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Fairy Tales: A History

Fairy Tales: A History

Hansel-and-gretel-rackham

 

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a printing press. Our histories, our cultures, our stories, were passed down in the oral tradition, while sitting around a fire in the middle of the village. Sharing and re-enacting the stories was the primary form of entertainment. Imagine no cable, no movies, no music, no The Walking Dead.

Those stories changed and grew from stories like The Golden Ass, the story of a man’s curiosity and his desire to learn magic, to have it all change when his spell to turn into a bird goes awry when he becomes an ass instead, to the famous Greek stories known as Aesops Fables. As kids, we remember the Brothers Grimm and Mother Goose, delightful or terrifying adventures with talking animals, and fantastic elements. Today we could be talking about Disney.

I’m really more interested in the history of the fairy tale the folk-lore. How they started, what they came to be. Some interpret the fairy tale as solar myths, the idea that the characters are recognized as G-dlike, representing the Sun or an aspect of it and the characters becoming a manifestation of power and strength.

Other experts feel the tales explain ancient customs. The historical fact that many women once died in childbirth. When their husbands remarried, the stepmother competed with the children from the first marriage for resources. We see this in Snow White and Cinderella, as the step mothers do unspeakable things to their step daughters.

So do you enjoy the world of the fantasy? Did you realize it began as child or did you forget the love for things nonsensical, or scary or fantastic. Though the world of the Urban Fantasy and Science Fiction have taken a turn for the popular, the genre itself has been around for a long time. It’s not new. It doesn’t belong to the stereotypical geek. It’s our history, it’s the future.

Do you have a favorite? A story that means something to you or resonates with you on some level? Me, I have two. Cinderella and Mulan for two totally different reasons. As much as the Disney princesses can be irritating and weak, needing a man to save her, I love the story of hope in Cinderella, her intense belief that it will get better. In Mulan, it was the first princess whose story didn’t resolve around finding a man. She took control of the situation and solved her problems on her own. Ironically, it’s a movie based on a Chinese folktale.

 

 

Monday Monsters

Monday Monsters

I delve into the history of the fantastic because it fascinates me. I like to learn a little something about ancient cultures and why they believed in what they believed in. How their creations of the fairy, vampire, werewolf or Frankenstein’s monster all came to be. I use those creatures in my own stories to link my characters to our ancient ancestors who created them as a manifestation of their hopes and fears.

So as part of my burning desire to learn about these creatures, where they came from and why, I’m starting on new Monday project, called Monday Monsters. Every Monday I’m going to share a little something about those monsters and creatures that I’ve come to enjoy. Maybe you will too.

A friend once laughed when I told him I owned the book The Elemental Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. Why wouldn’t I, it’s research, I said. I also own Tarot Cards, but that’s for another time.

So here’s a little peek into the life that I’ve immersed myself into as I craft yet another story seeped in the fantasy. And in honor of Halloween, the first Monday Monsters will be a little bit about Frankenstein.

frankenstein

So what do you do if you’re an author in the early 19th century and it’s too cold to go outside and play with your writer buddies. Mind you, your friends are Percy Bysshe Shelley,  you’re visiting Lord Byron and oh yeah your name is Mary Shelley, but hey. So as it’s too cold to participate in the summer activities you had all planned, you remain in doors and someone comes up with the idea to tell stories. More specifically, who can tell the scariest story of them all.

Her story came out of a conversation the friends had while confined to the indoors, a discussion about how likely it would be that electricity could reanimate a corpse, a corpse created from the body parts of more than one deceased person. The conversation spawned a dream and it was from that dream, that Mary Shelley created Frankenstein’s monster.

It is a story about an eccentric scientist who creates a monster as a result of an unorthodox experiment to reanimate dead body parts with electricity. The story is chilling now as it was when first published in January 1818. Not so much as changed as society must find a way to keep up with science and ask the question should we be doing this and why.

Almost 200 years after it was first published it is still a work that is read; a monster that is still well-known as many works of fiction and movies have been inspired by the original. Think Young Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, Franken Berry So here’s to one of the first horror novels and the genre it inspired. And Happy Halloween!

 

The New Elementals

The New Elementals

avatar

 

Mythical beings, creatures invented, designed or created to explain the world around us. To explain the world, nature, Paracelsus in the 16th century identified four elemental beings, the fundamental building blocks of nature.

  • gnomes, earth elementals
  • undines, water elementals
  • sylphs, air elementals — clouds
  • salamanders, fire elementals

An interesting concept of beings controlling the one thing that we can’t control, the natural world. Many authors approach the idea of controlling the four elements, and if all went up against each other, which element would win? Because each element, could destroy, the flood, the fire, an earthquake, a tornado.

I bring them up as I watch one of my favorite shows. Not necessarily about the elemental, but about those with special powers in which to control the elements around them. If you haven’t watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, I can honestly say, your missing a well written, beautifully drawn telling of the story of a young boy with the ability to control each element. He’s an Avatar, master of each element,  and it is up to him to bring balance to the world after the lengthy 100 year war, in which his people, the air nomads were destroyed.

His name is Aang, a 12 year boy trapped in the ice as the world becomes a dangerous, out of balance place and when he’s brought back, he learns he has only a few months to master and control all of the elements and stop the fire nation from destroying the rest of the world.

I don’t always think of the my kids’ shows as supernatural or fantasy because they are simply the shows my kids watch. Stories with concepts and worlds so unlike our own.

The moral and lessons of the storyline is to bring balance to the world, to become one with nature, bring hope to those living through the war and find a way to win against the aggressors.

I fell in love with the story, with the characters, with the idea of becoming one with the world around us. We are all a part of the world, responsible for maintaining and protecting it.

In the end the Avatar reaches deep inside himself, a bridge between the spirits and the present world creating peace and harmony. For a chaotic mind such as myself, I’d like to revel in that balance.

If you could control an element, which would it be? I’m partial to water, as ironic as that is since I’m petrified of the water. But the fluidity of the water, the way it moves with the water bender, as it lures you into a false sense of security before it floods and drowns you.

Or would you rather create a landslide, fireball or fly through the air?

 

 

 

I’m not Superstitious – Knock on Wood

I’m not Superstitious – Knock on Wood

supersitions

 

As a fan of the supernatural, fantasy and science fiction, I’m always interested in the ancient rituals and traditions of previous cultures where they started and what they mean. So in honor of Halloween I thought I mention a few of these more famous superstitions. Because the funny thing is, I wouldn’t consider myself a superstitious person until I refuse to walk under an open ladder or knock on wood.

So where did these traditions start and why? Well start with the breaking of a mirror. It’s considered seven years bad luck if you do. The tradition starts with the Romans who were the first to create mirrors. Ancient cultures believed that mirrors had the power to steal one’s soul and if that mirror broke, the soul would be trapped. I’ve never broken a mirror so I can’t attest to this superstition but I can tell you after reading The Amityville Horror and playing “Bloody Mary” when I was thirteen, I refuse to look at a mirror in the dark. Irrational fear, I have no problem admitting it.

Again, I will say, I’m not superstitious and then I find myself walking toward an open ladder. So why is it that I will walk around it rather than under it. Honestly, I had no idea this superstition came from early Christian teachings that an object with three points was a representation for the Holy Trinity. So for those who are of this faith, it was considered bad luck to walk under the symbol. Since I’m Jewish, I guess that means I can begin walking under open ladders.

I used to be a dog person, but now I just pet them and move on. I’ve never been a cat person, partially because I’m allergic and partially, you can’t play fetch with a cat. So why is there a superstition about black cats? Why are they considered evil and bad? Many ancient cultures considered them unlucky. In the middle ages, they were associated with witches and some even believed that witches could turn into black cats at night.

So the Chicago Cubs are going to win the world series next year. Knock on wood. I do this all the time, because apparently this is how I ward off evil spirits and I wouldn’t want to jinx my team. An old English folklore explains that if you want to discuss your secrets you can do so inside a wooded area. They could knock on the trees to keep evil spirits from hearing their conversations.

Salt was once a very rare and value commodity. Because it was difficult to harvest, it was an incredibly expense product. Major trading routes were designed to carry salt and people were paid in salt, oftentimes worth more than it’s weight in gold. So because of that it was considered wasteful and therefore bad luck to spill salt.

Step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back. I remember bouncing around cracks in the sidewalk as a kid and was totally surprised when I read that it was actually a rhyme that started as a racist saying; that you would become black should you step on a crack. It similarly reminds me of the old song “Ring around the Rosy” a song referring to the black plaque. It makes me wonder about the other childhood traditions and games we use to play that have such a dark history.
I feel slightly inspired to do more resarch and use what I can in my next story, because frankly we brought with us, from the past, some of the most bizarre, disturbing and fascinating traditions. I can’t wait to see what else I can dig up. Do you have any superstitions? What are they?
The Sidekick

The Sidekick

Superman, Arrow, Batman, Sherlock Holmes, literary heroes with something in common, yeah they all fight evil, stand up for the common man, they act on the belief that justice will be served.  

With all that said, I’m really thinking of the sidekick. You know, that person who hangs around the hero, the character you can far more easily relate to because they’re more like us, the one’s we think we can be like. They hold many roles, these sidekicks do. Oftentimes they act as the comic relief, or the straight man all with the purpose to better the hero, make them more likeable. The character of the sidekick gives the hero a friend, someone to talk to, and someone to assist them in bringing about justice for the victim. They are the confidante, understand and know the character better than he knows himself and offer the hero a mirror which reveals their true selves.  

I know of Batman and Robin, Of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Superman and Jimmy Olsen. But I really know of Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak, at least through the eyes of Arrow the television show that I discovered in the middle of last season. As much as I love Urban Fantasy, I’ve never been much of a fan of the comic book. I find them confusing in that the story is mostly told through the drawings. I far more prefer prose, and all that words bring to the story, but now I digress. What I really think about is the role of those sidekicks and what they offer to the hero, to the story.

Oliver Queen the billionaire playboy. Portrayed as the most unlikable character that cheated on his girlfriend with her sister, before getting shipwrecked on a deserted island where he survived for five years. Flashbacks, reveal a glimpse of the irresponsible, selfish man he once was. We compare his past to the man he’s become and the mission that his father left for him before he died in the boat disaster. He becomes the Hood in order to save his beloved city and take it back from those who wish to harm it. While in the process of protecting his secret, he chooses to let those who once knew him believe that he was still that man.

But through Felicity Smoak, the computer genius sidekick, we catch a glimpse of his other self, for she defends him and the choices he makes. She spends her time assisting him catch the villains with her computer as well as coming up with quick snippets of wit, in the middle of an intense storyline, offering that touch of comic relief.

I often wonder who in The Day of First Sun, is Annie’s sidekick. It occurs to me that maybe the role belongs to Sturtagaard the vampire who offers comic relief or the character to play off us. But that’s not really it. Maybe it’s Cham, her best friend who takes a back seat to Annie. But he’s not the sidekick either. It’s not until I started writing Heavenly Gifts where I really think Annie has found her sidekick. A young Wizard Guard named Emerson, the one who worships the more experienced Guard, the one who’s not quite a full-fledged Wizard Guard, who needs just a little help, who might be able to humanize Annie. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about until just recently. Who will be Annie’s comic relief, who will offer her assistance and who will defend her above all others?

We all need our champions.

Baby’s First Fantasy

Baby’s First Fantasy

the loraxI have a new cousin, he’s three months old. I might take the time to read to him, it might make him bold. Yeah. Dr. Seuss I’m not. Actually it’s been a long time since I’ve had a little one so it makes sense that it would have been a long time since I perused the stories of said Doctor.

So what brings me to Dr. Seuss? It occurred to me as I was researching different forms of fantasy, most of us grew up exposed to the very first type of fantasy story. I never really thought of it, until recently, even as my children in elementary school explored the man and his works, learning about his characters, celebrating his life. And even as I read The Cat and The Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, I never really thought it was more than charming rhythmic words and fantastic creatures. But now I understand there’s something lurking underneath.  

I always contend that stories based in fantasy and science fiction are better able to explore controversial or difficult subjects because in these newly created world, traditional rules, laws and values no longer exist. The author creates new ones. I hadn’t expected that from Dr. Seuss. In several of his stories he explored such topics as environmentalism and the escalating arms race. Who knew?

For instance, in The Lorax (1971), he explores the environment by telling the story of a young boy curious as to why a certain area of his town is so run down. He meets a character known as a Once-ler who for a price, explains to the boy how he cut down the Turffula Tree in order to make his factory bigger. But when he cut down the tree, he brought forth a Lorax, a creature who speaks for the trees because they have no tongues in which to speak for themselves. The moral of the story as the Once-ler discovers, that that unless someone cares, the situation won’t improve.

When reading The Butter Battle Book (1984), its hidden message is about the arms race; in which two hostile cultures named the Yooks and the Zooks, live on opposite sides of the wall, similar to that of the Berlin Wall. The two groups wear different colored clothes and battle each other because one eats their bread with the butter side up and the other with the butter side down. Their disagreement ends in an arms race, each building bigger and stronger weapons, ensuring their mutual destruction.

They aren’t just children’s stories, they explore moral dilemmas told in a in the fantasy setting, new worlds, with new rules. And you thought they were simply delightful children’s stories.

It makes me appreciate the Doctor that much more.

It’s a Crappy New World – Then Why are We So Happy About It?

It’s a Crappy New World – Then Why are We So Happy About It?

hunger games

Utopia, the perfect world, where the sun shines daily, people are equal and no one lacks for anything. While we realize that this is probably never going to happen as each side of every issue have difficulty finding a happy medium, we trudge through our daily lives, going to and from work, schlepping our children from activity to activity, and paying those nasty bills instead of finding Utopia. Okay so our lives aren’t as awful as I just made it seem, but I am getting to my point. We don’t live in Utopia but we also don’t live in a Dystopia either.

For those unfamiliar with that term, think The Hunger Games, think The Walking Dead. It’s the opposite of a Utopia, a world that we wouldn’t want to live in, something frightening and unfamiliar, as a result of  an event, biological or otherwise which leads to the cataclysmic decline in society. Stories are filled with the dehumanization of the person, totalitarian governments, lawlessness. So then, why are these television shows, movies and books so popular?

We are huge The Hunger Games and The Walking Dead fans in our household, classic examples of the dystopian society. In one story line we see the catastrophic spread of a disease which turns the human race into flesh-eating zombies. A society whose only purpose is to run from the zombie monsters and survive.

In The Hunger Games, we’re entrenched in a world that is recovering from a revolt attempted by the less fortunate. Citizens living in the outer districts, being controlled because of The Hunger Games. A world where the government controls the masses by sending children 12 – 18 years of age to the spectacle, where they must fight to death. Who in what society would allow this to happen? How does it get to this? Again, an impossible world that we can only imagine, one that is terrifying and decidedly not where we would want to live.

So again, the question is, why? Why are we so interested in these horrifying societies, unreal and yet manage to hold our fascination? I’ve said it before but I always think it’s easier to solve our real world problems in a world devoid of the rules that we know and understand. Where we can feel that justice is served because we can make our own rules, as needed based on impossible situations because shooting an arrow through the brain of a zombie solves the problem neatly and cleanly.

I think that for us readers and viewers it’s a glimpse into something far more fantastic than our own lives and in a way that’s a little scary. We need something so unbelievable, so frightening, so awful to grab our attention and thrill us, or maybe the questions that these stories pose, allow us to think about the consequences of our actions. Topics and situations that gives us a reason to discuss and conclude something about our own lives. Or maybe it’s a simple as hope. the belief that things can get better if we work hard, think it through and fight for what we believe in. Trust in the people closest to us and care for them through the impossible.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss’s simple gesture to honor a fallen child is turned to hope. And she will use that to protect those she loves as she’s propelled into the face of the rebellion. We cling to the hope as we watch the rebellion move forward and we cheer when she makes the right choice and earns her freedom and the freedom of those she loves.

Hope is different in The Walking Dead, because there isn’t a cure for the zombie disease. It’s about finding a stable environment in which to make a life. a place to be safe. Ironically, it’s the prison. Because they stumble into the now unused prison where they are able to defend their position and remain out-of-the-way of the zombie hordes, it becomes a place worth protecting and fighting for, escaping destruction and loss of more of their new-found family group. It gives them hope.

Or maybe I’m over thinking it and it’s simply a bit of everything wrapped in a warped and wonderful visual experience.

 

the_walking_dead3

 

 

 

Wizard World, Comic Con and Visionaries

Wizard World, Comic Con and Visionaries

geek

I’m either the best mom ever or I’m spoiling my kids and will live with the consequences forever. Or maybe I’m really just a big old geek and like to drag my kids along to things like Wizard World Chicago.

And to think, there are Comic Cons all over the world, big, crowded and entertaining, all about celebrating love of the genre. It all started with a man named Shel Dorf a comic book enthusiast who in the sixties, envisioned a one day convention celebrating that love. He held his convention in 1970 and called it “Triple Fan Fairs,” in Detroit. It was that convention that later moved to San Diego, becoming the juggernaut that it is today.

 What once celebrated super heroes inside the pages of comic books has since grown into this all-encompassing entertainment fest. Not just for the geeks anymore, even people like me who once sat on the outside looking in, who enjoyed yet not fully embraced all that the genre involved, can now become excited to the point of nausea if the right item, actor or character crosses my path. Who knew seeing Jayne’s ugly knitted cap would make me laugh to the point I nearly bought one for myself and now I simply regret not coming home with one. Seriously they were all over the hall. Still scratching your head, think Firefly. Still don’t know it, you need to watch one of the best cancelled shows ever.

jayne's hat

It’s about enjoying and taking it all in. Getting your picture taken with the actor who plays Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead. Yes we stood in line for an hour to get our picture taken, or seeing John Barrowman, the Captain Jack signing autographs and jumping in line, because really who doesn’t want to meet him. And of course I told him I was a HUGE fan. That’s what I said? Well duh. Why else would I be there. I’m such a dork… It’s seeing the costumes of the characters that you enjoy so much and chasing them around the hall just to snap a picture. Well my daughter did, but I kinda made her do it. Yeah. That’s Wizard World. And it’s the regret of not having met a favorite character or buying that soft kitty plush toy, you know the one that sings that song…

John Barrowman

But if you stop and examine it the phenomenon, really think of them, the artists, the writers, the creators, as visionaries, their ability to imagine the world as a different place,. A world that inspires others to create what they’ve dreamt up. And we love them. It’s a chance to play, to imagine and celebrate behind the doors of comic con. Embrace your inner geek.

Prophecy, Choice and Character

Prophecy, Choice and Character

Prophecy is a message given to a prophet, someone who communicates it to others. It’s oftentimes the vehicle for a fantasy plot line.

As a fantasy writer, even I’m not immune to the use of the prophecy. In She Wulf, it is what the story is centered on. Throughout the story, my assertion for Annie is this; do we have to follow through on a prophecy or do we have free will to simply say no. Or because of her character does she simply not have a choice but to accept her new destiny.

 

prophecy girl

The question of prophecy and free will is in more than one series. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, episode, Prophecy Girl I’ve often grappled with that question and wonder what would happen if Buffy simply waits until the next day.

In this episode Giles discovered an ancient book called the Codex, one in which foretells of several different prophecies, all which have come to pass. It tells of Buffy’s death at the hands of The Master.

 

 

Giles: I wish to G_d I were. But it’s very plain. Tomorrow night Buffy will face the Master, and she will die.

But my thought every time I see this episode is this; what if she waits one more day or even an hour after midnight, will the prophecy still hold true. Will waiting allow her to live and still kill the master or will it be her downfall anyway? But it’s her calling as a slayer to fight the Master and ensure he doesn’t rise. For if he did, all forms of evil will break through the Hellmouth and terror will reign. In the end Buffy doesn’t believe she has a choice. She accepts her responsibility and submits to the prophecy.

The other prophecy that always had me wondering came from Harry Potter.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches … born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies …”

—Prophecy made to Albus Dumbledore by Sybill Trelawney

 

harry prophecy

Having not heard the entire prophecy Voldemort doesn’t know for sure which child will bring his end and he chooses Harry rather than his other possible choice of Neville Longbottom. But he marks the child and walks directly into a self-fulfilling prophecy in which one of them will have to die by the other’s hand. Would he, had he not marked Harry his equal, been able to avoid the prophecy and succeed in bringing about his plan?

Having their destinies thrust upon them, both Harry and Buffy accept the prophecy and their role in it, not because of the prophecy but because of their character. For Buffy, she is the slayer, and in the simplest terms, it is her job to stop evil. She is able to do this because she is grounded to life by her friends and her mother. Though Harry is responsible for stopping evil, it is his love for his friends and the memory of his parents that keep him fighting. He accepts his role when he realizes he is the only one who can stop Voldemort and keep those he loves safe.

The prophecy is the story’s catalyst. It propels the characters into their journey one in which they learn about themselves and come into the person they were meant to be and in the end, they discover what they are truly capable of accomplishing.

It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Spoken by Albus Dumbledore.

For Buffy and Harry it is their choices to not run but to fight that make them the characters they eventually become.

 

Star Wars, The Ultimate Fantasy I Swear It

Star Wars, The Ultimate Fantasy I Swear It

When I was nine, my dad asked if we wanted to see a movie called “Star Awards” so new I had no idea what he was talking about. We went anyway and from the minute the words scrolled across the screen and I heard that music, I had a smile on my face. Star Wars just happens to be one of those movies that I can watch and re-watch always entertained always amazed by this simple epic fantasy.

I still contend its fantasy, though most I’m sure would think that Star Wars is a work of Science Fiction, with the blasters, the light sabers, the X-wing fighters. But it’s far more than just the technology that holds the movie together. As in all good fantasy stories, there’s that hero, the one who might be royalty and not know it, the one who is thrown into. All bound by the Force, the magic, the code in which the hero fights his battle. Whether it be to save the princess or the galaxy or return an artifact to the place in which it will always be safe, the outer package of the story makes no difference. These are the themes that bind a fantasy together.

This is the ultimate story of good versus evil, where the hero wears white and the villain wears black, and Han Solo wears both.

This is an epic fantasy, a strange new world, with characters of every shape and size, a medieval landscape in which rules don’t exist. How will Luke Skywalker bring order out of chaos? That is his journey. He is the chosen one.

A story, simple and elegant, rough and primitive, that is almost as old as I am. The nine-year old in me still watches with a smile on my face, simple joy at a story worth re-telling.

 

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