The R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Halloween blog hop is here again! While the rest of the world is preparing to sleep, I have kicked off my coffin lid and have crawled through cobwebs to make it to my book shelf.
Last year I read some Gothic Horror, and this year my peril is fairy tales. I want to remember how scary then can be.
NOS4R2 by Joe Hill – maybe stretching the theme already, but the big bad is a vampiric pied pipe/Santa Claus. Plus his henchman gasses the victims with gingerbread flavoured smoke, so that has to be a fairy tale, right?
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – A Snow White Murder Mystery
Tinder by Sally Gardner – A retelling of the Tinderbox with a werewolf on the front cover. Yay, werewolf!
My appreciation for romance novels didn’t start until my early 30s. Growing up my heart did, and still does, belong to fantasy.
However when dredging my mind for a Valentine’s Day post I can see that, even when (or perhaps because) they weren’t the main focus of the plot, romantic relationships in fantasy novels have left their mark on me.
Eowyn/Faramir (The Lord of the Rings)
As a geeky, gangly girl who didn’t understand why being able to quote Monty Python wasn’t a desirable quality in a school disco date, I found it reassuring that while Aragorn rejected Eowyn, there was a man out there for her.
A better man who would appreciate the amazingness of her. Like Eowyn I just had to be patient and find my Faramir. Looking back I do have concerns about the wild shield maiden of Rohan being caged up in Gondor, but when you’re thirteen it’s all about the happy ending.
Carrot/Angua (The Discworld Novels)
It bothers Angua that she’s a werewolf, and she spends the early books constantly poised for flight.
That Angua is a werewolf bothers Carrot not at all. You could make an argument for the fact that Carrot is too nice to really appreciate the social implications of having a girlfriend that can rip throats out. However, closer and prolonged reading shows that Carrot is not really as nice as you think he is.
In the later books the werewolf jokes in the Watch House locker room do seem to bothe Carrot, but only on Angua’s behalf and she is more than capable of dealing with them herself.
The last hint we have of their relationship is that they are living together. It’s a throw away line in someone else’s story (and I was in my early thirties then) but my fifteen-year-old self was so pleased that they had made it to that stage. It validated my belief that they could work their differences out.
Despite her dark and awkward secrets Angua found love with a man who accepted who she was. A man who has some awkward secrets of his own. Remember, you may think you’re strange, but no stranger than some the boys out there.
I do feel that Shakespeare sold me out with the drugging and manipulating Oberon does, but the first scene between them always gets my heart beating.
Oberon:Am not I thy lord?
Titania: Then I must be thy lady
No arguing with that.
I think this was the first thing I really noticed that showed it was ok to be powerful in a relationship and to fight your corner, and that it was ok to say no to sex and be incensed at your partner while still loving them.
Titania was my heroine through my A-Levels (I had yet to meet Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing and think it was a good idea to eat men’s hearts in marketplaces). One day I’m going to write a story where the two of them reach a compromise without narcotics, or where Titania finds out about the narcotics and takes Oberon to task for it.
By the time I was seventeen I wanted more from my happy endings, or maybe I was ready to look beyond them and see how rich and complicated romance could be.
What are you favorite fictional romances – from any genre?
Because books are my thing I went to the library (Google) and discovered that I got a Slytherin result because of my love for water (and probably Gothic spaces).
So. New Pottermore account. Re take the test. Sorted.
The appeal of the under-snake
I’ve always had a secret sympathy for Slytherins. It can’t have been easy to be in silver and green through either the marauder era, of the years Harry was at Hogwarts. The way that Dumbledore announces the winners of the house cup at the end of the first book feels unnecessarily cruel, as do McGonagall’s actions precluding them from the final battle.
Snape: a definitive reading by Lorrie Kim expands on the vague discontent I have always felt with the way Slytherin’s are pushed to the periphery in the books and are automatically mistrusted. The series from a Slytherin POV is a very different read and I recommend it as an easy and insightful read in what might be going on in the head of a character that we are never really allowed to get close to. The section on Prisoner of Azkaban certainly made me less of a Remus fangirl.
So, who am I?
I can be ambitious, determined and slightly crafty, or at least there are days when I really want to be while my subconscious is repeatedly telling me that this is not how good girls behave. Yet, for me that is part of what a witch or wizard should be – edgy and on the periphery, challenging boundaries and perspectives, and taking disrespect from no one.
Slytherin ticks all these boxes. Ravenclaw would be too comfortable for me, too safe, and I would never learn anything new about myself. I would never take the time to see the world differently.
And Slytherin House has Severus Snape so any argument against them is invalid.
Too many boxes?
Something that still bother me is Dumbledore’s claim that he felt the school sorted to soon. Is he implying Snape shouldn’t be in Slytherin? That Snape could accomplish any of the things he does if he didn’t have those slightly shady and socially unacceptable Slytherin characteristics that allow him to be self-sufficient, committed and confident enough to lie to Voldermort’s face?
Or is it an acknowledgement that no personality is ever so clear cut?
Perhaps the problem here (apart from me getting way too obsessed with the results of an internet quiz) is that Hogwarts sorts at all. In a society where there are already divisions is it healthy to split up the students and faculty further? Should the focus of magical education be on highlighting differences rather than similarities?
I am now wearing my snake badge with pride, but that doesn’t make me less of a book lover. Labels can be useful but also restrictive. They are not all that a person is, and as Dumbledore also says at the end of the Goblet of Fire we are strong when we stand together, and weak when we are divided.
In a world that’s changing it’s important to not only celebrate what makes us different, but to remember everything that makes us the same.
That my niece is growing up in a world where some still consider it acceptable to cat call at school girls;
That it doesn’t matter what time or day I drive on the M25 there is always a fricking traffic jam.
There is still sometimes a presumption in fiction that the ‘good girl’, if she remains good, will get the happy ending she deserve.
Ardee West is also angry about things. Most of which she can’t change.
For those of you who have not met Ardee West before she is a relatively minor character in a sprawling three book epic of war, treachery, torture, gambling and other traditionally male activities, as the covers will demonstrate.
What Abercrombie does wonderfully though is take well known tropes (fantasy and otherwise) and stretch them to their cynical and fascinating conclusions.
And he is not gender biased, despite the aforementioned war etc. Ardee West is as screwed up as the best of his male characters. That is why I love her. She is trying to save nobody. The girl can’t even save herself. She fucks up. She makes bad decisions. She’s human.
Young girl beaten by her father and abandoned by brother who goes to the big city to seek his fortune.
She eventually goes to stay with her brother in the big city. She has no money and no connections (sound familiar?)
Instead of bravely being witty while preserving her virtue, she gets lonely, gets drunk and is generally beaten down by circumstances.
She seeks amusement by seducing a self-centred handsome prince who then ditches her for round the world quest, returns, becomes king and then offers to make her his mistress.
She refuses, and with her life in danger (she is carrying the new king’s child) marries the crippled torturer who now (due to his own twisty and nail biting plot) is the most powerful man in the kingdom.
A belief in the Cinderella principle is still alive and well. I know, because while reading the First Law I really wanted Ardee to make it work with her handsome prince because not only would he save her, but she could save him from being such a dopey git. Even now I am not sure whether that is what I actually wanted, or whether that was what I had been conditioned to want.
When it comes to fiction I am generally, messed up in the head like that.
There is a rocking girl power moment when Ardee does tell dopey prince git where to go.
Then there is a slightly less rocking girl power moment when she accepts marriage from the crippled torturer. The truth is she does still need to be saved (or assassinated, her choice).
It’s gone from Cinderella to Beauty and the Beast. Except that Ardee is not really Beauty. She’s as beastly as he groom, on the inside anyway. (Has being a bad girl brought her exactly the happy ending she deserves? Is a shared cynicism with matching his and hers chips on shoulders a basis for a happy marriage?)
She is now the most powerful woman in the country. How about that for flipping the finger to not just your ex but every single member of society who has made your life a the living Hell?
My inner feminist revolts at the idea that Ardee has no other choices. My inner bitch is air pumping and crying out for revenge.
That makes me angry. And confused. Mostly angry.
I wouldn’t necessarily throw Ardee West onto the list of ‘strong female characters’ I am going to subject my niece too when she is older, but I want her to know that it is ok for women to be angry.
What’s important is using that anger to change the things that you can change, and not getting impotently worked up over the things you can’t.
I am one of nature’s Magrats. Not so much the watery eyes and lack of bosom, but my attitude that puts me at the bottom of a social hierarchy.
One of the reasons that I love Lords and Ladies so much is Magrat putting on the suit of armour over her tattered wedding dress. I loved it the first time I read it anyway. The second time I remember thinking, uncharitably, that Magrat only really defeats the fairy queen because Granny Weatherwax is waiting in the wings. Granny has been playing the long game and she knows the power of stories.
People respect and listen to Granny. They are also terrified of her. She does not make the tea. I think that’s because she respects herself.
That’s the key, I think. Self-respect.
I wanted to be Granny Weatherwax before it became cool to be a bad girl. And haven’t witches always been the ultimate bad girl?
Of course, turning a Magrat into a Granny is no small order. It involves a daily rewiring of my system, and I’m not there yet. Then again, what is the point of going hell bent after a goal that is easy to reach? Sometimes though, if customers at work are giving me a hard time my eyes go a bit unfocussed and glassy it’s because I’m thinking, ‘what would Granny do?’
I don’t always follow through, because I don’t yet have the nerve at work to invoke a kick ass virgin with cast iron pride and the power of a kingdom at her fingertips. At the very least though, my inner Magrat will put her battle armour on.
Then you’d better watch out. Especially if I’m holding a hot cup of tea.
That’s two of my favourite Discworld books. Does anyone want to add theirs? Or do you have books from a different author that have inspired you?
Being a grown up ruins books. When I was in my twenties my favourite Lord of the Rings character was Eowyn. This was partly because Tolkein didn’t give me that many female role models to choose from, and partly because she kicked arse.
She was the first heroine I met who put on trousers and rode out to fight with the guys. It was awesome and yes, why shouldn’t she have been allowed to do it? Girl power rocks!
Now I’m in my thirties I look at the choice Eowyn made, and my responsible adult purses her lip and frowns.
‘Uncle Theo told her to look after his people. Who’s running Edoras while she’s off gallivanting? And she’s doing it all for Aragorn who doesn’t even love her! Grow up young lady and put some gender appropriate clothing back on, this instant.’
Seriously, how did I become that?
Oh yeah, I grew up.
I’m still struggling to completely silence my responsible adult, but as my forties crawls inevitably closer I’m craving that rule defying, courageous freedom buzz. Something needs to burst the apathy bubble before I wake up in my seventies and realise I’ve spent an entire lifetime being the good girl who always asks nicely.
After all, didn’t Eowyn help to change the course of the battle of Pellinore Fields? (No living man am I, douche bag!), and didn’t she also find a man that she loved who would actually love her in return? (Ok, it is kind of disappointing to think of her locked up in Minas Tirith having Faramir’s babies, but there’s no sequel to confirm that, right?)
Breaking the rules and taking risks can pay off and be good for your soul. It is time for me to remember that. It’s time to go a bit wild again.
My answer was to go and do a burlesque course. I’ve meaning to do it for ages, but I was waiting for arse to stop being so big.
Still, there is nothing like wearing suspenders in a room full of other people (also wearing suspenders) to realise you are all out of your comfort zone together.
Upshot is, I didn’t trip over my heels and land on my face. Or if I did, I would have looked damn sexy doing it.
‘Smile, ladies, and the audience will forgive you anything.’
So look for ways to channel your inner shield maiden. Break the routine, try something different, be alive. Have a look at these inspiring websites;