Archive for the Fiction Category

What Women Want – 50 Shades of Grey’s ancient pattern

Posted in Fiction, Politics and Society, Things You Should Hear with tags , , , , , on February, 2015 by melendwyr

For years, people have been gushing over the novel 50 Shades of Grey, and now that it’s a major motion picture people are gushing about that.  Praise or condemnation, it doesn’t much matter – either way, people are talking about it.  It might not be quite true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  For people.  For ideas, for memes, that seems to be the literal truth.

I’ve been monitoring how the book is discussed in various male-dominated circles, and my overwhelming impression is that the people claiming to explain the ‘true significance’ of the novel just aren’t getting it.

50 Shades is a combination of two kinds of fantasy: sex-without-guilt, which like the ‘rape’ commonly found in romance novels permits women to enjoy forbidden/tabooed sexuality without being responsible for breaking the social codes – basically having the cake and eating it – and the fantasy of having a man be so obsessed and emotionally tied to the woman that he can be induced to change his bad-boy nature.

It’s the same basic pattern found in lots of romances. The only difference between this and the standard bodice-ripper is that as more and more forms of sexual expression have been normalized, more extreme practices are needed to give people the frisson of transgressing what’s ‘good’. Go back far enough, and sex we’d consider tame and standard would be kinky and shocking.

Readers get to be titillated by the forbidden, then released from guilt about enjoying the forbidden by having it be treated as a shameful male crime – “It’s not my fault, he tempted me” – then given what they really want.

And what is that, exactly? The medievals knew perfectly well.

Go read Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’.  Or better yet, go listen to Professor Corey Olsen’s Fairie and Fantasy lectures about ‘Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle’ and ‘The Wife of Bath’s Tale’.  And consider how the basic pattern of those works compares to the structure of 50 Shades.

Neil’s Puppet Dreams

Posted in Fiction, Things You Should See with tags , , , on February, 2014 by melendwyr

I have just encountered “Neil’s Puppet Dreams” on YouTube.

WHY WAS I NOT PREVIOUSLY INFORMED

I should probably note:  although clearly this awesomeness should be shared with everyone, it’s not exactly work-safe.  There’s only a tiny bit of inappropriate language in the first video, but they become increasingly NSFW as they progress.  Be discreet!

Who really killed Star Wars?

Posted in Blogging, Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews, Things You Should Read with tags , on January, 2014 by melendwyr

Stumbling blindly through the alleys and darkened streets of the Internet, I came across The Caffeinated Symposium, a site full of analysis and opinion on certain aspects of nerd culture, written by David Cesarano.

The tone is a bit more strident than I would prefer, but I found several of the articles quite thought-provoking and well worth the reading – not least among which is “On the Devolution of the STAR WARS Franchise“.  I also found his analysis of why he didn’t like D&D 4th Edition to be useful, if not nearly as polished or sophisticated as the above.

Take a look.

Regarding Star Wars:   I’ve heard many, many people complain about how the prequels (and elements of the original movies, such as the Ewoks) reduced the quality of the series and fell away from what they expected.  The point that they represent Lucas attempting to re-establish his original vision – one that the series moved away from starting with The Empire Strikes Back – is one I’ve come across before. Many people have noted that TESB is dramatically more sophisticated than the first film, and that this was in large degree due to Lucas getting other people to work on the screenplay.  But the link with the “secret history” establishes just what massive fame – and the resulting creative control – caused to go so terribly wrong, rather as happened with Steven Spielburg and his attempts to extend past franchises and even alter the existing versions of past successes.

How many complaints does it take to ban Neil Gaiman?

Posted in Doom, Favorite Words, Fiction, Politics and Society with tags , on October, 2013 by melendwyr

Just one, according to Leah Schnelbach at Tor.com.

The text of Neverwhere had been accepted as part of the reading list for nine years… and, as a result of a single complaint from a single individual who never even met with the teachers involved, it was removed.

Leaving aside the issue of whether the scene in question is sufficiently objectionable to justify removal:  if they were willing to remove it after a single complaint, why did they approve it in the first place?  Did they find it offensive but decided it wouldn’t matter until someone complained?  That’s disturbing in one way.  Did they not find it offensive but were willing to remove it at the slightest hint of parental discomfort?  That’s disturbing in another.

What’s truly tragic is that everyone else, even the student body, seems to have enjoyed the book.  It’s been many years since my horrific journey through the American educational system, but as I recall dimly through the mists of time, enjoying the act of reading was uncommon, and enjoying reading assignments was even rarer.  Removing something that the students liked is a serious loss, both to the kids and to the people whose responsibility it is to educate them.

And why?  A few F-bombs and some light petting.

Thoughts on the Queen of Mystery

Posted in Fiction with tags , , , on October, 2013 by melendwyr

I was watching an episode of Doctor Who, The Unicorn and the Wasp, featuring (Dame) Agatha Christie, the Queen of Mystery.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very good episode, so in between picking the events of the episode to pieces I had some time to ponder.

At one point in the story, a character asserted that Christie would be the ideal person to investigate an actual murder because her novels demonstrated that she “understood people”.  I’m reasonably certain that’s rubbish.  Christie’s mystery novels are excellent, of much higher quality than most works in the genre, but for reasons rather different than the show suggested.

I don’t truly know whether Christie was a master of characterization.  I’ve always found her characters stereotypical, almost to the point of gentle parody.  But who at this point can say whether people were like that at the time she wrote about?  Particularly in such a conformity-loving society as Great Britain was, or so I’m told.

Christie’s genius lay in misdirection.  Many of her novels, and as far as I’m concerned all of her best ones, involved taking advantages of the assumptions and prejudices of her readers.  This isn’t exactly something she pioneered – it was a technique going back way before “the butler did it!”  But she mastered it.  There is a very good reason Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None are classics, and particularly popular and well-known classics at that.

Writing a compelling and entertaining text, much less a mystery, takes very different skills than investigating a real crime, in almost the same way being good at playing a doctor in a television program doesn’t qualify you to practice medicine.  It’s not quite an equivalence:  there are certain kinds of cleverness that are necessary to write a good book that would probably stand you in good stead if you tried to solve a mystery.  But still, they require very different skill sets.  Like stage magic, the audience doesn’t want to be able to figure it out, it wants to be awed by cleverness taking place right under its nose.  Christie was very, very good at lexical legerdemain.

I sometimes wonder if the insight she had into her readers’ psychological blind spots lead her into contempt.  I know the books she wrote late in her life crossed over from possible implicit critiques to explicit, outright mockery.  Perhaps she became weary of writing the same tricks over and over again in order to satiate the endless desire of the public for more books.   I like to think that the books she wrote under pseudonyms were some comfort to her.