Books that Deserve A Film Adaptation

It seems like every 10-20 years we have film adaptations of the same literary works: Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Little Women… I love those books, and I love some of the film adaptations. But there are so many great books out there that don’t have film versions. Or that have films that are now very dated? How about adapting some of those before remaking Pride and Prejudice yet again? This is my wishlist.

 

Lucy Snowe

Judy Parfitt as Lucy Snow in the 1970 BBC miniseries adaptation of Villette

Villette by Charlotte Bronte- in its own way Charlotte Bronte’s Villette has as many fun gothic trappings as Jane Eyre, but it also has a lot of ambiguity on moral and psychological levels, and even with plot points. It was made into a BBC miniseries in the 1970s but other adaptations have been confined to radio.

preciousbane-rtf

Janet McTeer as Prue Sarn and John Bowe as Kester Woodseaves in the 1989 BBC miniseries Precious Bane

Precious Bane by Mary Webb- In some ways, this has a lot in common with Jane Eyre in the romantic triumph for the “plain” heroine. It also shares a certain emphasis on nature with the works of Thomas Hardy. But this story of a girl with a harelip, whose unconventional personality puts her at odds with both her family and local superstition has its own identity. It was adapted as a BBC miniseries in 1957, and a French teleplay in 1968. The last English language adaptation was again by the BBC in 1989, starring Janet McTeer and Clive Owen, and that is pretty impossible to find (I’ve tried!)

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_The Secret History by Donna Tartt– Set on a college campus in Vermont, a film version of Tartt’s novel could make use of some great scenery. The story itself is a sort of inversion of the whodunnit genre. We know from the beginning whodunnit.  The novel explores the “how”, the “why”, and the “what happens next”.  The book was published in 1992. Film rights were bought for it, but after much development, nothing materialized. The status of the film rights isn’t clear right now.

7598392256_916b4439d3

From the 1921 silent Dutch film adaptation of The Black Tulip

The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas– Yes, we all know The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Count of Monte Cristo and even Queen Margot have notable (and less notable!) film adaptations. But this smaller novel doesn’t have nearly as much adaptation history. There was a silent film made in 1921, a 1937 British adaptation, a 1956 BBC miniseries, and a 1970 British miniseries. But since then the only time this tale of love, jealousy, and obsession has seen screens since then was a 50-minute animated Australian film that heavily adapted the story to make it appropriate for kids, in 1988. So the last time it was seen on screen was 30 years ago in a very bowdlerized form. It’s been closer to 50 years since the last time this story was really told onscreen.

512l4h41zkl-_ac_us218_No Name by Wilkie CollinsThe Woman in White has seen many screen versions. The Moonstone has had its share as well. But this novel rejected as immoral by critics of its time has seen a stage adaptation and a radio adaptation but has never been done on film. However, I think that this tale of two orphaned sisters who are disinherited after the discovery that their parents were never legally married, has some dynamic characters and could potentially make a really fun film.

61oj54linhl-_ac_us218_51l6zlabawl-_ac_us218_The Blue Castle or A Tangled Web by LM Montgomery– LM Montgomery’s few works written primarily for an adult audience are both worth reading and are both deserving of film treatment.

What other books do you think we need to see onscreen?

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!

I’ve Been…

  • pexels-photo-248469.jpegSpending Thanksgiving with my family. Catching up with people, celebrating the new jobs, engagements, etc. I have a suspicion that holidays are a lot like social media: people present the best of themselves. They leave out all the rest.
  • Watching about a million reruns of Friends on Black Friday. I’m not much of a shopper, and shopping in crowds is definitely not my thing. I’d much rather spend the day digesting my food and chillin’ with Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey. I’m breaking up the Friends watching by joining my mom in an occasional old movie like Don’t Bother to Knock and The Lady Eve.
  • Reading A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick. I definitely recommend Chadwick to any historical fiction lover, though I’m not sure this is the one I’d recommend first.  It’s not very fast moving. I’m on page 189 (of 491 pages) and I feel like the plot has just been set in motion.
  • Sleeping. A lot! I didn’t realize how tired I was or how hard I was working until I had a chance to stop. I’m glad I did because I was more run down than I realized. I’m definitely going to try for more balance going forward!
  • Demanding that the FCC maintain Net Neutrality!

Hoping that everyone has had a great holiday weekend!

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant”: Joan Didion and I

I hate following trends. Often an author will become trendy suddenly. Occasionally it happens with a debut novel, or with a film/television adaptation of that author’s work.  Sometimes it’s because the author did/said something particularly notable. But Joan Didion is different. She’s been a literary presence in the US since the 1960s. She’s got novels, essays, memoirs, and screenplays to her credit. But in recent years it seems like everyone and their illiterate cousin is naming her as a favorite.  This happened to coincide with my discovery of her work, so I have to confess that I am a Didion Fangirl.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” -The White Album

I discovered Joan Didion about a year and a half ago. I’d heard the name before, and was vaguely aware of her, but I hadn’t actually read any of her work. But when someone close to me passed away, someone recommended I read The Year of Magical Thinking. I was skeptical. A lot of memoirs about grief, and books about death tend to end in platitudes and cliches. But when I read the book I felt like Didion was articulating a lot of what I felt. She wasn’t sugar coating anything. I didn’t feel like she was trying to “sell” her family’s deaths, or milk her grief for artistic material. It seemed like she had to write about the death of John, her husband of nearly 40 years, in order to understand it. Though The Year of Magical Thinking covers mostly her reaction toward her husband John’s death, her daughter, Quintana, was in a coma when he died. Quintana eventually died a little less than two years after her father. Didion writes about that in her follow up Blue Nights.  Though that book also deals a lot with aging, I again felt as though certain passages seemed to define my feelings perfectly.

0zgcgfyhkvuaxfnkd

I began to seek out Didion’s other work. I read the essay collections Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and The White Album, both of which feature Didion’s explorations of America in the 1960’s.  I also read South and West: From A Notebook, which is essentially Didion’s notes on a trip through the American south in the 1970’s as well as her feelings about her home state of California.  It amazed me how she was able to recognize and articulate vast cultural divides in America back then, when many people only became aware of it fairly recently. I haven’t read many of her novels yet, but I have read Play It As It Lays, which is, perhaps her most famous. It was written in 1970 and adapted as a film about two years later.  It alternates between the internal monologue of the main character, short first person reminiscences from other characters, and a third person narrator.  The main character, Maria Wyeth, is a B list Hollywood actress, recovering from a nervous breakdown. We learn about Maria’s life, how she got to be the person she is, and what Hollywood looked like in the 1960’s (it was as bleak and grim as it was glamorous).

And Joan Didion knows about glamour. She moved to NYC at the age of 20 to take a job with Vogue. She married John Gregory Dunne, a writer for Time magazine, and they moved to California. They picked up work from book publishers and magazines and traveled together on assignments. John’s brother was Hollywood producer, writer, and investigative journalist Dominick Dunne. His children include actress Dominique Dunne, and actor/director/producer Griffin Dunne.

57858

With Griffin and Dominick Dunne at the Broadway opening of the stage adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking.

It was her nephew, Griffin, who produced and directed The Center Will Not Hold, a Netflix documentary about Joan Didion. It’s sometimes jarring to be reminded that Didion’s life is very glamours, given that she seems to have very little pretense. Her prose is not flowery at all. It’s clear, observant, and nuanced. But the people who talk about her life in this documentary include friends like Harrison FordTom Brokaw, and David Hare. One of her dear friends, Vanessa Redgrave, starred in Didion’s stage adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking in 2007. Two years later, in 2009,  Redgrave’s daughter, actress Natasha Richardson died in a skiing accident. In  one heartbreaking scene Didion and Redgrave look through a photo album of Redgrave’s daughter Natasha Richardson’s wedding to Liam Neeson (Joan Didion was a guest). Redgrave comments that she understands The Year of Magical Thinking differently now, having lost her own child.  There’s an unspoken mutual understanding in this scene. These are two women who have lost an adult child. There is no need to articulate their shared grief.

I suppose that’s one of the things I find interesting about Joan Didion. She didn’t grow up among the rich and famous. Her father was in the army, and her family traveled a lot due to his work. But she started rubbing elbows with them early in her twenties. This never seemed to faze her. She doesn’t seem to worship celebrity and glamour, not does she hold it in contempt. It’s simply part of her experience of the world. She connects to other creative people on the basis of shared emotional experience. She connects to the general public in a similar way. People have so many different perceptions of her, and no single one can sum it all up. The internet erupted in 2015 because the literary giant had commercialized herself by appearing in a Celine ad campaign. But I like that she doesn’t hold herself above appearing in the   campaign, but she doesn’t seem to think it very impressive either. When asked why it caused so much commotion, she simply said “I don’t have a clue”.

20didion2-blog427-v2

 

A Little Romance, and A Little Rant

On Sunday morning, I was watching the film She Devil. Side-note, if you haven’t seen this late 1980’s gem starring Rosanne Barr and Meryl Streep, do so right now. Seriously, I’ll wait. I’ve seen this movie about a hundred times, but as I was watching that morning, I noticed something about the occupation of one character and the reading habits of another.

51koxsdedtlIn the film, Rosanne Barr plays Ruth Patchett, a middle class suburban housewife and romance novel enthusiast, whose husband leaves her for another woman. That other woman turns out to be Ruth’s favorite author, Mary Fisher. Mary is everything that Ruth isn’t: wealthy, glamorous, sexy. But as we’re reminded many times, Mary writes romance novels. The film suggests that Ruth is sort of pathetic for being a romance reader, and that Mary takes herself way too seriously for her genre. Several scenes are played to establish that Mary sees herself as a creative person who takes her work seriously, and is wrong  and silly to do so. If the character had been a mystery writer, or a sci-fi writer, would it have been played the same way? Probably not. But then the Ruth character probably wouldn’t read another genre in the same way she devours romance. Because she’s sad and romance novels offer her wish fulfillment that she wouldn’t get elsewhere.

Romance sells more than any other genre. Yet there is the implication that people who read it and write it are stupid and pathetic.   Why? Are that many people really stupid? Or do romance novels and the people who write them get a bad rap? Can romance novels be formulaic? Absolutely. So can just about every other genre of fiction. Can they be stupid? Sure, but again, many other fiction genres have their good examples and their bad. So why the ire?

my-american-duchess_final-175x283Mary Bly writes romance under the pen name Eloisa James. Bly is an English professor and Shakespeare scholar at Fordham University. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a M. Phil from Oxford University, and a PhD in Renaissance Studies from Yale University. She has done a great deal of academic writing under her real name. (She’s not stupid!) When she started writing romance, she was told that she could not have a successful career in academia if it was known that she did this. Once she got tenure she “came out” as a romance writer. She identifies as a feminist, and explains that “the main thing I do as a feminist concerns sexuality: Anything you’re doing for somebody, they should damn well be doing for you. Sex is a two-way street. I get letters saying, I’ve been reading your books and I realize he shouldn’t be talking to me this way and I deserve better.” She argues that “There’s something very upsetting about a book viewed as existing only to titillate women. I’m surprised by the letters I get saying these books raise unfair expectations among women about sexuality. What you’re hearing is this deep anxiety about their personal lives.”

Tess Gerritsen is best known for mystery novels. Her Rizzoli and Isles series found success in a tv adaptation. But she started off writing romance novels. Well, technically, she started off as a medical doctor. She graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor’s in anthropology before getting her MD from the University of California, San Francisco (she’s not stupid either!). She began writing romances while on maternity leave from medicine. She wrote eight romance novels before eventually switching over to mystery. Those books have since been reissued by her publisher. They were written as romantic suspense and they are mostly being sold as thrillers now, which has led to a lot of anger. keeper-of-the-brideAccording to her:  “many mystery readers loathe a romance plot in any way, shape, or form. Some of them even admitted that if an author at any time in her career ever wrote a romance, they wouldn’t pick up her mystery novel. Their hatred borders on the irrational. They think they are too discriminating and literary for such drivel.  A brush of the lips, a longing glance, and BAM! They slam the book shut. They will eagerly devour pages and pages of spattered blood and glistening entrails, but a man and a woman falling in love? Horrors!”

A lot of the people who criticize romance as a genre don’t seem to know much about it. On her blog, Gerritsen cites a comment on a discussion forum: “Romance seems to be pretty much nothing *but* formula the identical formula of the love triangle and the woman who has to “tame” the “wild” man…. Mysteries, while they do have formulae, have a huge field of variations — serial killer procedurals, psychological thrillers told from the killer’s pov. So far as I know, Romance doesn’t have anything like that.” This is an example of prejudice being born out of sheer ignorance. Because romance novels have just as much variation as mystery novels do: historical romance, paranormal romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense etc. Within each subgenre there are conventions, tropes, formulae, and yes, original work.

Now, I’m not saying that mystery readers are under any obligation to like romance. But to dismiss a writer because s/he once wrote romance at a different point in his/her career is absurd.  All it can indicate is that at some point in his her career, this writer gave women “a form of reassurance that someone is interested in ordinary women’s inner lives and is rooting for us to resolve our conflicts about work, love and what we deserve from our relationships” X.  Perhaps some people do find that threatening.

Of course that implies that only women read  romance. That’s not the case. But men who read these books tend to do so in secret. It’s considered “unmanly” to have an interest in a story about a romantic relationship. Why? Well, reading about (or having) feelings is considered somehow feminine by a certain contingent. And there are a lot of myths in popular culture about romance novels and romance readers. One of those myths is that only women read it. There’s a feeling that if it’s for women it must, by definition, be lesser than other genre fiction.

All readers have preferences and that’s fine. But why judge others based on their preferences? I certainly wouldn’t want to be judged based on mine!  I don’t like romance when it doesn’t feel well developed or natural. Many books of other genres tend to shove a love interest into their stories only for the sake of having one. I tend to dislike that. But if a book tells a good story, I don’t care whether it’s romance, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy or something else. I won’t go into the romance section of a bookstore first (I tend to start in general fiction and work my way through the various genres after that, unless I’m looking for something in particular.) because I often find them very formulaic (but as I’ve said, a lot of genre fiction is guilty of the same thing) But I also won’t ignore a book recommendation if the book happens to be in that genre. Nor will I ignore an author because s/he writes/once wrote romance.

I think people like to be able to classify and categorize things. It helps to makes sense of the world. Publishers do the same thing. And it can mean sales- often when they’re not sure what genre a book belongs in, they’ll stick it in romance because it means that there is more money to be made. Maybe it was intended to be written as a romance. Maybe it wasn’t. But the genre doesn’t define the writer. As readers lets all try to be more open minded and tolerant about what others enjoy!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Back To School Freebie

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 22Back To School Freebie: anything “back to school” related like 10 favorite books I read in school, books I think should be required reading, Required Reading For All Fantasy Fans, required reading for every college freshman, Books to Pair With Classics or Books To Complement A History Lesson, books that would be on my classroom shelf if I were a teacher, etc.

This week I’m doing ten favorite  books set in schools

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– Richard arrives at the prestigious Hampden College, where he is accepted among a group of five students who study Classics with Julien Morrow, an eccentric, morally questionable professor. They spend a lot of time drinking they confess to Richard that one night they accidentally killed a man while drunk. By telling Richard what happened, they make him involved in the cover up. But when one of the group wants to come clean, the others decide that they must kill him too. This second murder leads to a slow erosion of what moral standards the group may have had, and ultimately emotional and psychological disintegration. I read this for the first time in high school at the same time that my English class was reading Crime and Punishment. I saw strong parallels throughout the novel (though there are also a lot of allusions to Greek Classics) and even noticed that Richard’s narration quotes Dostoevsky at one point.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– Yes, this was also made into a film. The film adaptation is pretty good but, unsurprisingly, the book is better. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are students at Hailsham, a school in the British countryside, where the teachers constantly remind the students how special they are. When the reader learns what makes the students at Hailsham unique, it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s a slowly dawning realization As you’re reading and speculating what the secret might be, you’re also hoping that you’re wrong. We’re never actually explicitly told the reason but eventually the evidence mounts to the point where it’s impossible for the reader to ignore. That element of slowly dawning horror was absent from the film, unfortunately, where we are told the secret in the first ten minutes. The film does explore the repercussions and implications, but it misses the slow impact of the book.

“I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific, efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh, cruel, world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go.”

41xfknijvel-_ac_us218_3. Villette by Charlotte Bronte– Lucy Snowe, an orphan without resources, travels to France to teach English at a boarding school for girls. At the school Lucy becomes involved in the lives of several teachers and locals, and is visited by the ghostly figure of a nun, who was believed to have been buried alive on the school grounds as punishment for being unchaste. She also falls in love with M. Paul Emmanuel, another teacher at the school. But the lovers are kept apart by several antagonists. This book is said to be based on Charlotte Bronte’s time teaching English at a French boarding school where she fell in love with the (married) headmaster. Initially this experience inspired her first, unsuccessful novel, The Professor. After that book was rejected by publishers, Bronte reworked the material and turned it into Villette, which was her fourth novel.

“What I felt that night, and what I did, I no more expected to feel and do, than to be lifted in a trance to the seventh heaven. Cold, reluctant, apprehensive, I had accepted a part to please another: ere long, warming, becoming interested, taking courage, I acted to please myself.”

51kuavgfel-_ac_us218_4. The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy– Will McLean is a sensitive writer, who attends The Carolina Military Institute to fulfill a promise to his dead father. Even though Will isn’t suited for the brutality of  military training, his success as an athlete, his strong academic performances, and his general integrity, draw the admiration of his classmates and teachers. But the south in the 1960’s is in turmoil over desegregation, and the school has just admitted it’s first black cadet. Will is asked to support and mentor Tom Pearce, who is sure to face some degree of racism. But when it becomes clear that a group of students is trying to run Tom out of the Institute, Will encounters a secret so horrible that it could destroy the Institute.  This is primarily a coming of age story told from Will’s point of view. In his four years at the Institute, Will has a romance, encounters corruption, and must decide what kind of person he ultimately wants to be.

“Evil would always come to me disguised in systems and dignified by law.”

41nfbzo132l-_ac_us218_5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith– This book has been described by the author as an “homage” to EM Forester’s Howard’s End. There are some specific parallels, but the novels are more broadly linked by the depiction of two families with very different values, becoming intertwined. In this case, one family is the Belsey family; Howard (a white Englishman), Kiki (his African American wife), and their children. Howard is a university professor and his nemesis is Monty Kipps, a Trinidadian, living in Britain, with his wife, Carlene, and their kids. In spite of the tensions between their husbands, Kiki and Carlene become friends.  But rivalry between their husbands grows as Howard and Monty clash over university policies, as Monty’s successes highlight Howard’s failures. When their children become involved with the goings on at the university things get even more chaotic.

“He was bookish, she was not; he was theoretical, she political. She called a rose a rose. He called it an accumulation of cultural and biological constructions circulating around the mutually attracting binary poles of nature/artifice.”

61yilvqhjhl-_ac_us218_6. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett– When British widower, Captain Ralph Crewe, who has been living in India sends his daughter Sara, to Miss Minchin’s Boarding School for Girls in London, he pays extra for her to have special treatment. Miss Minchin is openly kind to Sara because of her wealth. But she secretly resents the girl for that very reason. Sara is a generally kindhearted girl who makes friends with the underdogs of the school. But when Miss Minchin gets word that Captain Crewe has died, and lost his wealth just before his death, she is left with a large unpaid bill for Sara’s school fees and luxuries. So she takes all of Sara’s possessions, makes her live in the attic and work in the school as an errand girl. Despite her misfortunes Sara relies of the support of her friends, and her vivid imagination. Meanwhile, Captain Crewe’s friend, and business partner, Carrisford, is guilt ridden. Their business ventures did not fail as they’d believed, but  Captain Crewe and Carrisford were both  ill and delirious. By the time Carrisford had recovered and learned that their ventures had made them both wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, Captain Crewe was dead. He is determined to find Captain Crewe’s daughter, and heir.

“Perhaps to be able to learn things quickly isn’t everything. To be kind is worth a great deal to other people…Lots of clever people have done harm and have been wicked.”

51muf7bj-ll-_ac_us218_7. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss– Kvothe is an innkeeper who was once a swordfighter, magician, and musician, rumored to have killed a king and started a war. When he save the life of Chronicler, a travelling scribe, he agrees to tell Chronicler the story of his life. As a child, Kvothe grew up among a  group of traveling performers. When the troupe acquires a scholar Kvothe gains tutoring in science and “sympathy” (a magic that changes one object by using links with another). When the troupe is massacred, Kvothe is left alone. In order to learn more about the reasons for the massacre, Kvothe manages to get in the University,  where the vast archives might have the information he seeks. But he also makes some dangerous enemies, among the students and the instructors. This is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Wise Man’s Fear. The third is forthcoming.

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.”

51wdp-epb5l-_ac_us218_8. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman– While I might have appreciated this book before I became a teacher, I don’t think it would have resonated with me as much. There are parts where I was reading and thinking “OMG this is my life!” Not literally. Some things have changed in education since the book came out in 1964. But surprisingly few.  When Sylvia Barrett graduates from college and gets a teaching job, she’s eager to shape young minds. She ends up  buried in interoffice memos, lesson plans, and letters to and from students/parents/other teachers/administration. The story is told entirely through these memos, notes, and letters.  If it were written today, the story might be told via emails and texts, but the content would be largely the same. What keeps this book in the humorous (rather than being just depressing!) is that in spite of all of the crap they have to go through, at times the system is redeemed by teachers who genuinely care about their students, and by students who want to learn. That doesn’t always happen and too many fall through the cracks in a flawed system. But when it does happen that connection does happen it’s worthy of celebrating. It’s something that Sylvia learns in the course of this book.  But its also something that she’ll constantly have to remind herself of as she struggles through the days that can feel endless.

“I am writing this during my free . . . oops! un-assigned period, at the end of my first day of teaching. So far, I have taught nothing — but I have learned a great deal. To wit:
We have to punch a time clock and abide by the Rules.
We must make sure our students likewise abide, and that they sign the time sheet whenever they leave or reenter a room.
We have keys but no locks (except in lavatories), blackboards but no chalk, students but no seats, teachers but no time to teach.
The library is closed to the students.”

51qlgj6zojl-_ac_us218_9. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling- Did anyone actually think that I was going to leave Hogwarts off my list? Has anyone reading this list not been “sorted”? I’m a Ravenclaw, in cause anyone was wondering. Haven’t we all had moments where we long for an owl messenger or a hidden train platform? Over the first six books in this series, Hogwarts becomes a character in and of itself. Which makes the fact that the seventh book takes the characters away from Hogwarts all the more jarring. But it’s also interesting to see that they carry it with them wherever they may be. For all the characters, Hogwarts itself, the teachers, the students, the ghosts, and Quiddich becomes ingrained in who they are as people. And I think most readers could say the same.

“What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?”
At this, Hermione stood up, her hand stretching towards the dungeon ceiling.
I don’t know,” said Harry quietly. “I think Hermione does, though, why don’t you try asking her?”
A few people laughed; Harry caught sight of Seamus’s eye and Seamus winked. Snape, however, was not pleased.
Sit down,” he snapped at Hermione. “For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren’t you all copying that down?”
There was a sudden rummaging for quills and parchment. Over the noise, Snape said, “And a point will be taken from Gryffindor house for your cheek, Potter.”

51rvjiougpl-_ac_us218_10. The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray- In 1895, Gemma Doyle has a vision of her mother’s death, just before her mother commits suicide in India, and Gemma is shipped off to boarding school in England. At the Spence Academy for Young Ladies, Gemma must deal with the guilt about not having prevented her mother’s death,  her continuing visions of the future, and being shunned by her classmates. She’s also been followed by Katrik, a mysterious Indian boy who warns her to fight off her visions. As Gemma manages to form bonds with some other girls at Spence, she and her friends are drawn into the other worldly realms of her visions. They look at it as a “bit of fun” before their future as the wives of Victorian men. But there may be more danger than they’re aware of. The realms of Gemma’s visions are powerful, and several organizations want that power for themselves. This trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) has strong echoes of Gothic novels like Jane Eyre or Rebecca. But it also has elements of fantasy that call to mind a more feminist Harry Potter. The series also deals with social issues in Victorian times.  It’s hard to explain but it’s  a lot of fun!

“Felicity ignores us. She walks out to them, an apparition in white and blue velvet, her head held high as they stare in awe at her, the goddess. I don’t know yet what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think I’m beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It’s not that they want to protect us; it’s that they fear us.”

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.

anne-with-an-e-netflix-400x242

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.

53a5404129a36e9b4c96965916a5020a7a99a87e

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.

26689

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.

58549300c77352016131852b6112c6a842f4ba07

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.

Fairy Tale Retellings

Since most of what I write is in the overall category of fairy tale retellings, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites in the genre. If there’s a specific tale that you’re interested in, mention in the comments. I might know some good retellings. I’ve read a lot of these over the years!

Novels

51jx4jtbmpl

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth– Kate Forsyth is amazing. She’s  a long time fantasy author, with a doctorate in fairytale studies.  Her blog has some amazing background information on this book.  This Rapunzel retelling imagines three parallel storylines. Charlotte-Rose de la Force is banished from Versailles due to a series of affairs. She takes refuge in a convent, where a nun tells her the story of a young girl who is sold to a mysterious woman in exchange for some bitter greens. It also tells the story of Selena, the muse of the 16th-century artist Tiziano, who comes to be known as La Strega Bella. These three narratives are braided together (pun intended) to create the story of Rapunzel. Charlotte-Rose de la Force was a real person who wrote the Rapunzel story. Selena is also based on a real historical figure.

“I had always been a great talker and teller of tales.
‘You should put a lock on that tongue of yours. It’s long enough and sharp enough to slit your own throat,’ our guardian warned me, the night before I left home to go to the royal court at Versailles … I just laughed. ‘Don’t you know a woman’s tongue is her sword? You wouldn’t want me to let my only weapon rust, would you?”

51nnz9wc7ql

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon– This is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, that has a sad tone more in line with Hans Christian Anderson than Disney. Princess Margrethe’s kingdom is at war. One day while walking along the beach she sees a mermaid rescue a nearly drowned man. By the time Margrethe reaches them the mermaid has disappeared beneath the waves. As Margrethe nurses the man back to health, she learns that he’s a prince of the enemy kingdom. But she falls in love with him, and certain that he was brought to her for a reason. Margrethe comes up with a plan to bring peace to both kingdoms. Meanwhile, mermaid princess Lenia is also unable to forget the drowning man that she helped to rescue. She’s willing to sacrifice her home, her voice, and her health to become human, to be with him. While the prince is a bit more two dimensional than I might like (I’d like to know why these two women love him so much) the fact that this novel presents both of these characters as heroines and puts them at cross purposes, makes it both poignant and compelling.

“There are people all over the world who carry the mermaid inside them, that otherworldly beauty and longing and desire that made her reach for heaven when she lived in the darkness of the sea.”

51brjista7l-_sy346_

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier– This retelling of The Wild Swans kicks off a six book series, though it can be read as a stand-alone. Lord Colum of Sevenwaters (in Ancient Ireland) has seven children. Six sons and a daughter, Sorcha. When Colum marries a sorceress, Sorcha’s brothers are enchanted. They are turned into birds. In order to break the spell, Sorcha must weave shirts out of nettles for all of them, while remaining silent until her task is complete. The silence becomes more difficult when Sorcha is captured by the Britons and taken overseas. But she continues her task until she is confronted with choosing between saving her brothers and protecting the man with whom she has fallen in love. Sorcha is a wonderful heroine. She’s smart, determined, and strong but not in a cartoonish way. She has weaknesses too, that make her a well-rounded character.

“The man journeyed far, and he heard and saw many strange things on his travels. He learned that – that the friend and the enemy are but two faces of the same self. That the path one believes chosen long since, constant and unchangeable, straight and wide, can alter in an instant. Can branch, and twist and lead the traveler to places far beyond his wildest imaginings. That there are mysteries beyond the mind of mortal man, and that to deny their existence is to spend a life of half-consciousness.”

41oyve54sgl

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier– This is a Beauty and the Beast story that is both fantastic and very human.  Eighteen-year-old Caitrin was trained as a scribe, but she runs away from home to avoid a forced marriage. She takes refuge at Whistling Tor, where Anluan, the crippled, cursed chieftain, lives in a house full of (literal) ghosts. When violence once again threatens her happiness, Caitrin and Anluan must stand together to break a curse.  By making Caitrin find refuge from an outside threat with Anluan, Marillier avoids any possible accusation of Stockholm syndrome, and creates a lovely, bittersweet romance.

“He was seated on the bench now. He had his left elbow on his knee, his right arm across his lap, his shoulders hunched, his head bowed. White face, red hair: snow and fire, like something from an old tale. The book I had noticed earlier was on the bench beside him, its covers shut. Around Anluan’s feet and in the birdbath, small visitors to the garden hopped and splashed and made the most of the day that was becoming fair and sunny. He did not seem to notice them. As for me, I found it difficult to take my eyes from him. There was an odd beauty in his isolation and his sadness, like that of a forlorn prince ensorcelled by a wicked enchantress, or a traveller lost forever in a world far from home.”

51ck4irm2cl

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley– I am one of the rare McKinley fans who prefer Rose Daughter to McKinley’s other Beauty and the Beast story, Beauty. Don’t get me wrong, I like Beauty but I think Rose Daughter’s more innovative while still keeping the spirit of the original story. I can see where the ending of this one might be a bit controversial among fans, but I liked it. We see Beauty have a different relationship with her sisters than we’re used to. They don’t always get along, but they basically care about one another. We also see that Beauty has really fallen in love with the Beast himself, rather than the castle and his wealth etc. There’s more complexity to this telling IMO.

“She looked up at once, pierced to the heart by the sorrow in his voice and knowing, from the question and the sorrow together, that he had no notion of what had just happened to her, nor why. From that she pitied him so greatly that she cupped her hands again to hold a little of the salamander’s heat, not for serenity but for the warmth of friendship. But as she felt the heat again running through her, she knew at once it bore a different quality. It had been a welcome invader the first time, only moments before; but already it had become a constituent of her blood, intrinsic to the marrow of her bones, and she heard again the salamander’s last words to her: Trust me. At that moment she knew that this Beast would not have sent such misery as her father’s illness to harry or to punish, knew too that the Beast would keep his promise to her, and to herself she made another promise to him, but of that promise she did not yet herself know. Trust me sang in her blood, and she could look in the Beast’s face and see only that he looked at her hopefully.”

61fscnkklil

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory McGuire This book tells us straight away that we should forget about the magical Cinderella story we knew. In 17th century Holland, the widowed Margarethe marries a painter and she and her two daughters move in with him and his daughter, Clara.  We follow the story of Iris, Margarethe’s plain-faced daughter, and Ruth, her mentally challenged sister, as they try to find a place for themselves in the world. They learn that deception can be found where you least expect it. But love can be found there too. The “wicked” stepsisters here have complex reasons for their actions. And love is usually at the heart of those reasons.

In the lives of children, pumpkins can turn into coaches, mice and rats into human beings…. When we grow up, we learn that it’s far more common for human beings to turn into rats….

51lw2h2yw2bl-_sy346_

East by Edith Pattou– In the rural villages of Norway it is believed that children inherit the qualities of the direction in which they are born.  Nymah Rose was born facing north. North born babies are intelligent, unpredictable, and likely to leave home and break their mother’s hearts. Rose’s mother lies and says that her daughter was born facing the more obedient east. But destiny can’t be denied that easily. One night a white bear shows up at the house and says that if she goes with him her ailing, poor family will be happy, healthy and rich. Rose jumps at the chance. She lives with the white bear in his castle. But when her actions unintentionally harm her new friend, Rose must go on a seemingly impossible quest to save him. This story blends the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon with Nordic superstition, Norse mythology and Inuit mythology. It moves through the voices of each of the characters to give us a kaleidoscopic view of the world Pattou creates.

“I knelt by the design. Yes, there was the sun rising. But the white form I had always thought to be a cloud was a bear. I could see it now, upside down. White bear, isbjorn, stood for north. Father had not been able to help himself. The truth was there, too. Truth and lie, side by side.”

Short Fiction/Poetry

616foja0kcl-_sx332_bo1204203200_

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter If you’re a teen or adult who loves fairy tales but hasn’t read this collection, please do so right now. I’ll wait. In these stories, Carter retells tales that we all know, Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Red Riding Hood… But she retells them in ways that are humorous, dark, sensual, and subversive.

“There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as these long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption.”

51oe7ps03el

Transformations by Anne Sexton– In this collection, Anne Sexton adapts seventeen fairy tales. Each poem opens with a modern-day prologue in which Sexton, compares the tale to a modern theme. These touch on topics like desperation, memory, insanity, and deception.  Then she retells the story through this lens. Most of these poems have a sense of humor, but there’s an undercurrent of darkness as well.

“He turns the key.
Presto!
It opens this book of odd tales.
Which transform The Brothers Grimm.
Transform?
As if an enlarged paper clip
Could be a piece of sculpture.
(And it could.)”

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

beauty-and-the-beast-1946-granger

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

edward-scissorhands-1

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

beauty_and_the_beast_ballroom

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

penelope9

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

7765915901c6f3c49a39522017f32300

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)

000_beauty_ans_the_beast_000_-_254

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.