Saturday, March 31, 2012

Just in Case You Were Wondering

I haven't said anything for a while because I've had too much to say. I can't pin it down long enough or coherently enough to actually, you know, say it. Life's been getting in the way, and is still getting in the way. Things should be getting much better or much worse around this time next week.

Also, here's a picture I took yesterday:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why I Love What I Love: Witches

In my last post, I mentioned "some" of my favorite witches in all of fiction. Today, I thought it would be fun to talk a bit about exactly why I like them so much. Here goes . . .

Rachel, Alex, and Daphne from the godawful stories I've been writing all my life
 Well, obviously I'm rather fond of my own characters.

Nancy, Rochelle, Bonnie, and Sarah from The Craft
 How can you not enjoy the heck out of this movie? It's the perfect guilty pleasure . . . and by that, I mean it makes for a really great drinking game.

the cool aunt from The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Since it's Marion Zimmer Bradley, this book is chock-full of characters who learn everything there is to learn (i.e., everything she personally has to say) about pseudo-realistic magic, which is kind of sort of not quite exactly the same thing as neo-paganism.
Which is actually genuinely interesting to me (I may not be religious, but I do find religion pretty interesting), but still, considering how most magical characters in this book have to consider the phase of the moon and invoke the Goddess to do something as simple as light a candle, I found it so very satisfying when Morgause (that's the cool aunt's name -- thank you, Wikipedia!) finally realizes, in what is essentially a throwaway scene, that the power is there to use whether you believe in the Goddess or not.
Also, two cool things about this book:
1. You know how Wicked re-told the story of The Wizard of Oz by casting the villain in a more sympathetic light and examining her motivation and all that? Years before Gregory Maguire even got the idea, this book did the same thing for the legends of Camelot.
2. Unfortunately, I can't remember exactly how old I was the one time I read it, but I was somewhere between the ages of thirteen and barely sixteen. At this point in my life, I read so many books that, if my mother had known I was reading, would've horrified her. This one may have been the worst. Even if you turn a blind eye to all the rampant paganism going on, even if you ignore the fact that every single Christian character is portrayed in a fairly negative light, the story is chock-full of, for example: rape, incest, violence, murder, deception . . .

Endora from Bewitched
I'm gay. She's one of my icons. Why are we still talking about this?

Marnie and her family from Halloweentown and its sequels
I'm gay. I like Disney Channel Original Movies. This is a bit of a "duh," you know?
But seriously, I love that moment in the second movie where Marnie convinces her siblings that they can break the rules because their magic is the most powerful in the world. I just, I don't know. The way I think about fiction, that's how magic should work. You're as powerful as you think you are. Need to get through a portal to another dimension even though it's impossible? Well, do you THINK you can figure out a way to do it?

all three generations of Owens sisters from Practical Magic - the book, NOT the movie
Oh, Alice Hoffman is good. She knows how to tell a story. This was the first book of hers I ever read, and it's still hands-down my favorite. I learn new things from it every time I re-read it (which, these days, I only let myself do on very special occasions, because I've read it so many times).
If you've ever heard someone talk about "Magical Realism" and you're not as familiar with the genre as you'd like to be, read this book.
As for the movie . . . it's not that I don't enjoy it, it's just so very different. It's less Magical Realism and more straight-up Fantasy. Which I am obviously okay with, but much of what makes the book so special (example: Kylie's empathy) is lost in translation.

the witch queens from Stardust, either the book or the movie
Oh, sweet Lord, can Neil Gaiman write about magic. He just GETS IT, you know?

Thessaly from The Sandman
Speaking of how Neil Gaiman knows how to write about magic.

Professor McGonagall and Molly Weasley from Harry Potter
Okay, I've loved Molly from the moment we first met her at Platform 9 3/4 . . . but "NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!" is my favorite scene in the entire series. 'Nuff said.
As for Professor McGonagall, she's been my favorite character since the very first time I read the very first chapter of the very first book. This is a series full of characters I love and characters I love to hate, but not once in seven books did anyone ever come close to taking her place.

Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, because yes, she totally counts
Okay, so whether or not she counts as a "witch" is perhaps up for debate, but for me, it's close enough: She's the smartest main character; she has a familiar; all Unicorn Ponies have a knack for some sort of magic, but her knack is for magic in general; she carries the spark that activates the Elements of Harmony; and . . . that's about it.
Alright then. That explains why she's on this list. Now, here's why I love her so much: As the protagonist of a show aimed at little girls, she's an amazing role model. She does magic all the time, right, but she NEVER makes funny rhymes or chants or invokes the power of the sun or anything like that. How does she do magic? She reads, she learns, and then . . . she uses her brain to affect the world around her. If you don't understand why that makes her a greater role model for little girls than, say, Hannah Montana, please go get sterilized right now.

Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary from a short story in a book I read long ago that I think was called Things That Go Bump in the Night
I actually just found this book on Amazon and bought it for four dollars. I haven't been able to track it down for about ten years, so you can just imagine my excitement. All I really remember about this story, other than the sisters' names, is that I effing loved it.

pretty much any witch from any fairy tale ever
This is another "duh."

Rita Repulsa from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Every single episode of the first season kicked off with her motivation: "Aaaaah! After ten thousand years, I'm free! Time to CONQUER EARTH!"
That's right. She's been imprisoned for ten thousand years, and as soon as she's finally released, her first and only priority really is that simple: CONQUER EARTH!
All I'm saying is, that's how you make a memorable villain for a children's show.

Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
Well, duh. She turns into a dragon. Do you realize how much I adore dragons?
Also, I really like the Disney version of this story because, when you think about it, the Prince and the titular Princess are almost incidental to the plot. It's really about her conflict with the three fairies.

Nico Minoru from Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona
Ahh, Runaways. If you like comic books that aren't "typical" superhero stories and you haven't read this one yet, go track it down RIGHT NOW. For a quick summary, it's about six kids who find out that their parents are secretly supervillains -- crime bosses, mad scientists, time travelers, evil mutants, alien invaders, and dark magicians -- and run away and try to stop them from destroying the world. SO MUCH BETTER than it sounds.
Also, one thing I adore about Nico? She's Japanese, but her ethnicity is never an issue. She doesn't, for example, write kanji in the air whenever she casts a spell. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's so refreshing to see an Asian character who isn't all "hey, look at how Asian I am!"

Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick, Agnes "Perdita" X. Nitt, and - most especially - Tiffany Aching from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books
In my experience, there are only two living writers who write about magic nearly as well as Neil Gaiman, and Terry Pratchett is one of them. (Robin McKinley is the other.)
Picking a favorite Discworld book is somewhat like picking a favorite Shakespeare play, but I do strongly prefer the books about Tiffany. I really like the notion that magic and witchcraft aren't quite exactly the same thing: Being a witch means you have to heal the sick and lay out the dead and settle village disputes and a thousand other little things; but then it also means you have to do complicated, nearly impossible, feats of magic to defeat unspeakably evil forces because, well, there's no one else.
Also, the books are literally so funny that you occasionally have to drop them so you can laugh without risk of a paper cut.

Elphaba and Glinda from Wicked by Gregory Maguire
As I explained in my last post, these two have bugged me since the first time I ever saw The Wizard of Oz, so this book (which, by the way, I read at least a year and a half before the musical was a thing) was such a relief.
And the sexual subtext certainly didn't hurt.

certain characters from Robin McKinley's Sunshine
Yeah, "certain characters." That's all I can say without revealing some pretty massive spoilers. All I'll tell you up-front is that this is a book about a baker who gets kidnapped by vampires. But there are a few things I can say . . .
1. Robin McKinley is famous for re-telling fairy tales, and she's ridiculously good at that, so it was nice to see her write about magic in a more contemporary setting. (Well, okay, not so much "contemporary" as "post-apocalyptic.")
2. Most of the time in vampire fiction, the existence of vampires is a huge secret. That is most definitely not the case here: Every car company in the world has an anti-vampire ward worked into their logo. That's just fascinating, isn't it?
3. There's one scene where . . . um, a magic handler (no one is actually called a "witch") tells another character who knows a bit about magic that she's just done something impossible. (I know this is sort of confusing, but seriously, I would hate myself if I spoiled ANYTHING.) The response is basically, "You couldn't have done that if you had been told that it was impossible."
4. I will always always always love this book for the following line: "You are not consumed by the darkness because you are full of light."

the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus
How can you not love this movie? Seriously?

Frau Totenkinder from Fables by Bill Willingham et al
Once upon a time, fairy tales were most definitely not for children. Fables is an excellent reminder.
So the thing I like about Frau Totenkinder (who, by the way . . . um, if you speak better German than I do, her name is pretty chilling right away) is that, despite potentially being any unnamed wicked witch from any fairy tale ever, she's one of the most heroic characters in the whole series.
Also, her duel with Baba Yaga is that much more epic because we never got to see it.

Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In a list full of "well, duhs," this is unquestionably the biggest "WELL, DUH."
It's common knowledge that Buffy is my favorite TV show of all time, so of course the main character's best friend is going to be one of my favorite characters in all of fiction. That would've been true even if she wasn't a witch. Since she is, though . . . well, as I keep saying, DUH.
I really don't even know what to say. I like Willow and Tara, together and separately, so much that trying to describe exactly why I like them is a bit like trying to explain to someone who's looking right at me that I have dark hair. You know?

Anyway. That was fun.

More later.

Much love,

P.S. You may be wondering why the sisters from Charmed were not allowed anywhere near this list. The answer to that is so long that it may be the subject of a future post. You'd think I would like this show as much as I like Buffy, but you'd be emphatically wrong.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

How and Why I Gave The Vampire Diaries Half a Chance

Long story short: This is all Adam's fault and I may never forgive him.

Long story long:

As any fan who's not completely unobservant can tell you, The Vampire Diaries is "based upon the book by L. J. Smith." Or, more accurately, book series. There are four books, published in 1991 and 1992, that inspired the show: The Awakening, The Struggle, The Fury, and Dark Reunion.

Considering how much I (obviously) love the show, this may come as a bit of a surprise, but I have never given any of the books a chance, and probably never will.

Let's back up . . .

I'm twenty-four years old. It's probably pretty safe to say that I read a lot more than the "average" twenty-four-year-old. When I was twelve, though, I read even more. Picture what Hermione might have been like if Ron and Harry hadn't saved her from the troll and finally befriended her. That's not how bad I was. Picture what Hermione might have been like if she never got a letter from Hogwarts, never discovered that she could do magic, and was stuck in a school that did not even come close to meeting her intellectual needs. That is how much I read. Basically, I only ever did things like go to church or mow the lawn or go to bed at a decent hour* because my parents said I absolutely had to.

So, obviously, I spent more than a little bit of time of at the local library. I was, in fact, there so often that most of the staff recognized me and most of my family, and at least two of them knew me by name. I read whatever I could get my hands on - mostly Animorphs (which, to this day, is still one of my favorite pieces of fiction in the history of fiction), any sort of mystery, M. E. Kerr, Neal Shusterman, Walter Dean Myers, Jean Thesman, Gregory Maguire, Louise Rennison, and Paula Danziger. Even if I didn't actually take it home and read it, I had a passing familiarity with pretty much everything in the library's juvenile fiction/YA section . . . including The Vampire Diaries.

Now, I want to be perfectly clear. I have no lack of respect for L. J. Smith. According to the "paying your light bill" theory of writing talent (Stephen King?), she obviously has enough to fund quite an early retirement, so more power to her. But I never ever felt like reading any of her books because, despite featuring enough occult elements to send my mother into conniptions (which was usually my definition of a rollicking good read), even when I was twelve, they sounded ridiculous. Here's what I gathered from reading the backs of the books and occasionally skimming through them: After meeting her super-hot vampire boyfriend and his dark and mysterious vampire brother who also wants her, Elena Gilbert has a bunch of misadventures that lead to the following complications: She dies. She comes back as a vampire. She dies again. She comes back as an angel. She has different sets of wings that do different sorts of magic. She lives happily ever after or something.

Sorry, but I'm just not going to read that. Unless there's a cute girl (preferably with superstrength) running around killing them and looking like a total badass, I have never cared for vampires very much. Drinking blood is icky.

Fast forward to the fall of 2009. Wont as I am to hang out in bookstores, I was aware that the series had been adapted for television almost as soon as it happened, even though I haven't had "real" TV at home since before I was old enough to drink. So I saw the posters and the tote bags and the re-released actual books (now with actors on the covers) and they brought back vivid memories of my twelve-year-old fed-up-ness; my reaction at the time was basically, "Even if this was a good idea, True Blood already did it better, bitches."

Fast forward again to the very early spring of 2011. My best friend in the world, Adam -- well, okay, he's one of my ten or so best friends in the world; I'm pretty blessed in that department -- had recently come out to me (note that I realized he was gay about three seconds after meeting him . . . in December of 2008) and we were bonding over how much we were attracted or not attracted to this or that actor from this or that TV show, blah blah blah. He very quickly told me that he had just started watching this fairly new show called The Vampire Diaries and fallen heels over head for both of the male leads and I should start watching it so I could fall equally hard. But I told him about how familiar I already was with the books, and how much I was not interested in them, so for a while the subject was dropped.

In the last week of April 2011, my depression, which I had spent basically my whole life denying (note: It probably would have been a lot easier to start dealing with when I was twelve if I hadn't been stuck in such a shitty school at such a crucial time in my life. But that's water under the whatever at this point), spiraled the hell out of control. So I took a medical leave from my job and enrolled in some pretty intense group therapy and found that I had a maddening amount of free time. Which, to be sure, is a very very very good thing. Therapy is exhausting. Even though you look forward to it, you dread going there every day; even if all you do is listen, you spend the rest of the day feeling burnt out. You're not allowed to drink or use drugs, so you have to deal with your feelings all on your own, which is probably fairly new for you (let's face it: if you were more accustomed to dealing with your feelings all on your own, you probably wouldn't have landed yourself in group).

So, obviously, I spent a lot of that free time on the Internet. I finally started watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which was SUCH a good thing -- to make another long story very short, when you're dealing with depression and feeling totally alone in the world even though friends you didn't know you had have suddenly come out of nowhere to tell you how proud they are that you're finally dealing with depression, it does you an insane amount of good to hear that loyalty + laughter + generosity + honesty + kindness = friendship, which is literally the exact same thing as magic -- but there were only so many episodes, you know? They couldn't take up all of my free time.

Anyway, one day I got bored enough to read about the show on (which, if you've never visited, I don't recommend unless you tell someone you're going there first and ask them to check up on you; otherwise you'll still be poring over character pages six days later, and your list of stuff to check out will be about a mile high), where I came across a bit of information that radically altered my entire stance on the show: Bonnie was a witch. She was also the main character's best friend. THE MAIN CHARACTER'S BEST FRIEND WAS A WITCH.

The sound I made when I read this was pretty fricking hilarious.

At this point, we need to talk a bit about my history with witches.

When I was two or three, my mother sat me down to watch The Wizard of Oz. Now, obviously, I was already familiar with the concept of witches -- we've always been a fairly Disney-heavy family, and Mom has this big book of fairy tales from when she was a kid that she made sure to read to all three of her children because she's a good parent like that -- but, up until then, when I heard the word "witch," I mostly thought of Ursula from The Little Mermaid or The Queen from Snow White and got all terrified (note: I was afraid of The Queen, not The Hag; I didn't really start to believe that The Queen was entirely fictional until I was at least seven years old, and for the longest time I honestly believed that she was going to jump out of my closet and eat me whenever I was naked -- yeah, I know, analyze that one).

The Wizard of Oz was different, though, right from the start. I don't know what it was, but something about The Wicked Witch of the West made me fall in love with her right away. I couldn't figure out why she was supposedly so "wicked," either. If a house fell on me and my shoes miraculously survived, I'd certainly want my little sister to have them, and I'd be pretty angry if a total stranger showed up and took them from her.

And then there was Glinda. The Good Witch of the North. Right. Good. SAYS WHO? First she gives the dead woman's shoes to the girl who inadvertently killed her, even though her sister obviously deserves to keep them, then she sends Dorothy off on a quest to meet the Wizard so he can send her home. Then, AFTER THE WHOLE MOVIE HAS ALREADY HAPPENED, she conveniently remembers that, oh hey, the shoes she forced her to steal have the power to take her home whenever she feels like it.

I think it's safe to say that this was the first time in my life a fictional character made me so angry.

I just flat-out did not get it. The "Wicked" Witch was clearly misunderstood and mistreated; the "Good" Witch was clearly a manipulative little snot. Oh, and also? Her dress was tacky.

So, ever since then, I have been absolutely fascinated by the notion of witches in fiction. Good or evil, funny or serious, ridiculously powerful or not so much, pseudo-realistic or entirely made-up, whether they actually call themselves witches or not, their presence in a story almost always ensures that I'm going to enjoy it about ten times more than I would without them.

(For those who are curious, some of my favorite witches include: Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Frau Totenkinder from Fables; the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus; certain characters from Robin McKinley's Sunshine; Elphaba and Glinda from Wicked; Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, Magrat Garlick, Agnes "Perdita" X. Nitt, and - most especially - Tiffany Aching from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books; Nico Minoru from Runaways; Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty; Rita Repulsa from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers; pretty much any witch from any fairy tale ever; Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary from a short story in a book I read long ago that I think was called Things That Go Bump in the Night; Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, because yes, she totally counts; Professor McGonagall and Molly Weasley from Harry Potter; Thessaly from The Sandman; the witch queens from Stardust, either the book or the movie; all three generations of Owens sisters from Practical Magic - the book, NOT the movie**; Marnie and her family from Halloweentown and its sequels; Endora from Bewitched; the cool aunt from The Mists of Avalon; Nancy, Rochelle, Bonnie, and Sarah from The Craft; and Rachel, Alex, and Daphne from the godawful stories I've been writing all my life.)

Sooo, when I finally found out about Bonnie, I fell out of my chair and thrashed about for a second, snatched up my phone, and quickly typed up a text message to Adam: "If you wanted me to watch The Vampire Diaries so much, why the FUCK didn't you mention that the main character's best friend is a witch?!" Always one to take things in stride, he nonchalantly replied, "Elena's best friend Bonnie is a witch. Now watch."

So I did, and I haven't looked back since.

Which you'd think would be the end of this post, and it probably should be, but I feel compelled to mention that the witchcraft is not what kept me watching. As I said, I got into the show while I was going through therapy. It turns out that experiencing fiction and feeling what the characters feel is a pretty excellent way to cope with depression (and quite a bit easier than therapy, although it's obviously no substitute), so it was the (platonic) relationships between the characters that made me go from "alright, I'll give it a chance since there's a witch at the center of things" to "sweet holy Moses, I actually thoroughly enjoy this show!" I really started to fall in love with Elena in the pilot when she follows Jeremy into the bathroom and he tells her that she needs to "chill herself," and my heart melted a little later in the pilot when Stefan said "You won't be sad forever, Elena." So, yeah, there you have it.

Oh, also, the fact that my mother is indirectly responsible for my fascination with witches will always be deliciously ironic. Heh.

More later.

Much love,

*Which, by the way, Mom and David? Do either of you have any idea how often I stayed up reading by the light of my glow-in-the-dark watch? Because it was a lot.

**The movie isn't bad, but it's so different that Warner Brothers could've given everyone different names and probably gotten out of paying Alice Hoffman any royalties without any kind of legal repercussions.