are a few exceptions to that though.

18. I tend to read most in the evenings before I go to bed. Of course, this is dangerous, because a really good book will keep me awake with Just One More Chapter Syndrome.

19. I come from a long line of compulsive readers. My grandparents were all avid readers, my mom was a literature major in college and is interested in most things, and I struggle to remember moments of my childhood when my dad didn’t have a book in his hand.

20. Literary Characters Who I Wanted To Be As A Kid: Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Pippi from Pippi Longstocking, Jo from Little Women, Anne from Anne of Green Gables, and pretty much every princess in a fairy tale.

21. I don’t oppose writing/underlining in books, but unless I’ve never been one to do that unless I was reading something for school.

22. I didn’t read Harry Potter until college. For years I stayed away based on the “if it’s popular I probably won’t like it,” mentality.

23. I don’t feel guilty about reading “guilty pleasures” but if I’m reading in public I prefer to read something serious or literary. That way complete strangers might think I’m smart.

24. Authors I’ve Met: Amy Hest, Toni De Palma, Libba Bray, Mary Jane Clark, Joyce Carol Oates, Russell Banks, Edmund White, Peter Straub, Jennifer Weiner, Kate Forsyth, Nova Ren Suma, Gail Carson Levine, Paul Watkins, Bradford Morrow, Peter Sourian. Most of these were 1-2 sentence meetings but a few were people with whom I had actual discussions and/or took classes.

25. I’ve wanted to write books for pretty much my entire life.

 

I’ve Been…

  • pexels-photo-260485.jpegBeginning a week off from work. Yes!
  • Getting a cold just in time for vacation and the holidays (not so much fun!) and spending the past 3 days indoors resting.
  • Watching Christmas movies from the great (The Shop Around the Corner, Christmas in Connecticut) to the not so great but fun anyway (A Christmas Prince, Window Wonderland) and breaking it up with Christmas episodes of TV shows.
  • Reading pretty much nonstop since I got off work on Friday. Finished The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth, which was a beautiful (and sometimes very ugly) retelling of the Singing Springing Lark (The Grimm’s Brother’s version of the Beauty and the Beast story) set in WWII, and Seldom Come By, which earned great reviews but turned out to be just OK in my opinion. I felt like certain things were brushed over very quickly, which made it feel unrealistic. I wasn’t able to really believe in the characters, so I didn’t care about them all that much. I just started Precious Bane.
  • Entering my short story Impossible in FairyTalez’s Best Villains competition. It’s only eligible to win if it gets at least 5 likes, so go for it!
  • Wishing a Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and the best of the season to all. 2018 is just around the corner, and hopefully, it’ll be a great one!

25 Random Things About Me

  1. I’m a night owl. I get so much more done in the few hours before I go to bed than I do in the few hours after I wake up.
  2. I’m incapable of using matches properly. I always think the flame will travel down the match and burn my hands. Or I can’t strike the match the right way.  It just doesn’t work for me.
  3. I’m a city girl. That’s not to say I don’t like the country. I do. But I’d rather live in the city. I love the energy. The vibrancy. I love the sense of shared space, which is great for people watching. I love being able to use public transportation and not needing a car (I hate driving!).
  4. I hate my birthday. I don’t hate the date itself. I hate the fact that it seems to come every year, and each time I get a year older. I started feeling this way when I was around ten. I noticed that I was thrust into the double digits without being ready for it. Then a few years later, I was a teenager, even though I never agreed to it. I’ve made my peace with the whole getting older thing, because I dislike the alternative. But the birthday is a reminder that I don’t need. I’ll take the cake and presents though!
  5. I like background noise when I work. When I work on anything really. Music works alright, but I find TV works better. I’ve found that writing with old sitcom reruns in the background is fairly productive. I’ve read a million articles saying that I should set up a quiet, comfortable work space for writing. But I can’t get anything done like that.
  6. I used to be able to recite the movie Clueless by heart. For some reason this seemed pretty cool when I was a kid.
  7. I hate to cook. But I love to eat. Yeah, that’s a problem. I always wished I was one of those people who loved cooking and made everything from scratch. But it’s not me. I’m the person who orders take out.
  8. I love tea. Hot tea. Iced tea. Tea makes everything just a little bit better.
  9. When I’m reading a large book, I always have a smaller book that can carry around in my purse and so I have something to read on public transportation or in waiting rooms.
  10. I don’t wear make up on a daily basis. I’m not naturally beautiful, just naturally lazy. I’d rather get an extra ten minutes sleep in the morning that spend that time putting on make up.
  11. I’m not superstitious, but I like to knock on wood anyway after I say something. Just in case.
  12. I love opera. If I had to pick a favorite I’d probably say it was “La Traviata“.
  13. When I was in sixth grade I wrote an essay comparing Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, and Pretty Woman.
  14. The first author I ever met was Amy Hest. She did a signing at the library when I was a kid. I remember her holding the book that she’d written, and trying to imagine what it would be like to hold a real book that I’d written.
  15. I never went to my high school prom. My classmates told me I’d regret it for the rest of my life. Pretty in Pink told me I’d regret it for the rest of my life. Never Been Kissed warned the same thing. I don’t regret it yet.
  16. Winter is my favorite season. I love being cuddled up indoors with a good book and hot beverage while it’s cold outside.
  17. I love to take naps.
  18. My hair has never been colored, dyed, or highlighted in any way.
  19. I also don’t own a hair drier. I let it dry on it’s own.
  20. I used to act in plays when I was younger. My stage credits include local, school and summer camp productions of Annie, Oliver, The Wizard of Oz, Free to Be… You and Me, and You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown (I am not featured in any of the films  linked). I was never very good! I stopped around college when started to  get more into writing. I don’t like reality much. All of my creative pursuits seem to confirm that!
  21. I am absolutely incapable of painting my nails properly. I can do my left hand OK, but my right hand always turns out to be such a mess that I give up and remove the polish.
  22. I’m really bad at telling my right from my left. Luckily I has a small mole on my right hand or I’d never be able to tell them apart!
  23. I don’t like condiments on my food. Ketchup, mustard, mayo… no thanks to any of it!
  24. I legitimately worry about fictional characters
  25. As a writer I’ve very much a “pantser”. As in I write by the seat of my pants. It’s the only thing I do in life that isn’t carefully planned in advance!

And now you know probably more than you ever wanted to about me! Tell me some random facts about you!

On Anne With An “E”: My Review

Full disclosure: I’ve loved Anne of Green Gables since I was a third grader who first read the book. I wanted to be Anne. I toyed with naming my house but calling myself “Fran of Split Level Ranch” or “Fran of White Walls” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. And “Fran” just isn’t a name that can work with an “e”…  I saw the 1985 miniseries on video (remember VHS?) and loved it. So for over two decades I’ve pictured Anne as Megan Fellows. I had such a crush on Johnathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe. When I heard that Netflix was adapting LM Montgomery’s novel, I was a bit apprehensive. But I was still hopeful. I waited until I had some time to really settle in with the show before I watched and formed and opinion. Now I’ve done that.

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The Netflix series, which has inexplicably renamed Anne of Green Gables “Anne with an ‘E'”, didn’t quite reach the level of the Kevin Sullivan miniseries with their adaptation, but I wouldn’t call this  adaptation wholly unsuccessful. That’s largely because the strong performance of Amybeth McNulty in the lead. She’s able to carry the series and bring it all together. We also get strong work from Geraldine James and RH Thomson, as Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. That goes a long way toward rescuing the series from its follies.

But there seemed to be an insistence on making the series dark and gritty. This compromises it as an adaptation. In the original novel, and other adaptations we don’t really learn much about Anne Shirley’s life prior to her arrival at Green Gables. We know the broad strokes: she was orphaned as a baby, she worked taking care of the Hammond family, and she lived in an orphanage. If we look at the things that happened to young orphans at the beginning of the twentieth century, it’s likely that Anne would have encountered cruelty or abuse at some point in her early life. And given what we know about the nature of childhood trauma, it makes sense that she’d be affected by it. But Anne, as a character, is by nature cheerful and optimistic. Even when in “the depths of despair” she’s always hopeful that her fortunes will change. This worldview is what endears her to the inhabitants of Avonlea.

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While the Anne of this series is more hesitant to trust, she’s still generally what one would call hopeful. But the show itself seems to revel in the bleakness of her past. Before we even meet Anne, we see her being berated and abused via flashback by Mrs. Hammond. We’re treated to several more of these,  in just the first episode. We also see the chaotic, harsh orphanage that she came from.

In the book, Anne’s unconventional outlook occasionally causes difficulty in social interactions. However, her lively imagination, and sunny disposition make her generally popular. In this series’ Avonlea, Anne must deal with bullying from her classmates, and sneering from their parents.  When Anne suffers, we often see a scene that’s gorgeously shot, with the camera lingering on Anne’s panic.  In a way that undermines what makes Anne appealing. Her romantic imagination and optimistic open heart are not only character traits, but survival mechanisms. That interplay can have tension and nuance. But here that’s all drowned out by melodrama.

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Anne was always a sort of proto-feminist. She was smart, and (perhaps by necessity) independent. But here she’s a bit too on the nose. She never misses an opportunity to preach gender equality.  We see Anne get her first period and argue that there should be no shame associated with menstruation. We see her attempt to decide whether to be a wife or to be her “own woman.”  While I agree with Anne’s opinions on these issues, her saying these things makes her seem more at home in the twenty first century than in the beginning of the twentieth.

But my biggest complaint is that character development and nuance are abandoned in favor of  manufactured drama. When Anne is bullied at school she refuses to go. A minister talks to her and tells her that she shouldn’t have to go because it’s more important that she stays home and learns to be a good wife. That might not have been intended as reverse psychology, but it works that way. The problem is that it doesn’t serve much dramatic purpose. It puts an obstacle in Anne’s way (the minister’s disapproval) that doesn’t need to be there. Anne’s own stubborn pride already serves as an obstacle.

We are treated to scenes where Anne save a house on fire. Literally. She runs through, closing the doors and windows, thereby depriving it of oxygen. The combination of foolhardy heroics and quick thinking makes Anne come off as more of a superhero than a bright, awkward, thirteen year old, figuring life out as she goes along.

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Another mistake is made when Gilbert Blythe’s father is killed off. So Gilbert and Anne bond over both being orphans. This was a big sin. In the book, and other adaptations, Anne matures beyond holding a grudge against Gilbert on the basis of childhood teasing. Instead of trusting the character development to accomplish that,  the series invented events to push the relationship.

Anne of Green Gables has endured for over a century because different generations can find things to like about a heroine who is proud, complicated, and good hearted. She’s not just one thing. She’s got different, sometimes contradictory impulses at different points. Seeing these various aspects of her personality play out against the simple life at Green Gables is fun, funny, and poignant. Instead of trusting that complexity and development, this series felt the need to impose a grim tone and sensational events.

I was invested in the show as I watched it. It was enjoyable. Some favorite moments were still there (Anne breaking the slate over Gilbert’s head, the raspberry cordial, Anne saving Minnie May, the dress with puff sleeves). But it wasn’t the Anne of Green Gables that I love.

Is Beauty and the Beast About Stockholm Syndrome? My Answer

As a major Beauty and the Beast geek, and re-telling writer, I thought I’d tackle this question:

In the past few years I’ve seen several articles accusing Beauty and the Beast of being a depiction of Stockholm Syndrome. For those unfamiliar, Stockholm Syndrome is a condition in which a hostage forms feelings of affection for his/her captor. While it’s easy to see parallels if we look at Belle as the Beast’s hostage, the diagnoses of Stockholm Syndrome don’t hold up upon a closer look.

Just a few disclaimers:  1) I am not a psychologist, and this is a layperson’s opinion 2) I am basing this on the popular, well known versions of the tale. I am sure that there are variations on the story where this isn’t applicable.

Stockholm Syndrome is the result of a bond that forms between hostage and captor. It consists of “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”* It is, generally speaking,  a survival strategy;  “the victim’s need to survive is stronger than his impulse to hate the person who has created the dilemma.”** It often begins from a fear that the hostage’s positive demonstrations toward the captor will be perceive as fake. Therefore the hostage convinces him/herself that the feelings are genuine.  It typically develops when the hostage and captor have up close contact, long term, and the captor makes the hostage feel “helpless, powerless, and submissive”. When the captor doesn’t beat, abuse, or rape the captive, it’s seen by the captive as kindness.

In most versions of Beauty and the Beast, the Beast makes it clear that Belle’s life is not in danger. All of her basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc) are seen to. Belle doesn’t see her survival as dependent on pleasing the beast. In many incarnations she does things that could potentially make him angry (from refusing marriage proposals to just telling him off). She clearly doesn’t see her physical safety as being at risk.

Also, Stockholm Syndrome tends to occur when  a hostage and a captor are together constantly in close quarters.  Belle is usually alone for long periods when she chooses to be. She has a general freedom to roam around the castle and the grounds. If she so chooses, she almost never has to see the Beast. Yes, the Beast in the Disney film says “if she doesn’t eat with me, she doesn’t eat”, but she quickly discovers that eating is a matter of going downstairs and getting some food. In some versions of the tale she and the Beast are alone in the castle. In others there are servants around. This is also an argument against Stockholm Syndrome which usually forms when a hostage and captor are alone together.

In fact, Belle’s status as a hostage is arguable. She chooses to take her father’s punishment (whatever that may be) in his place. She agrees to the Beast’s terms for their lives together. When she is released from those terms, she leaves. She returns, in most versions, to prevent some kind of harm from coming to the Beast. She has agency in all of these circumstances. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she’s with the Beast because she wants to be, right from the beginning, she is there based on her own choices.

In the Disney film, Belle even breaks the terms of their agreement at the first sign of potential violence from the Beast. This makes it clear to him that she will not stand for that behavior. When the Beast is hurt saving Belle from the wolves, she returns the favor by saving him. He is injured and vulnerable. She is in the position of power. She could leave him there and head home. She doesn’t. At this point, the hostage/captor relationship hasn’t gone on long enough for Stockholm Syndrome to develop. She’s been in the castle for only a few hours and spent all of about 15 minutes with the Beast. It is a conscious, rational decision to return and help the Beast, in exchange for his help to her.

In most versions Belle makes a choice to befriend the Beast based on the changes in his behavior. Someone experiencing Stockholm Syndrome doesn’t make this decision on a conscious level.  It’s a survival instinct, that is  unnecessary based on the terms of Belle’s captivity. If she had Stockholm Syndrome she would believe that the Beast is kind simply because he doesn’t beat/rape/abuse her. That isn’t the case here.  She makes the Beast work harder than that for her friendship. In most versions he needs to extend kindness and consideration on a regular basis. In some versions the Beast is never very beastly to Belle and always treats her with kindness and consideration. In these, the change comes when Belle is able to see that for what it is- a kind nature.

That’s not to say that the Beast and Belle have a healthy relationship in a contemporary, real world context. But it doesn’t take place in the real world.

When I wrote Beautiful (coming soon!), some of the accusations of Stockholm Syndrome were on my mind. I wanted to write something that would be very hard to interpret that way. I’m very interested in how readers feel I did with this!

 

*Mackenzie, Ian K. “The Stockholm Syndrome Revisited: Hostages, Relationships, Prediction, Control, and Psychological Science”. Journal For Police Crisis Negotiations. 4: 5–21 – via Elsevior.

**Adorjan, Michael, Tony Christensen, Benjamin Kelly, and Dorothy Pawluch. “Stockholm Syndrome As Vernacular Resource.” The Sociological Quarterly 53.3 (2012): 454-74. SocINDEX with Full Text [EBSCO]. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty and the Beast Retold On Film

Maybe I’m a bad Beauty and the Beast fan, but I haven’t seen the 2017 Disney remake of Beauty and the Beast. I will at some point but it will probably be on DVD. I have nothing against Emma Watson and Dan Stevens but they’re not Belle and the Beast to me. I wasn’t impressed with their singing on the soundtrack. And frankly it’s not Disney’s Beauty and the Beast without Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury. I may change my mind when I see it but from what I’ve seen so far (trailers, behind the scenes features, clips etc)  I’ve been unimpressed.

But there are a lot of Beauty and the Beast retellings on film that I feel are well done and worth a watch:

La Belle et La Bete 1946

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This French masterpiece directed by Jean Cocteau is surreal, dreamlike, lavish, and seductive. While it implores us in the begin to watch the film through childlike eyes, it’s tone is actually more mature than one might expect.

Edward Scissorhands 1990

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Tim Burton’s film features a lot of common images; the gothic castle, the angry mob… These are archetypes. But they’re contrasted with a very generic suburban setting that in it’s own way is weirder than anything happening up in the Inventor’s hilltop castle. At the same time we do feel a strong emotional connection between Kim, a lovely high school girl, and Edward, the boy who was invented by an old man who died before he could give his creation hands. As a result, the kind hearted Edward is more dangerous than he intends to be. It’s hard not to feel a bit choked up when Kim says “hold me,” and Edward simply says “I can’t”.

Beauty and the Beast 1991

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Disney’s animated musical adaptation featured singing tea pots, dancing candlesticks, and it worked. I always catch my breathe a bit when the Beast and Belle enter the ballroom and dance, as Angela Lansbury’s voice sings of a “Tale as old as time…”

Penelope 2008

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This film is one of the few Beauty and the Beast stories to feature a gender reversal. Penelope is born with a pig nose as the result of a family curse. Unless she is loved by “one of her own kind” it will never break. Her wealthy parents try to set her up with boys from wealthy families (her own kind) without luck. But when a young heir disowned by his family is brought it, there is a sense that things might be different. It’s never that easy though, and Penelope leaves the shelter of her family home and ventures out into the world. She does find love, but one of the most important things that she learns is that “it’s not the power of the curse, it’s the power you give the curse”

A Werewolf Boy 2012

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At it’s worst, this Korean film features a villain who might as well twirl a mustache and carry a pitchfork. At it’s best it’s lovely and haunting.  Sun-yi and her family move to the country in `1965 so that she can recover from an illness in the fresh air. She meets Chul-soo, a feral boy she finds in her backyard. Chul-soo has a 46 degree Celsius body temperature and an unidentifiable blood type. He can’t speak, and has inhuman strength. It’s presumed that he’s one of the 60,000 children orphaned in the Korean war. Chul soo isn’t a werewolf, or if he is, it’s never stated explicitly. But his behavior can be seen as that of a beast. But a beautiful one.

La Belle et La Bete (2014)

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This visually stunning French film gives the Beast a backstory that I wasn’t overly fond of, but it’s worth seeing for other elements, including the complete embrace of a fairy tale world. I also liked the relationship between Belle and the rest of her family here.