How the Last 300 Years Have Changed Fairy Tales

Movie Poster: Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters

In high school I remember having to sit through a Disney cartoon rendition of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1994) for a unit we were doing on fairy tales. It told the usual story – Goldilocks comes to the bears’ house, tries the porridges, the chairs and the beds, falls asleep, and then runs away when the bears come home. Unfortunately, in this version they extended the story. Goldilocks and the three bears become friends. Then an evil circus man captures the bears and Goldilocks must save and free them. Oh, and since it’s Disney, they also add an obligatory annoying sidekick animal to provide some comic relief. I think it was a rabbit.

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Burning, Starving and Maiming: Nursery Rhymes Without Happily Ever Afters

Original Illustration from Struwwelpeter

We all know fairy tales can be a little violent and frightening, despite the fact they seem aimed at children: wolves eating people, children getting poisoned or abandoned by evil stepmothers. However, a year or two ago I was made aware of a German children’s story – a kind of nursery rhyme – that I found more disturbing and amusing than any of the fairy tales I’d heard. And, since I’m in Germany at the moment, I got to thinking about it again. Continue reading

The Power of “What If?” Premises in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Image: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

There’s no doubt that a really good “what if?” scenario – a fascinating premise that envisions a society or world with a pivotal difference to our own – is a big hook for a speculative fiction book or film. An intriguing premise will almost always entice me to go see the film at the cinema, particularly a science fiction film.

On the whole, science fiction does these “what if” scenarios really well (especially dystopian sci-fi), and the concepts are memorable. I’m sure many people could guess which popular science fiction films the below scenarios refer to: Continue reading

Confessions of an Audiobook Convert

Image: iPhone with Headphones on Bookshelf

If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be looking forward to mundane things like morning commutes and chopping onions, solely because that meant I could binge on an audiobook… well, I wouldn’t have told you you were crazy, but I’d probably have nodded and smiled and filed you away in the weird person trying too hard to sell me something category. I’d have maybe agreed to give the whole “listening to a book” thing a try, but it would have been grudgingly and with scepticism.

In fact, I’d say I had a definite prejudice against audiobooks, even though I’d never listened to one. Why? As an aspiring author, I’d started going to readings.

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The ‘Ye Olde’ in Epic Fantasy: 6 More Archaisms and Why Authors Use Them

Image: Beowulf Manuscript First Lines

First Lines of BeowulfWikimedia

Last week I listed some English archaic forms often seen in epic fantasy novels: things like “here be dragons” and “unsavoury louts they were” and “prithee”. This week I’m continuing with a few more ‘ye olde’ words fantasy authors like to throw into the mix, as well as having a look at why they do it.

So without further ado, and again with the help of Susan Mandala’s Language in Science Fiction and Fantasy: The Question of Style, here are the remaining 6: Continue reading

The ‘Ye Olde’ in Epic Fantasy: 5 Archaisms Explained

Here Be Dragons Map

The other day I found myself explaining the word ‘wont’ to someone. Not the contraction ‘won’t’, but rather its apostrophe-less unrelated twin:

Wont
adjective: accustomed, used, given, inclined. e.g. “As he was wont to do”
— New Oxford American Dictionary

In other words, the one almost no-one usesI believe I was attempting to add a vaguely historical flourish to a comment I was making. Unfortunately the person I was speaking to was German, and wont turned out to be a word they hadn’t yet added to their English vocabulary (can’t blame them really).

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Lightsabers and Blackouts

Image: lightsaber

We almost look forward to power outages in my house, because we have a tradition.

It started a couple of years ago. A thunderstorm plunged large parts of Brisbane into darkness for several hours. We’re in the subtropics here, so this is not unusual. Enthusiastic storms are always keen to down a few power lines. I’ve seen distinctly Independence Day-style cloud fronts roll toward my house, so dark and spattered with lightning that I felt sure the alien spaceship was going to burst through any second. Continue reading

The Battle of the Bookshelves

Bookshelves

Okay, it’s not really a battle. But when you look at the two bookshelves in my house – two identical IKEA monstrosities – there’s an obvious difference.

The one on the right is stuffed with autobiographies and memoirs and a myriad of non-fiction… books on economics and the Internet age and business and psychology and politics. Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom cosies up next to Jared Diamond’s Collapse, and a rather ominous book titled The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Continue reading

The Book Was Better: Watching vs Reading Fantasy

Harry Potter DVDs and Books

It’s not uncommon to hear people complain that a film didn’t do justice to the book it was based on. Maybe you’ve even been the person doing the complaining. I know I have.

Sometimes a film version of a book just flat-out disappoints. Sometimes it highlights all the wrong parts, or cuts out your favourite bits, or is badly acted, or poorly shot, or presents the climactic moments in a way that drains them of all tension. Of course on the flip side, some film renditions can be great, and there are several out there that have delighted fans.

However, my intention here is not to bemoan the flaws and strengths of various film adaptations. Rather, I’d like to acknowledge something that I think will always affect our reception of book-to-film adaptations: Continue reading

A Brief Note on the Value of Escapism

Image: Wooden Door Amongst VinesI spend a good portion of my day either reading books, writing books, listening to audiobooks, or watching TV shows and films. I occasionally ask myself if this is wasted time: time spent not living my own life. Should I be having more experiences out in the real physical world rather than in these imagined worlds in my head?

I was pondering this question again the other day, and rather than just dismissing it with my usual “of course it’s not wasted time, fiction is awesome! Escapism is awesome!” response, I thought I’d actually try to pinpoint what it is that makes me feel this way. Continue reading