My tween daughter begged me to watch the BBC show Merlin (now streaming on Netflix and Hulu). I was busy. I had things to do. And Season One was, I’m sorry, AWFUL. But when your tween says, “Mom please participate directly in my life” you realize that this is a limited time offer. So I soldiered on, and while I still can’t say that Merlin is a “good” show in the sense of, you know, making any sense, I can say that I’m helplessly addicted to it as of about halfway through Season Three.
I’m planning to write more about Merlin after I finish the show, so this will be short and, frankly, extremely shallow. Let’s be honest here – most of the things I like about the show are things I like for shallow reasons (Arthur, Gwaine, Lancelot). I’m not also not going to list all the reasons this show is not actually very good except to say that it’s as dumb as a bag of hair. But here are five ways the show got me hooked:
1. Those clothes
The clothes are anachronistic and ridiculous but DAMN they are pretty, and ever since Morgana turned evil her hair jewelry has been AMAZING.
2. Those Guys
I know. Shallow. Revel with me. Unleash the female gaze:
I’m not including Merlin here because the actor does a great job of making him a realistic teenager. But he’s a teenager with potential. Like whoa.
Speaking of Merlin:
3. The Subtext
Are they not the cutest???? KISS!! KISS, DAMN YOU!
Dear Arthur, please stop throwing things at Merlin’s head. The abuse makes it hard to ship you guys. And I really want to:
4. The Acting
In Season One, Anthony Stewart Head pretty much had to carry the show himself through sheer force of will. but Between Season One and Season Two everyone must have gone to acting school or made deals with the devil or something because man, these people are KILLING IT.
5. Women Fight and Men Cry (and vice versa).
This isn’t a terribly feminist show. In some ways it is exit and in some ways it’s progressive. It’s pretty standard stuff. But there are multiple main female characters who have their own lives, they pass the Bechdel Test all over the place, and there are some nice surprises. Every main male character on this show, regardless of where they fall on the “macho” spectrum, has cried, openly and unashamedly, at least once. And Morgana and Morgause are warrior women, although lately they’ve been doing more conniving and less fighting, to my great disappointment.
Over at smartbitchestrashybooks.com, I’ll give a full review of Merlin when I finish watching it. In the meantime, my advice is skip Season One and start with Season Two. You’ll catch up. It’s not that complicated. Oh, and did I mention THIS!
During a brief period of my life I had cable T, which was a problem because I spent all my time watching VH1 Pop-Up Videos (remember those?) Brooks had to hang from a wire a lot to make the video and she is terrified of heights. So add ‘BADASS WHO WILL STOP AT NOTHING’ to her list of character traits. Because youtube LOVES ME here’s the pop-up video version:
It was with a great sense of sadness that I finished the third book of The Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb. Three books: Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny, make up the trilogy that follows the struggles and adventures of the Vestrit family of traders, their liveship Vivacia and the characters that change their destinies. In addition to sea serpents, pirates, and politics there are ships that have memories and personalities and are a major part of driving the complex and compelling plot. There is more, but to reveal it all would be to spoil these great books for those who want to read them.
My sadness came in two flavors – the largest part of the sadness was finishing my journey in this world with characters that I had come to care so much about. While there is certainly an intricate and interesting story (actually multiple stories) that moves the books along – the fundamental focus of the books is the characters. Each character is well-rounded and fully developed. Our protagonists make mistakes and disappoint us – even as we cheer them on and hope for them to succeed. The antagonists develop and many learn from their mistakes and hardships and we often end up rooting for them despite ourselves or changing our minds about them entirely. As a reader, it is a rare experience to completely change one’s mind about a character – in these books it happens all the time. This not only happens in a positive direction, where characters who were initially unlikeable learn from their mistakes and became sympathetic, but also in the other, more uncommon direction. At one point towards the end of the third book, a character that we have come to care about through three books does something in his nature but completely unforgiveable. While what the character did was horrible, looking back at it I still experience a frisson of pleasure that the author was able to unpleasantly surprise me but still keep the integrity of the character.
There are numerous point of view characters and because each is so complex we find ourselves caring for them and wishing them well even when we realize that they have done bad things. At a few points I realized that I was supporting multiple sides in the same conflict and couldn’t decide who I would want to prevail. It is a thrilling and unsettling feeling to have as a reader – one doesn’t quite realize how simple our choices usually are in stories until we experience the rare treat of uncertainty and mixed allegiances.
These books are known from their romances, and the romances are good – some better than others. In general, the relationships between the couples develop over time, have their ups and downs, and when they come together it can be deeply satisfying. Like life, no relationship is simple, and the couples have their misunderstandings, disappointments, and differing goals. Some couples work through their issues and end up together, and in some couples one or both partners realize that they are better off going their separate ways. The complexity and variety of the relationships makes each love story compelling and each ending poignant – no matter how it turns out. The most rewarding stories are the most complex – and the resolutions to those stories are gratifying, even if it isn’t happily ever after.
There are several themes that run throughout the books. A main theme is to not look back with regrets, wishing for what might have been, but to start where you are and live life forward. As one character tells another who is mooning over a part of his life that is lost:
You can’t go back. . . . That part of your life is over. Set it aside as something that is finished. Complete or no, it is done with you. No being gets to decide what his life is ‘supposed to be.’ . . . Discover where you are now, and go on from there, making the best of things. Accept your life and you might survive it. If you hold back from it, insisting this is not your life, not where you are meant to be, life will pass you by. You may not die from such foolishness, but you might as well be dead for all the good your life will do you or anyone else.
This theme is reiterated over and over, with multiple characters and multiple regrets. Another theme that recurs is that learning and growth are not possible if you turn over control of your life to someone else or are overly protected. People start learning, growing, changing and becoming strong when they are not sheltered from the hard facts and difficult tasks. As far as themes go, these are pretty good ones, and it is interesting to watch the characters as they grow and change, but it might have been refreshing if there could have been more variation in the themes and outcomes. Seriously, must almost EVERY character learn from their mistakes? More intransigent stubborn fools would have been credible. There is also a strong theme of the importance of women being allowed to be strong and take responsibility for their own lives. The themes are strong but generally don’t interfere with the stories, although after three books read back-to-back the constant repetition of these themes starts to get old.
The smaller part of my sadness upon finishing also arose because of the complexity of the characters and plot. Given the intricacy and ambivalence of the books, at the end the resolutions seemed a little too perfect, the plotlines a little too tied up in neat packages, too many characters redeemed, the good rewarded and the wicked chastened. While satisfying in most conventional ways, the series could have been truly great, if less gratifying, if more threads had been left frayed at the end.
These books are tangentially related to the Farseer trilogy by the same author in that they take place in the same world. However, the relationship is distant – the tone of each series is different and although I read both series within a year, it was not until I was researching for this review that I fully realized that they were in the same world. The Liveship Traders series shows the hand of a more assured writer. I see that there are additional series set in the same world– time to clear the calendar for more reading pleasure!
Between the Lines Book Club is reading Among Others by Jo Walton this month. If you are in the Sacramento, California area meet us at 10:30AM at Arden Dimick Library on Saturday, October 23, 2015 for an in-person chat! Otherwise, leave comments here. Among Others is a coming of age story about a young woman who finds her place in the world through reading. It may or may not also be a fantasy involving faeries, depending on how you look at it.
If you enjoy Walton’s writing, or if you have an interest in the genre of literary criticism, I urge you to check out another book by Walton. It’s a collection of essays called What Makes This Book So Great. In this collection, Walton talks about a huge range of speculative fiction books, as well as some mainstream fiction. In fact, one of her best essays addresses the difference between SFF and mainstream fiction. When she says, “I tend to read everything as SF” I realized that this is true of me, as well, although I’d say “speculative fiction.”
Walton also talks about the pleasures of re-reading and about the rewards and pitfalls of this practice. I loved her invention of “The Suck Fairy”:
If you read a book for the first time, and it sucks, that’s noting to do with her. It just sucks. Some books do. The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading, well, it sucks. You can say that you have changed, you can hit your forehead dramatically and ask yourself how you could possibly have missed the sukiness the first time-or you can say that The Suck Fairy has been through it while the book was sitting on the shelf and inserted the suck…The advantage of this is exactly the advantage of thinking of one’s once-beloved ex as having been eaten by a zombie, who is now shambling around using the name and body of the former person. It lets one keep one’s original love clear of later betrayals.
I recommend this book primarily for fans of SFF but anyone interested in literary criticism should pick it up and read a few of the essays at least. It’s gorgeous writing and Walton always seems like that cool but tough professor who would red ink all your essays but also teach class in a coffee shop and buy everyone snacks.
When I started this blog, my clever plan was to use it to write about all the books I was reading that I can’t review elsewhere. Good news – I’m reviewing books all over the place! You can find me at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Book Page, and RT Book Reviews, as well as SEARCH magazine and, lest we forget, Between the Lines Book Club at Arden Dimick Library. Given all this excitement,here’s something I never thought I’d say:
It’s just barely possible that I can’t read more than 20 books a month. Just barely possible. Not if I’m also taking the time to write about them coherently. And there are other freelance and publishing endeavors I’d like to explore.
So I’m scaling back just a smidgen here at Geek Girl in Love. On Mondays, you will find either posts by myself or guest posts and reviews. On Wednesdays you’ll find links and videos, because they are easy to do and I love telling people I have to browse YouTube “For Work.” On Fridays you will find posts related to Between the Lines Book Club, unless we are on hiatus in which case I may post little snippets of things or (DON’T JUDGE ME) I may take a nap. Who can foretell the future? Not I (zzzzzz).
So – see you Mondays, Wednesdays, and many Fridays! Next Monday I’m going to talk about the five ways the BBC show Merlin has managed to consume my life despite a terrible, terrible first season. THOSE CLOTHES, YOU GUYS. So ridiculous and so pretty. Enjoy this gif of Lancelot until then:
This month Between the Lines Book Club is reading Among Others by Jo Walton. Love comments here or join us in person at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM. Sat Oct 24.
Jo Walton was born in Wales and she speaks Welsh fluently. She moved to Canada in 2002. She’s the author of many science fiction and fantasy books, as well as a recent book of non-fiction titled “What Makes This Book So Great.” Her earlier series were relatively light fare (I’m crazy about them, by the way) and included fantasy (The King’s Peace, Tooth and Claw) and alternate history (The Small Change Series). Her recent series, The Thessaly Series, kicked off with a critically acclaimed book called The Just City. The series asks what would happen if Plato’s theoretical city was actually built, and populated by real children and adults.
Unlike many authors I write about, Walton seems to have led a relatively calm, or at least private life. Her bios are largely lists of awards – Among Other, for instance, is one of only seven books to be nominated for The Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the World Fantasy Award (it won the Nebula and Hugo). Luckily for me, she wrote a bio, she uses on her blog (jowaltonbooks.com), and to introduce some of her works. Here’s Jo Walton’s autobiography:
has run out of eggs and needs to go buy some,
she has no time to write a bio
as she wants to make spanakopita today.
She also wants to write a new chapter
and fix the last one.
Oh yes, she writes stuff,
when people leave her alone to get on with it
and don’t demand bios
and proofreading and interviews
Despite constant interruptions
she has published nine novels
in the last forty-eight years
and started lots of others.
She won the Campbell for Best New Writer in 2002
when she was 38.
She has also written half a ton of poetry
which isn’t surprising as she finds poetry
considerably easier to write
than short bios listing her accomplishments.
She is married, with one (grown up, awesome) son
who lives nearby with his girlfriend and two cats.
She also has lots of friends
who live all over the planet
who she doesn’t see often enough.
She remains confused by punctuation,
“who” and “whom”
and “that” and “which”.
She cannot sing and has trouble with arithmetic
also, despite living ten years in Montreal
her French still sucks.
Nevertheless, her novel Among Others
won a Hugo and a Nebula
so she must be doing something right
at least way back when she wrote it
it’ll probably never work again.
She also won a World Fantasy Award in 2004
for an odd book called Tooth and Claw
in which everyone is dragons.
She comes from South Wales
and identifies ethnically
as a Romano-Briton
but she emigrated to Canada
because it seemed a better place
to stand to build the future.
She blogs about old books on Tor.com
and posts poetry and recipes and wordcount on her LJ
and is trying to find something to bribe herself with
as a reward for writing a bio
that isn’t chocolate.
I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel so this video of all the dancing moments in the shows, set of “Footloose”, was a gift from above. This isn’t the best edited video of all time, but I sure got a kick out of it, and I laughed so hard when Giles started shaking his magic gourd that I fell over. I’m a simple woman of simple pleasures, what can I say.
For a more tightly edited video, here’s a movie mashup of over 100 dance scenes set to “Uptown Funk”
Cherie Priest is an author who has tacked several sub-genres and been a huge influence anthem all. Her Clockwork Century took steampunk out of Victorian England, set it in the American West, and populated it with working class characters, which was not the norm in steampunk at the time. You can find my review of her young adult book, I Am Princess X, here. In Maplecroft, a book I adored, she pits Lizzie Borden and her axe against Lovecraftian monsters. Chapelwood brings Lizzie to Birmingham thirty years later, where strange things are afoot. You can find my review of Chapelwood on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Thank you, Cherie for finding time to do an email interview with Geek Girl in Love!
Your books have a strong Lovecraftian influence. Why is Lovecraft still so relevant and influential today?
Because although his social politics were sometimes wildly problematic, he consistently steered away from the worst of the horror tropes by making his protagonists competent, informed, and credible. Let me put it this way…there are two primary ways to make a story scary: You can make your protagonists weaker than the threat, or you can make the threat greater than the protagonists. Especially in the wake of the slasher flicks of the 80s/90s, modern audiences became accustomed to the former – and all too often that meant pretty young idiots getting mowed down courtesy of their own stupidity. But after a while, that wasn’t scary anymore. It was just messy. I think that’s a significant part of why the big horror bubble of yesteryear went bust.
Lovecraft, on the other hand, gave us characters who behaved in smart, reasonable ways that the audience couldn’t really fault. It’s easy to feel smug when the clueless loser dies in a squicky fashion – but it’s genuinely suspenseful and unsettling when the vehicle character behaves more like WE would, without making dumb decisions or rash choices. (Or so we’d like to think.)
Anyway, that’s my big takeaway from Lovecraft – to make the danger bigger instead of the characters weaker, and I think it’s a big component of his enduring appeal.
Did you know when you wrote Maplecroft that the sequel would take place 30 years later? What led you to such a huge time jump?
Honestly, when I wrote Maplecroft I wasn’t expecting to write another one, period. I really wanted it to be a standalone, but my publisher had other ideas. In the end, though – I’m quite pleased with how Chapelwood came out, even though it wasn’t part of my original plan. As for the time jump, I wrote it that way because I wanted the books to remain independent stories, for one thing; and for another, the Birmingham ax murders were really horrifying and interesting…and they happened to occur in the 1920s.
I felt that Maplecroft and Chapelwood were very different in tone and scope. Can you talk at all about how the books are similar and different, and why?
They’re both explicitly Lovecraftian, but they approach the mythos from two different angles. To oversimplify, much of Lovecraft’s horror can be divided into two camps: the oceanic, earthly horror (terror from below) – and the cosmic, outer space horror (terror from above/out there). Maplecroft draws inspiration from the former, and Chapelwood from the later.
Will there be any further books in this series? Warning: slight spoiler alert ahead!
There are none planned at this time, but I’ll never say never. If the books really take off, I’d be happy to pursue them further; thus the Chapelwood ending – where it is, I hope, clear that the Quiet Society will go on, and Ruth will be part of their future investigations. But ultimately, that’s up to the publisher and to the market. So…if you like the Lizzie books, recommend them to your friends! 🙂
Primer is one of those movies that went under the radar when it came out but has since developed a loyal following, and it shows up all the time on lists of good time travel movies. when it turned up on my Netflix feed, I figured I’d see what everyone was talking about – and it blew my mind. If you want a break from epic, blockbuster, high budget sic-fi, check out this tiny film that packs an amazing amount of suspense and concept into an otherwise small movie.
Primer is the story of four guys (Aaron, Abe, Robert, and Phillip) who are engineers. In their ‘spare time’, they try to build stuff in Aaron’s garage. These early scenes are spot on in terms of character interaction between four engineers who have known each other for a long time – the jargon, the interrupting each other and finishing each other’s sentences, the tensions and tangled history, the jury-rigging parts, the money problems, the complete lack of glamour both at work and in the garage – it feels like a documentary both because of how it’s shot and because the writing and acting is so accurate to the interactions I see between science/tech people in real life. These four guys feel like people who have worked and fought together for a long time. There’s very little exposition here – you have to just try to keep up, and I found it easy to get the gist of what was happening even though I don’t believe I understood a single word. They are out of money, they don’t know what to focus on next, and they are building cool stuff in hopes of a big money-making breakthrough.
In the course of trying to build a device that makes things lighter (or weightless), Abe and Aaron discover that they have accidentally built a time machine. From this point on, the movie is almost a two-person play, since Abe and Aaron don’t want the other guys to know about the machine. Abe and Aaron have to figure out what to do with the time machine and since they are engineers you can bet that “take it apart, burn the notes, melt the parts, and never speak of it again” is not an option that leaps to their minds.
Primer was made for $7000 and it lasts for 77 minutes, although it takes a lot longer to watch it because you have to pause a lot and take notes and say to your spouse, “What just happened?” and then argue about what just happened until you remember that the movie isn’t over yet. You will also have to set aside several days to google “Primer, movie, timeline.” Some movies are confusing in a frustrating way – they feel sloppy. You are pretty sure that what you are watching doesn’t make sense, and never will, and was never meant to. Primer is plenty confusing, but in a tantalizing way. It doesn’t feel sloppy – it feels tight and smart. It expects you to sit down, pay attention, and keep up.
A lot of people love this movie because SCIENCE. I’m an odd duck, because my interest in science is passionate but also superficial. I’m less interested in science than in the process of science, and how scientists think. I loved the lack of glamour in this movie. The grainy film gives it a found footage feeling without having to stick to the rules of found footage and without the curse of shaky cam. The settings are suburban garages, U-Haul storage rooms, and motel rooms. The cold room guy at the University of Texas is actually played by the cold room guy at the University of Texas. The sense of mingled tension and dread and confusion and fascination works for the audience because we are experiencing the tension, drew, and fascination that Abe and Aaron are experiencing. This is a fascinating, weird, unusual movie that does a lot with a little and will keep you googling and debating for days. A+.
I’m so excited that our October book is Among Others, by Jo Walton, because this is one of my favorite books. Among Others is a love letter to reading and to libraries. It is also, depending on how you interpret the book, a fantasy or a contemporary novel. We will be discussing it in person at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento at 10:30AM on Saturday, October 24. You can leave comments here, or, better yet, visit us in person!
Among Others is told in the form of a diary by Mori, a teenage fan of science fiction and fantasy (note: although the book can certainly be appreciated and enjoyed by young adults, it’s not marketed as a “Young Adult” novel). Mori is sent to boarding school after an accident which injures Mori and causes the deaths of her mother and twin sister. Reading books provides her with escape, stability, and a sense of community as she bonds with other fans.
Although Mori is a science fiction fans, I think readers of many other genres will relate to her finding community through reading. It’s also fascinating to see reviewers from different publications approach the book with their own biases – the book is very popular among people who love science fiction and fantasy but also popular with people who prefer literary fiction and who enjoy the strong characterization and the possibility that the magical elements of the book are a combination of metaphor and Mori’s imagination. Here are links to some reviews:
Silvia Moren-Garcia and Paula Stiles are editors of the new anthology She Walks in Shadows, an anthology of Lovecraft-inspired stories by women authors. Silvia and Paula were kind enough to answer a ton of email questions I posed to them about Lovecraft’s enduring legacy, dealing with race in his work, and the fact that duh of course women can write stories based on the Lovecraft mythos. The anthology is available from Innsmouth Free Press.
What inspired this anthology?
Paula: Silvia and I got tired of hearing, “Chicks don’t/can’t write in the Lovecraft Mythos,” and of talking repeatedly about authors like C.L. Moore, who wrote Mythos stories with female protagonists (Jirel of Joiry) during Lovecraft’s lifetime. So, we decided to do an entire anthology of Lovecraft stories, written by and about women. We figured if that didn’t make our point, well….
Silvia: Author Molly Tanzer, who appears in the anthology, can vouch for this: at one point someone on Facebook said women were biologically incapable of writing Lovecraftian fiction.
How did you select the stories for this anthology? What kind of things were you looking for in terms of style,tone, and content?
Silvia: The main interest was to find stories about women, since women don’t really appear in Lovecraft’s fiction. They only get a more prominent role in his “collaborations” with Zealia Brown-Reed Bishop. So there is this odd vacuum.
Paula: Aside from the main premise–stories by and about women–we wanted to get as wide a variety of stories from as wide a variety of women as we could get. Different countries, different cultures, different time periods, different Lovecraft stories and characters used, LGBT characters, different types of plots, different styles, even different types of POV. If you don’t like one story, try another. We wanted to show that women not only can write Lovecraftian stories, but that they can write a variety of them.
Why does Lovecraftian horror continue to have such a huge influence on fiction and culture?
Silvia: Part of it is the open quality of it. People can contribute to this universe in ways you can’t, to say, Lord of the Rings, even if there are LOTR pastiches.
Paula: Well, in some ways, it’s like vampires or zombies–it’s a fad. I was involved with a Permuted Press and other zombie-lovin’ folks a few years ago when zombies were white-hot, published a few zombie stories, some reasonably well-regarded. That kind of thing takes on a life of its own.
But then you look at these fads and they’re perennial. Some tropes and themes come up over and over again. Lovecraft pops up, I think, because he’s almost unique, both in the Pulp Era and today. Sure, he had antecedents, but there’s a bleakness to his work that was brand-new in his time and is rarely paralleled today. Lovecraft didn’t invent the cursed tome or the doomed narrator or even the Thing-I-Can’t-Describe-Or-You-Dear-Reader-Would-Go-Mad, but he did almost singlehandedly invent scientific cosmic horror.
The other thing is…well, I’ll answer that in the next question.
Lovecraft was famously racist and sexist – how might a modern fan approach the more problematic elements of his work without excusing or glorifying them?
Paula: Well, as I said above, this is a corollary to the previous question. First of all, Lovecraft was certainly racist and arguably sexist (though more in the avoidant form of not talking much about women than in actively negative portrayals), in both his public and private writings. But the sexism doesn’t change the fact he was henpecked his whole life. It was also pretty vanilla compared to some of the virulent stuff going on with women in his lifetime (or his views on race, for that matter). Even female writers of the time struggled with a good deal of self-hatred and limited horizons compared to women today.
As for the racism, that’s a lot harder to handwave. While I can find my gender’s being represented by the likes of poor doomed Lavinia Whateley and Asenath Waite irritating, some things Lovecraft wrote about race (and we’re talking about the premise of entire letters or even published stories) were hurtful then and are hurtful now. That said, you’re also talking about contemporaries of Lovecraft like the KKK and the Nazis who not only talked in racist terms, but did some really terrible things to promote their racist views. So, the bar for Worst Racist Ever of the early 20th century is set pretty high (or low, as you fancy the metaphor) and Lovecraft doesn’t even come close to meeting it.
I also find it curious that Lovecraft gets singled out for the sexism and racism labels, when more successful contemporaries like Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs had equally nasty things in their stories that are unpleasant to read today. Conan and Tarzan remain very popular, and people basically gloss over the more problematical stuff.
I think that while he came to conclusions many of his readers find objectionable today, Lovecraft explored the idea of exploring race in horror, rather than just having racist stereotypes for the stalwart Heroes to beat, more deeply than his contemporaries or even writers today. As such, he came up with tools that are still useful today in writing stories from a more diverse perspective. Lovecraft really knew what it was like to be an outsider.
Another thing that makes it easier to use Lovecraft’s work than some of his contemporaries, I think, is that Lovecraft’s protagonists are such losers–neurasthenic little men who aren’t too popular with the neighbors. The winners in most of Lovecraft’s stories are the monsters, the bad guys, the cult leaders, those creepy people who scared him so much. We don’t have to deal with the Myth of White Superiority in Lovecraft’s works, the way we do with Howard’s Conan or Burroughs’ Tarzan. That makes it rather easy to turn it around and write stories where the monsters, bad guys, and cult leaders *are* the Heroes. Or at least the protagonists. In a weird way, in Lovecraft’s original stories, they almost already are. Look at the Hero of “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Look at how much more interesting he becomes when he learns to stop worrying and embrace the racial taint that calls him to the sea.
Silvia: Lovecraft made some sexist statements in his letters early in his life, but he seems to have grown out of it. He certainly recorded his admiration for several women writers, corresponded with women, and thought highly of his mother and aunts, who raised him.
He didn’t outgrow his racism. My research is in eugenics and around this time period scientific racism, eugenics, it was all the rage. You can see IQ tests of the time period where we are “objectively” told that “science” has determined black people and other people who are also racialized, like certain European populations, say Eastern Europeans, are not as intelligent as certain white people. Lovecraft did not come up with these ideas out of thin air.
The important thing when it comes to Lovecraft is two-fold: one, this racism seemed to manifest in a way that was crippling to him. Most racist people can go on with their daily lives without going into fits, like Lovecraft did. His wife describes him basically having panic attacks when he encounters visible minorities on the street in New York. His racism is probably the main element which wrecked his marriage. So it’s something very, very heavy laying on Lovecraft psychologically. And it ties to notions of race, but also of class and manliness. Lovecraft was terrified because in many ways he was unfit, he was that dreaded Darwinian horror.
The other important thing is his biological and racial concerns manifest in his fiction in a way that is not manifested in the fiction of other racist writers. Henry James had some nasty thoughts about immigrants and some of his unpleasant thoughts on Jews certainly make it into his fiction, but it’s all in a very muted way compared to Lovecraft. With Lovecraft it’s very obvious, very palpable and it’s a terror which seems to have a different kind of quality because even though you see a lot of images of evil Asian men, for example, on covers of magazines, it’s a terror that is always ultimately vanquished by the good white hero. But the funny thing about Lovecraft is the good white hero normally perishes.
The Other takes centre stage in Lovecraft’s fiction in a way that it doesn’t with other writers. And it’s a bit like Julia Kristen says in Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. The abjection is about rejection, but in rejecting something you necessarily conjure it. The abject is a threat which threatens to breakdown order but it can never be completely eliminated. We are both drawn to and repelled by the abject and it does not abandon us.
Modern writers can tackle abjection, can tackle Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors, and a myriad of other elements, and they need not do it with the same racist colours Lovecraft used. I mean, to be perfectly honest, *most* of science fiction, fantasy and horror has very racist and sexist roots. I understand this, I know it, I react to it, I produce new stuff. I’m not going to write another “The Queen Bee.” I’m referring to the story by Randall Garrett, published in 1958.
Some white supremacists seemed upset when they viewed a panel on racism and Lovecraft I was in, which was posted on YouTube. Some people are upset we did an all woman anthology. But ultimately Lovecraft does not belong to me or you or anyone. Writers can respond to him in their own way and that’s the beauty of it. We have more than half a dozen POC writers in this anthology writing their version of cosmic horror, of Lovecraft’s Mythos, of Weird fiction. I think that’s awesome.
The first How to Train Your Dragon book (How to Train Your Dragon) came out the year my daughter was born. We love the show and the movies, but they are very different from the book series (which we started reading out loud at bedtime when daughter was around five) and the book series has a special place in our hearts. The last book, which happens to be the twelfth book (How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury), was released in the UK just in time for daughter’s twelfth birthday, and I special ordered it from the UK and read it before I wrapped it. Many tears were shed. Here’s a short, non-spoilery review – it will be released in the USA on November 3, 2015. But you guys, a word to the wise – shipping from the UK is actually pretty cheap. I’m just saying.
How to Train Your Dragon is a series by Cressida Cowell about a Viking boy, Hiccup, and how he becomes a hero “the hard way” with the help of his extremely badly behaved dragon (Toothless), his best friend (Fishlegs) and his other best friend (Camicazi). The movie series of the same name shares names, settings, and some common themes, but is very different in story and detail. For instance, in the books Hiccup speaks Dragonese and can talk to dragons, and Toothless is very small and chatty, while in the movies Toothless is huge and Hiccup communicates with dragons through observation, instinct and empathy but not language.
Here are four non-spoilery thoughts on the final book:
Yes, it really is the last book.
It is actually the last one, and it has an ending that means spin-offs within the universe are possible but the arcs of the main characters are resolved.
In keeping with the rest of the series, which became progressively darker since Book 3 (How to Speak Dragonese), this book is very dark and scary and at one point I grew so concerned that I skimmed ahead a little just to see if poor Hiccup would ever get some first aid and maybe a snack.
…But it’s also hopeful and inspiring.
As the series grew darker, when my daughter was still pretty young, I worried that it would scare her or upset her, but she was fine. This last book (and the preceding book, How to Betray a Dragon’s Hero), are REALLY intense. However, I like that the series doesn’t talk down to kids. It basically tells them, “Look, being a hero is HARD. And life is hard. But it’s also full of love and joy and friendship, and you can handle it. Now go be awesome.”
I cried my face off. Seriously. BAWLED. And I won’t tell you if it was a sad cry, a happy cry, or both, but I will tell you that for the most part I was satisfied by the ending. Thank you, Cressida Cowell. Best birthday present ever – at least for me!