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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

11apr2018

cropI don't just hate on semi-famous screenwriters; I'm perfectly willing to diss beloved classics, too. My sister-in-law rather unwillingly felt, after having our copy of The Princess Bride on her shelves for twenty (or more) years, that she really ought to give it back. I had recently stumbled across a website discussing the film version of this classic, noting that the book was much better than the movie in terms of (number of, and agency of) female characters. While I'm perfectly willing to concede that the film has some very memorable lines—even I can recite: “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father...” I never really liked it, because its protagonists were such a pair of asses.

The book, according to this now-lost post, was better; it was Buttercup's story, written, we're informed, because Goldman had two daughters and one wanted a story about a princess, and the other about a bride.

O rly? Cuz the film pretty much centers, at least in most people's imagination (mine included) as the men's stories, with Buttercup being the prize they fought over. Okay, sez I, I shall reread this book and see if it improves. I liked the intro, especially the bit about Goldman and his 3rd to 5th grade teacher—I had teachers like that too. Didn't like the part (fictionalized, I most sincerely hope) where the author is dissing his wife. However, once the story proper starts, Buttercup quickly shows herself to be pretty damned obnoxious; just as in the film she spends most of her time haughtily ordering Wesley (Farm Boy) around, & she never does anything —except improve her appearance, solely for Wesley's sake. Oh, and she rides her horse, but that doesn't really enter the story much.

As a would-be writer myself, I liked the fourth-wall breaking bits; even the back stories of some of the secondary (albeit, all male...) characters were interesting and engaging; but as soon as Wesley and/or Buttercup reappear, things go downhill. I mean, they promise to marry, and then Wesley takes off (to make his fortune or some damn dumb thing—at any rate, he's presumed killed). So broken-hearted Buttercup agrees to marry a prince who wants the most beautiful woman in the land, cuz he's unwilling to marry a bald princess, no matter how suitable she may be.

Buttercup, to her credit, tells the prince flatly that she's disappointed in love and can't love him, to which he replies he's not in the slightest interested, and as the alternative is death, she'd better marry him. To the author's credit, he puts off their putative wedding until Buttercup is 21. But then the derring-do starts up again, with Buttercup being kidnapped so as to foment a war between two rival countries, and a mysterious man in black pursues her and the kidnappers. This would-be rescuer manages to defeat the strongest man—the greatest sword-fighter—the most brilliant criminal mastermind—only to be pushed off a cliff by Buttercup after stupidly accusing her of planning to marry the prince for fame or love or something. To which she replies that she broke her heart once & isn't ever doing that again. Hello?

Instead of ripping off his mask and begging, ‘Dear Buttercup, why are you marrying the prince after promising to marry me?’ I mean, this is the guy who always responds to Buttercup with ‘As you wish’. He somehow has become super-strong, sword-fighty and smart, but not bright enough to realize that his beloved might think he perished on a pirate ship with the rep of killing every victim it's encountered? (Let alone sending a message along: ‘hi, taken aboard Dread Pirate Robert's ship, but disposed of him & now busy building my fortune upon the seas—home soon, love, Wesley’—though to be fair, I suppose it's not unlikely they're both illiterate.)

Then she plunges after him.

At this point I was so pissed with them both I felt they should've smashed into the rocks and croaked. Romance readers call this trope ‘the Big Misunderstanding’ because of course a deeply-in-love couple are too stupid to actually talk to each other, amiright? Besides the fact that all the male characters do things, whereas Buttercup just learns to be a beautiful Princess (oh, and keep riding her horse, albeit only off-stage.) Grrr.

So, having re-read enough of the book to confirm my vague memory that Buttercup—no matter what the author's intentions may be, still comes off as a princess prize, I can now return it to my sister-in-law with my thanks, because otherwise I'm certain I would've discarded this sexist (if engagingly written) claptrap years ago, for failing that most obvious of romance-writer crutches. Bleh.

Oh, and I have a tigerhead dead mousefor you if you'd like.

10apr2018

cropWell, geez, yesterday's rant went on a bit, didn't it?

I'm happy to say some things have got better, as this rejection from Dizzy's bad ole days shows. By the early 80s I had discovered ElfQuest which the Pinis started shortly after I'd discovered sf&f, which of course was drawn by Wendy Pini...now, of course, there are tons of comics drawn and written by women:)

There's also tons of stuff on the internet, and my latest find came via a recce on the Mary Sue which features two female protagonists, one of them a non-verbal turquoise striped tiger(!) —I don't think that one's out yet, but the artist, Karl Kerschl, has a webcomic featuring a sasquatch called the abominable Charles Christopher. It's mostly drawn in a rich, pen-and-ink style somewhat reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes, though the creator occasionally plays with other styles for fun.

Interestingly enough, the protagonist of this series doesn't speak either, though most of the other characters, denizens, the author explains, of the Canadian wilderness, do. The comic it most reminded me was Bone, and like Fone Bone, Charles is a kind and gentle individual. Also like Bone, the series follows a variety of characters, usually (but not always) to comedic effect, of which perhaps the alcoholic bird dad is perhaps the most memorable. I'm not certain this story really ‘ends’ but I've plowed through it over a couple of evenings and am enjoying it, if finding the gilgamesh references a tad baffling. Recommended, with the caveat that nearly all the characters are male; the ones who are female tend to be a) nagging wives or b) abused girlfriends. (The exception are the one page species drawings, which seem to be somewhat more evenly divided. Really guys, it's not that hard: for your supporting cast, just flip a coin—well, except for bees. I saw what you did there, trying to make a recover from making a bee male. I mean, I choose to believe the raccoon couple are female, but don't really have that option for the lion; the Persian [who becomes king, not ruler/queen, though mebbe his shorthair friend is female?]; the owls; the drunken songbird (whose exasperated wife is one of the few recurring female characters); the bears—pretty sure; the long-ago soldier...)

Or you can check out this pink bracelet post from four years ago...

9apr2018

cropToday's post features some purpose-made earrings for a college graduate who departed across the sea to her first job last Saturday. One of the ways in which I wasted time last week was reading various comics, so I thought I'd do a bit of roundup post on those...

First up, Jane, a graphic adaptation of Jane Eyre. I just love variations on both this story—as, for example Sharon Shinn's sfnal Jenna Starborn as well Jane Austen's novels: I loved Clueless, Bride & Prejudice, even this graphic edition, which clearly showed the creator's love of the classic. So I was prepared to love this new adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte classic.

Alas, I feel adaptations of this sort have to follow similar rules as updated versions of fairy tales: you can reverse, subvert, or simply revise the major tropes of the story; but they have to be there (I love the way, frex, Gurinder Chadha adapts the story, big and small—frex, the way the sisters’ names are transposed to the Indian version of Mr Collins to larger issues—in this case, instead of (just) class, there's also the cultural clash between the western (US?) Mr Darcy and the Indian Lalita.)

I could forgive McKenna for basically cutting the first half the novel—modern adaptations tend to glide over Jane's bleak childhood in favour the mysterious Mr Rochester and the romance—and I didn't mind the addition of parents lost at sea (especially as my own were recreational sailors, so I have a fondness for sailing motifs). But Jane is small, starveling, plain and dark—not a tall, nearly inhumanely well-adjusted blonde, and some of that childhood interaction with either the kindly servant Bessie, or the saintly & inspirational Helen Burns would have helped explained a personal growth you wouldn't expect from a neglected child in an alcoholic and borderline? abusive household.

While updates of some of the obvious scenes—such as Mr Rochester nearly running Jane down on his horse—are to be found in the graphic novel, as well as the famous line about a string tying their hearts (a very common trope in Asian stories, I've discovered)—much of the rest is elided. (Spoilers abound...)

Wishing to be an artist, Jane gets a scholarship to a prestigious NYC art school, but they require her to get a job immediately to retain her scholarship. Now...it just so happens I know someone who did in fact get a scholarship to a prestigious NYC art school, and while the author is absolutely correct about the fashion students being intimidating (& fashionable) it's not the school that requires their students to get random jobs with mysterious companies to retain their scholarships, but possibly to earn part of the scholarship with work-study; it's paying for apartments, food, and whatever tuition not covered that demands a job, stat (which my friend got in one of NYC's many, many many restaurants....)

Jane's only experience is working of fishing boats (gutting fish by hand? Really?) so a job with a high-end restaurant is out of her reach. That is just a bit of attention and this part of the narrative would've worked better (Jane desperately needing enough $$$ that she would accept a job with so many alarm bells). Next: Mr Rochester, is, shall we say, kind of a problematic love interest: he's got an illegitimate child; he's extremely bossy and secretive; and, oh yeah, he's got a mad wife in the attic, so he's also an attempted bigamist, as his wife's brother points out on their wedding day.

Shinn, in her sf version of the story, actually does something kind of interesting with Bertha's madness, but this book sidesteps it completely (as indeed it does Adele's bastardy) —even Jane's small stature and dark hair. Mason's role is predictably changed, though why he's become a murdering bastard is never clear—even if Rochester's fortune primarily comes from his wife as in the original, her brother could hardly inherit if he were implicated in her murder! In this version, Rochester is presumably tortured by his guilt over his failure to protect his wife and his absences explained by his attempts to discover her attackers, but it's not nearly as convincing as the original's angst and loathing of his wife's condition, which drives him away. And, of course, a ritzy NYC place is not very convincingly creepy and gothic as a manor on moors in the middle of nowhere.

Blanche does make an appearance, but...there just isn't enough there to justify the developing relationship between Jane & Rochester, nor yet Jane's jealousy of Blanche. —I did kind of like the addition of the bodyguard character, as well as Jane's roomie, but it would've been nice if their character arcs had reflected the original in some way.

Naturally, just as the beginning is mostly cut, so too the last part of the book, in which Jane discovers a loving family. This is kind of necessary, because she instead makes her place in the world with her entry into the student art show: she has already acquired friends—her cross-dressing room-mate and wealthy purple-haired classmate—but as her image is the sea where her family is lost, finding a place in her cousins’ bosoms would have ruined the triumph of this art work. (It's this author's bad luck that I can nit on the whole art school thing—frex, wouldn't a poor scholarship student be more likely to bond with other poor scholarship students...?)

Which brings me to my final complaint with the book, which has to do with (sigh) art. (I don't mind that Jane is primarily looking to become an artist rather than just a governess: the lure of art school is what moves her to NYC, and thus, Rochester's orbit.) Look, I get that the pretentious art scene—which last I heard is still based in NYC—is tedious in the extreme. I detested concept art when I first encountered it in school (because let's face it, if all we had to do was lay out a concept of our ideas, we'd all be da Vincis & Picassos) and I'm all about the representational: my teachers were forever bemoaning my tendencies toward ‘illustration’ and ‘narrative’.

However.

For one thing, I think the author is about three decades behind the times: concept art and the like was peaking when I was a student. Nowadays the same schools that looked askance at my desire to combine text and art (e.g. comics) offer exhibits and programs on sequential art; anatomy has made a comeback, cuz people need it to do believable CGI fantasy beasts; if my friend's instagram feed is to believed, representational art is doing just fine in academic settings even fancy NYC ones. I suspect, judging from some contemporary work I've seen the real debate centers not so much on that tired old fight between representational and abstract art nor even fine versus commercial; but rather between what sources are available for artists to mine for their work at all, as corporate behemoths wall off ever more of our culture.

Which, of course, is why people are doing adaptations of Jane Eyre in the first place, because it's out of copyright, unlike anything less than about a century old. Well. That was quite the rant. Have a pic of some earrings.

6apr2018

cropI love travel but it sure does take a lot out of me. A week ago tomorrow I went off to visit my glass apprentice daughter, who is currently studying at Parson School of Design in NYC, and this was about the most stress free trip you could imagine—I didn't have to drive there, as the f2s did that for me; the weather was good; since we slept on Frances’ couch (or floor) the trip was pretty inexpensive (especially for New York!); f2tE helped me put together an absolutely awesome handmade journal to draw, sketch & fill with memorabilia; etc etc etc.

I'm still recovering.

However, the snowdrops and rock iris are blooming, and various arty compulsions have been poking their heads up in equally low-key ways: I'm slowly working my way through my guild's 3 colour dot challenge, I've been playing a bit with henna and oh yes, messing about with french beaded flowers, since I might be teaching a class this summer.

After trawling through pintrest (& having seen the way model horse painting took off in the decade between the times I obsessed over that) I wasn't terribly surprised to discover that this craft has exploded in leaps and bounds as well. It's taken off in Japan. It's all over Russia (or at least, countries that use the cyrillic alphabet) —not terribly surprising, there has been an amazing amount of craft coming out of Eastern Europe. And the the man I consider the current top practitioner, Mario Rivoli, has posted a bunch of his stuff on pintrest. What makes his work spectacular—to my eye, at any rate—besides his magpie sensibility—even more obvious in his surface embellished clothing—is his superb, pointillist understanding of colour: it's very tempting to make a given petal or leaf all one colour (that's easiest, obviously) or perhaps to outline in a contrasting colour, or, if going really all-out, smoothly gradate from one colour to another.

What Rivoli does is the same thing the post-Impressionists, most notably Seurat, did, which is to put in carefully yet organically spaced dots or splotches of contrasting colour, which (heh) really brings his creations to life, because real flowers are full of weird contrasting dots and stripes of colour...to be sure, another reason his stuff works is that he's a master at assembling the individual flowers into a larger whole: so his pieces work at multiple scales—the center of a flower, say, the flower itself, and then the bouquet. Be still my beating heart.

Because of this sophistication, I naturally wanted large images, which I wasn't finding on pintrest (till I discovered Mr Rivonli's own board—thank you) which sort of leads into the next topic—pintrest, though enormously helpful as an idea board, is problematic in a couple of ways: one is that the images are often so small I can't see what's going on, which sometimes forces me to improvise, but usually just frustrates me: the faster I can figure out exactly what a given artist is doing, the sooner I can start diverging away.

The other is a failure of provenance: without trackback to the original artist they can be very difficult to identify—unless they splat their name and url all over their images, which I notice a lot of henna artists do. This means it can be very frustrating to track down the actual creator (I've seen Rivoli's work in a bead magazine some years ago, so I recognized it immediately, but I'm not usually so lucky); also I expect copyrights are being violated right and left, which mostly flies under the radar because most creators doesn't have the financial wherewithal of a Dizzy to sue. For my own part, I license my stuff under a creative commons because I want to share, and that's my rationalization for using this app but I would much prefer a) a more robust tracking system and of course, a generally more sharing culture.

As much as I find pintrest's artist sourcing less than ideal, it's nothing to other problems on the internet, such dark patterns (aka roach motels) which is yet another entry in the ongoing wars between user desensitization and corporate sneakiness.

Well, since I started the week with giftwrapping (& did actually do some, if not the one shown) I guess I'll finish out with a giftwrap—one that uses a bit of that visual colour mixing discussed above, even. Enjoy.

2apr2018

cropYesterday was April Fool's and Easter both, which seems appropriate to me: Be a good person, and live forever—April Fool! But, actually, today's rant has to with the bad behaviour of atheists, not christians.

I read the definitive takedown of The Bell Curve something like 20 or 30 years ago in Stephen J. Gould's Mismeasure of Man, and aside from a brief mention some fairly extensive quotes in one post of the many, many I've read reacting to Sam Harris’ invite of Murray on his podcast, no-one has mentioned it. Indeed, the science popularizer and essayist who was my hero seems mostly forgotten now.

Alas, Murray's pernicious book isn't. It's not like it wasn't thoroughly swatted, back in the day; I recall the controversy, and being pleased that one of profs critiquing it was affiliated with the college next town over, which irrationally pleased me. Interestingly enough, again, not a lot of people referring to the fact that there has always been agreement in the academic community that Murray's racist wish-fulfillment is a load of bull-puckey.

I could of course give you a load of links to defend this bald assertion (or you could google for yourself—it's not like there isn't plenty of pushback) but they can pretty easily be summarized by the racist argument is easy and comforting, whereas the truth is difficult, painful and contradicts highly cherished cultural myths, such as the idea that we're a post-racial meritocracy.

See, ‘people are genetically variable, and some are brighter than others, and since folks categorized as black test worse, they must be dumber, amiright’ is easy to understand, whereas admitting that blacks (& let's be clear here, if we're talking Murray, that's his focus, not that other PoC don't come in for racist treatment) have had a raw deal in this country from its inception, still have a raw deal, and surprise! this has an impact on their scores is emotionally hard.

Plus, when you get into the weeds about the statistics and data, it takes 10 paras, easily, to debunk Murray's oh-so-rational charts, and screens and screens of explanation slide off the understanding a whole lot faster than does the pretty little picture. I mean, I've been following this stuff for over two decades—probably closer to three—and have had more exposure to science generally and statistics in particular than the average lay-person, and I still stall out.

That doesn't make Murray any less wrong, nor any less evil for promulgating these heinous views. I wish he would just stop. —But since he won't, this is my little pushback, for all the good it's gonna do. And if you made it this far, you certainly deserve a link to today's offering, a truly sweet little gift.

29mar2018

cropAs promised stringing without hearts:)

And I see I not only failed to post this Feb 15 (as originally planned, but also completely missed the boat on posting my St Patrick's day bracelet. Oh well. Next year:) Or mebbe next month, come to think my entire guild forgot to bring their march bead exchange last month, so we have to do it in April...Which is not to say I haven't done any art since February; I have a few gift-wrapping things, the occasional henna practice and even some rather sorry beads. Also I tried bujo—bullet journaling, especially while in NYC, visiting the fabulous Fran. What I mostly discovered is that I like pasting ephemera into a journal handmade with scrap paper as I go along, not least because I don't have enough time to angst over it. Also that sort of journaling is much more practical when staying with someone who's got a closet full of art supplies available to borrow.

I have this link to an essay, You can call yourself fat; it's kind of a privilege-reversed variation on the Scalzi nerd, whoops, geek essay. (By privilege-reversed, I'm suggesting the social dynamics between a possibly overweight and morbidly obese person are not going to be the same as those between male and female nerds. Which is not to say that mildly overweight or even just people who feel they're fat don't have issues—only that they're not gonna suffer the same level of abuse. Which is more or less the author's point.)

Also, under the aegis of comparing experiences, I stumbled across this Ted talk by a transgender woman comparing male and female privilege which I thought quite good.

Or you can check out this lamp pull I failed to post last month.