It’s the last few days before Christmas, which means that the store has been insanely busy. But it also means that more people ask me for recommendations and actually buy them, which makes me feel like I’m doing my job well.
I went to go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on Tuesday, which my review can attest to. What it cannot attest to, however, is the awesomeness of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. I extol the virtues of shoveling chips and queso into your face while watching movies constantly, but the Alamo is so dedicated to crafting a enjoyable, quirky cinematic experience. They have their own unique preshows for each film (along with ads for their own upcoming film series), and they screened the trailer for Dungeons and Dragons, one of my all-time favorite bad movies, before the movie. GLORIANA. I fell in love right then and there. If there’s one in your area, go check it out.
The librarians at the University of Iowa Special Collections & University Archives take a look at the Doctor Who fanzines in their collection.
Hey, remember Caitlin Moran, the author of How To Be a Woman who likes to use slurs and doesn’t believe in intersectionality? At a BFI screening of the new episode of Sherlock (whose queued fans she called virgins on Twitter), she had Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman read mildredandbobbin’s fic “Tea.” Now, having actors read explicit fanfiction about the characters they play is nothing new, as Sarah at Tea Leaves and Dog Ears points out. But I have to disagree with Sarah, who concludes that when the mainstream reads explicit fanfiction, they’re just giggling at the quality of the work (which she characterizes as almost always poor, something that I don’t think either completely true or inherent to fanfiction). There is an element of laughing at the explicit material. After all, they’re hardly ever asked to read truly poorly written gen. For instance, here’s George Takei reading a Sulu/Chekov fic; you’ll notice that the audience giggles and whoops as the content escalates. Even though Takei asks Andy Cohen “What did you hand me?”, he clearly thinks it’s a harmless bit of fun.
What makes this different is that at the Sherlock panel, the piece wasn’t read for titillating giggles and “Oh, what will those fans think of next?”, but to make the actors uncomfortable and to make fun of the piece entirely. (It also looks like Moran may have tricked Cumberbatch and Freeman into reading more explicit material than they were comfortable with; heck, Cohen specifically told Takei what his excerpt was, and that’s actually pretty tame.) What is making fans angry, as Aja Romano points out in her Daily Dot piece on the subject, is that Cumberbatch dismissed the idea of John and Sherlock getting together as completely ludicrous, something Moffat has said in the past (albeit not in so many words). Hand in hand with Sherlock’s queerbaiting and treatment of its actual queer characters, it just reminds Sherlock fans—queer and straight slashers alike—that the production team not only doesn’t care about them, but actively dislikes them. Which begs the question: who do they think their audience actually is, if it’s not the people who lovingly write fanfiction about it? It’s a complicated little scandal. I think I fall between Sarah and Aja on this, but it’s important to look at all the reactions. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cannonball into the Elementary pool, where I’ve never been made fun of by the production team for hoping Joan Watson’s Mary Morstan is still a Mary, even if it’s not the direction the show is probably going to go.
Once Upon a Time’s latest addition to their pool of texts is The Wizard of Oz, because they can. Check out the Wicked Witch of the West, as played by Rebecca Mader.
Serious Eats finds that, in baked goods, you can’t really tell the difference between artificial and real vanilla extract. This makes me feel a lot better about my pantry.
Juggling the personal with the political isn’t easy in a biased society. We are, even the most diligent of us, influenced by gender, race, and other identities. And we make personal and professional decisions based on a variety of needs and pressures. Judging each other without acknowledging these influences is uncharitable at best and dishonest at worst. A tiny top and a traditional marriage should not be enough to strip a woman otherwise committed to gender equality of the feminist mantle. If we all had pundits assessing our actions against a feminist litmus test, I reckon not even Gloria Steinem and bell hooks would pass muster. Women must be allowed their humanity and complexity. Even self-proclaimed feminists. Even Queen Beys.
Adjust Your Tracking is a documentary about hardcore VHS fans that’s being released in March (although the creators have been screening it around the country). Collector’s Weekly has more, including musings on the films that will never make the jump from VHS to DVD. I am endlessly fascinated by pop culture ephemera, so the plight of those VHSes in particular intrigues me.
Disney has announced Moana, a 2018 movie about a South Pacific princess who loves sailing and goes on a quest to save her family. It will be CG, but I’m happy that Disney is not only going to feature more diverse characters, but also original material. I mean, Frozen is practically original anyway, but you know what I mean.
The always amazing Gallery Nucleus in in Alhambra, California, is currently hosting “Out of the Shire: A Tribute Exhibition to Middle-Earth.” For those of us who can’t make it the gallery, they’ve put the digital preview up online. There are some stunningly gorgeous pieces, like Britni Brault’s “Avarice” and Ted Naismith’s “Boromir’s Last Stand”. And they’re all for sale!
Whatever the ostensible subject of the snark, you’re always really saying the same thing: “Look at me! I am so smart and funny! Not like this stupid person I am making fun of! You should think less of them and more of me!” It almost seems as if you’re trying to hijack all that work they put in, turn it to your benefit instead of theirs. You will suspect me of special pleading because I’ve just written a book, but if anything, I expect this little meditation to net me more mean reviews, not fewer. And, in fact, I swore off nasty reviews before I ever got a book deal. They just started to seem pointless and cheap.
I do think there is a time and a place for shaming behaviors as social mechanisms especially when aimed at the oppressor (like good satire!), but there is plenty of public snark that isn’t aimed at people like that.
Moffat confirms that, had Christopher Eccleston agreed to do “The Day of the Doctor”, he would have been playing the role that went to John Hurt. As much as I respect Eccleston’s right as an actor to not put himself in situations he’s no longer comfortable with (for artistic and for workplace atmosphere reasons), could you imagine? We could have had it all. (Except that mid-life crisis line.)
Swedish artist Elias Ericson’s sweet short comic “Black Clothes” is about being different and a girl standing up for her mother.
Last summer, Noel Murray at the Dissolve looked at The Empire Strikes Back Topps trading cards as a way of generating fandom. After all, filling in the blank spaces is what makes fandom, but you have to have an open map first.
My latest archive binge: Ask About Middle Earth, a wonderful tumblr about Middle-Earth and Tolkien’s legendarium. Check out their post on whether or not the Arkenstone was a silmaril (specifically, the one Maedhros tossed into a volcano), their post on the abandoned sequel to The Lord of the Rings, and their post on the films’ backstory for Arwen’s blade, Hadhafang just to get started.
And a grab bag of Tolkien links found during that archive binge:
- An award-winning essay on sex in Tolkien’s legendarium, “Warm Beds are Good.”
- Another award-winning essay by the same author on Tolkien’s orcs and their legacy in modern fantasy, “An Unnatural History of Tolkien’s Orcs”.
- The One Ring (not to be confused with TheOneRing.Net) has a comprehensive list of changes Peter Jackson’s films have made from the novels. It even has pros and cons attached to each change.
- LiveJournal user km_515 proposes that Tom Bombadil is evil and biding his time until Sauron is vanquished.
- British author C. L. Holland looks at the Gothic elements of The Lord of the Rings.
- faustusnotes at Compromise and Conceit ponders “Tolkien’s Racial Theories” and their legacy in modern fantasy so well I have to quote the conclusion in full (emphasis mine):
It’s unsurprising that an upper class academic from South Africa, writing in the 30s and 40s, should subscribe to a racial model for the creation of his imaginary world. It’s also not surprising that his racial theories would be consistent with Nazi-era racial theories or modern nationalist writing, since all three are drawn from the same source and people at that time were generally supportive of some portion of racial theories of history.
This has obvious consequences for that stream of “High Fantasy” which is highly derivative of Tolkien’s work. Tolkien’s worlds aren’t necessarily popular because of this racial essentialism, but much of the derivative work carries these ideas with it. Some of these notions are comforting for modern writers, some are just easy, and some are fun to play with. But copied whole, they project into the modern literary world a view of race relations which is anachronistic and highly consistent with mainstream conservative views of 60 years ago. They are also congruent with modern fascist politics, which of course holds racial essentialism at its core.
This doesn’t mean that Tolkien’s work is more or less admirable. The timeless appeal of Tolkien’s work as a whole is not due to its political-racial content, but the powerful story elements, the myth-making and the characters. For these elements to maintain Tolkien’s popularity even as the politics underlying the stories becomes anachronistic, they must indeed be very well crafted. This is the miracle of literature – a story whose fundamental social and political basis is no longer valid can still appeal to us, as Shakespeare does, through the power of its non-political elements.
It also doesn’t mean that Tolkien was a fascist or a racist, at least no more than any other upper class man of his time. But most people alive today would consider the politics of an upper class man writing in the 40s to be quite repulsive, and its no surprise that some of Tolkien’s racial theories fit this category. But being a racial isolationist or believing that mongols were inherently inferior doesn’t make Tolkien a fascist, nor does it invalidate his work or even make him a bad person. However, it also doesn’t liberate his work from the obvious criticisms : it promotes a divisive vision of racial separatism and essentialism; and as an influential work in the genre, it has been essential in the reproduction of conservatism in High Fantasy. Critical reinterpretation of this work can liberate modern High Fantasy from the racialist and fascist origins of the genre, without necessarily leading to its political debasement or politically correct caricatures. Just as Tolkien can write an inspiring and great novel with odious racial politics, modern genre writers should be able to liberate the genre from this type of conservatism and still write inspiring and great novels.
A Harry Potter prequel about Harry’s abusive childhood is heading to the West End in 2015. I’ve always been very curious about how speculative fiction can be executed on stage, but this looks like it’s firmly set in the Muggle World.
Due to its sampling on Beyoncé’s “Flawless”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” has been making the rounds again. The sample is genius, of course, but “Culture does not make people; people makes culture” is quite the jaw dropper.
Benjamin Percy, an author who I have told directly to his face sounds like Iorek Byrnison, dramatically reads “Santa Baby” because everybody needs some Christmas horror.
Alan Kister’s new column at The Mary Sue, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., looks at superhero costumes throughout their superhero’s life. This week’s installment was Wonder Woman, because now that’ve gotten Gal Gadot as Wondy, we move onto the next stage of speculation—what is she going to look like?
Paul Rudd will be Marvel’s Ant-Man. I have no feelings on this other than wondering how comedic Ant-Man will be.
At Slate, Michelle Nijhuis’ young daughter demanded that Bilbo was a girl and that she should use the correct pronouns while reading The Hobbit to her. Nijhuis complied (and rendered Gandalf female for good measure), and then reflected on the experiment and her own experience with gender in children’s fiction. I’m all about the power of the reader, and this is such a wonderful way to help your kids. (Also: Angel Coulby is my favorite lady Bilbo, also known as Bramble Baggins.)
It’s been a magical year for BFFs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Celebrate their epic friendship with this Buzzfeed collection of photos of them from this year. Buzzfeed failed to collect their Santa photo from this year, but the Mary Sue has you covered.
Rachel Nuwer at Smithsonian Magazine talks to two Tolkien experts to look at The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I really enjoyed reading about what added pieces had some basis in discarded material for The Hobbit (Tolkien did toy with the idea of one of Thorin’s nephews getting hurt at Laketown, a plot the film uses), and the idea that the Girdle of Melian (which is a serious deep cut) inspired the hallucinatory journey through Mirkwood. One expert does complain about the film’s Arkenstone being too similar to a Silmaril, but I’m terribly fond of the theory that it, in fact, is the Silmaril that got hurled into a volcano (and ended up under the Lonely Mountain), so I’m not down with that.
During a press junket for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Martin Freeman made a joke about raping elves. (Did you know that Tolkien concluded that, while elves aren’t capable of rape, they will die if raped? The more tragedy you know.) I really do enjoy his work, but this is unacceptable behavior. Actors are human and mess up just like the rest of us, but it’s not like we’ve heard him apologize for this—or for any of the other awful things he’s said. It’s important to call out the behavior while personally evaluating if we feel like we can continue consuming media produced by these people.
Here’s the trailer for the Oscars, which features Ellen and a bunch of people in tuxedos dancing to Fitz and the Tantrums. I unabashedly love watching the Oscars, so I am very excited.
Magnificent comedian Chescaleigh comments on whether or not it is possible to be racist against white people. I’d quote it, but I’d end up quoting the entire thing.
Some people got upset that Audra McDonald was cast as the Mother Abbess in NBC’s live remake of The Sound of Music, claiming that a black abbess in 1930s Austria is historically inaccurate and political correctness gone mad. Shannen Dee Williams at Religious Dispatches blasts this thinking to pieces by listing off several black nuns throughout history, including St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese-born nun stationed two hundred miles from the setting of The Sound of Music in 1938.
Added: Tolkien, Race, and Cultural History by Dimitra Fimi (via Ask About Middle Earth)