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Posts Tagged ‘Neil Gaiman’

Please accept my apologies for the silence of the last three days; I went away for a much-needed wee holiday, and it was wonderful. I did take the computer, but decided to leave it switched off in favour of long walks through unexpected snow, beautiful scenery, and good food. Because I bought myself a humble abode earlier this year, I didn’t have a long holiday, so decided to treat myself. Now suddenly it’s Hogmanay. I’ve not done much today, just a bit of cooking, of one of my favourite dishes, a red cabbage-based delight. (more…)

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Last year, from 1 to 25 December, I wrote daily blog posts about light. It’s only in the past half hour that I’ve decided on this year’s theme. It’s all about words, which create their own light. Time this year being more at a premium than it was last year, I’ve decided to do do a daily post of a poem, song lyrics, or excerpt from a novel, on the theme of Christmas. (more…)

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Today is World Poetry Day. It has been celebrated since 1999, when UNESCO established it, in part to reaffirm “our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings”. You can see the full explanation, of wich I have quoted only a small part here, at the above link.

Because I’ve been watching a lot of fairytale-themed films and television series recently, including Grimm, Once Upon a Time, and (tonight) the film Enchanted, I decided to post here, without any analysis thereof, three poems on similar themes. I have not added any pictures to this blog post either, that you may create your own pictures from the words you read. (more…)

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The star Yvaine, by Charles Vess, in "Stardust", by Neil Gaiman (published 1999). Image via Greenman Press.

The star Yvaine, by Charles Vess, in “Stardust”, by Neil Gaiman (published 1999). Image via Greenman Press.

If yesterday was about moonlight, today must be about starlight; it’s only logical (Captain). But this is not a star such as those that exist in our world. This is Yvaine, the immortal, human-shaped (as long as she stays on the fantastical side of the Wall) principal female protagonist of Neil Gaiman‘s Victorian-style fairytale, Stardust, a wonderful book with beautiful illustrations by Charles Vess. It’s one of my favourite books, and Yvaine is a wonderful character, strong, courageous, determined, vulnerable, complicated, and with one of the funniest entrances into a book that I’ve ever come across, given our usual perception of the kind of person a star would be.

I feel it my duty to also mention that there is a film of Stardust (2007), in which Claire Danes is a wonderful Yvaine; she and Ben Barnes, who plays the hero Tristan, are both excellent, and have wonderful chemistry. Unfortunately, the film itself has rewritten, or perhaps “reimagined” is more accurate, certain characters, who for one reason or another succeed in dispelling the magical atmosphere of the story, and the ending is disappointing.

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Unnatural Creatures, stories selected by Neil Gaiman, with Maria Dahvana Headley (London: Bloomsbury, 2013). My photo.

Unnatural Creatures, stories selected by Neil Gaiman, with Maria Dahvana Headley (London: Bloomsbury, 2013). My photo.

Neil Gaiman chose a variety of stories all of which have in common their focus on creatures said not to exist – the most wonderful and the scariest beings living in our imagination, and so living on the pages of our books, in our cinema, computer, and television screens. And he has chosen a fine menagerie indeed, with the help of fellow writer Maria Dahvana Headley, and the beautiful illustrations of Briony Morrow-Cribbs. The title page, posted here on the left, is similar in style to early printed books (see further down this post for an example of same), and as such was a great start, as I have a particular fondness for these pages, with their mixes of fonts and illustrations. If further encouragement to read the stories were required, Gaiman provides it in his introduction, opening with his reminiscences of the magical Natural History Museum, before acquainting us with the existence of the Unnatural History Museum (Viktor Wynd, do you know about this?!). For yes, this is real, which for all of us who have, like Gaiman, spent our lives yearning for such a place, is delightful news. 826 DC is, as they say on their official website,

a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. Our services are structured around our understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

So if you’re going to read this book, I would ask that you buy it, to support children’s literacy and creativity. If you don’t tend to keep your books, or don’t find it to your taste, why not then donate it to your local library, to improve literacy and creativity at a local (to you) level? (more…)

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I hereby add a new feature to the Victorian Librarian body of writing – film reviews. Last night I settled down to watch the Thor-Kristen Stewart-Charlize Theron opus, Snow White and the Huntsman. I will admit that I did not have high hopes for it, but was encouraged by the involvement of Florence and the Machine, who recorded the song Breath of Life.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was the first Walt Disney film that I ever saw, back when my hometown used the Town Mill to screen films. I was four, and it was probably one of my first social outings without my parents. My then best friend Fiona and I went together, had a great time, and I suspect that it is one of the reasons why I love the 1920s and 1930s film actress aesthetic. I don’t know how much it had to do with my lifelong love of fairytales, but I have never forgotten the Brothers Grimm’s telling of the story, in an edition of their stories which I was given around the same time, and which I still own now. That story ended with the wicked stepmother dancing to her death in a pair of iron shoes heated over the fire. I have not yet seen a film of the story that includes this ending, unfortunately.

Back to Snow White and the Huntsman; the short version of the review is that I was most pleasantly surprised by it, that I really did love it. The scriptwriter, Evan Daugherty, has an incredible imagination – he fleshed out a short, simple story, into a rich and, for a fairytale, intricate plot. His twists and turns turn an old story into something new and surprising; all the “Snow White”-ian cliches are turned on their head. I am trying to avoid spoilers, which is difficult when I want to talk about the reaction of the kingdom’s women to the presence and demands of Ravenna (the Queen). The way in which the Wicked Queen comes into the story is cunning, and her army of glass soldiers is a wonderful detail, beautifully executed. The design team – set, costumes, special effects – likewise have produced striking worlds which move the plot forward, and the costumes are beautiful yet believable and practical. I covet Snow White’s suit of armour as much as any of the Queen’s robes, and ordinarily I fall only for the evil characters’ costumes in such films. I don’t want to spoil the Magic Mirror, but it is stunningly innovative and quite scary in its own right.

Onto the cast. If you’ve ever seen Gil Bellows trying to be mean and moody as the Huntsman in Snow White: a Tale of Terror, Chris Hemsworth will be balm for your injured soul. I loved his Thor as both conflicted and a bit cheeky, and his Huntsman, while more serious, is a convincing hero without having to save Snow White at every turn. His relationship with Snow White is developed and portrayed most subtly; there is a moment where she is crossing a river that is really short but quite lovely. Obviously Thor is not the only one responsible for this; Kristen Stewart is excellent. Her Snow White thinks on her feet and is self-sufficient without being irritating; she takes counsel and takes opportunity without being ridiculously independent. I am a feminist, and I think and hope that you are all feminists too, and this Snow White is a great role model for girls and women, but, more than that, she is an intelligent, brave, compassionate and erudite human being. I would love to talk about the dwarves more, who are similarly very well-done, but the casting is the greatest thing when it comes to them. I refuse to say who plays them, but I was most surprised and really amused. And what of the Wicked Queen herself? Charlize Theron is genuinely scary and chilling; such a role is difficult to pull off without descending into Pantomime villain-ness (an equally valid and essential art form, I would like to say). She is controlled and vicious, and her panic about being old is almost sympathetic. It’s always a bit worrying when you have even the slightest compassion for an obvious villain. She’s such a great actress that she couldn’t help but make this work.

My final point is that this is the first fairy tale film in which you can see how a sequel is convincing, and possibly even necessary. The final – silent – exchange between Snow White and her Huntsman sets up both characters for what is to come, but equally addresses Snow White’s very real responsibilities to the Kingdom. For that detail alone, I love this film more than any other version of the story that has appeared on a screen. It very naturally needs a sequel; a sequel will not be forced upon a story already concluded, as so often happens.

My favourite retelling of the story of Snow White remains Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples, recorded as an audio play featuring Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith in Frasier). I highly recommend it!

“Bibliographic” details for Snow White and the Huntsman:

  • Main cast: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron
  • Director: Rupert Sanders
  • Screenplay: Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Ami
  • Studio: Universal Pictures
  • DVD release date (UK): October 2012
  • Note: I bought this copy of the DVD with my own hard-earned cash.

    P.S. If you’re interested in reading more of my take on all things fairytale, here are my annotations to Hans Christian Andersen‘s Thumbelina, published online back in 2006.

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    I’m a cynic by nature; I come with typically Scottish self-deprecation installed as standard, and while I have always found the idea of New Year as a new start rather cloying, it has had the potential to be even more annoying than usual this time around. Yet this is the time when I do actually do need to believe that 2012 will be a new start, and to act accordingly. I first heard Carole’s King ‘New Year’s Day’ yesterday morning as the last day of the old year began, on the ever¬†fabulous Janice Forsyth Show . (more…)

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