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Archive for July, 2008

New Issue!

The second issue of Les Bonnes Fees has now gone live – Once again, Peta has put together an incredible collection of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. You can access it through our cover page.

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Un Lun Dun - Written and Illustrated by China Mieville

Un Lun Dun - Written and Illustrated by China Mieville

Un Lun Dun – Written and Illustrated by China Mieville

  • Un Lun Dun is the tale of two twelve year old girls, Zanna and Deeba in the strange, backwards, world of UnLondon.
  • UnLondon is a twisted version of London, filled with a combination of the unsettlingly almost-familiar and the blatantly fantastic.
  • Zanna and Deeba have a great evil to stop and a prophecy to fulfill – if it only it was that easy.
  • One of the wonderful few YA novels that can entertain adult readers too.

(More details and mild spoilerage below)

As a preteen reading Lord of the Rings for the first time,  I probably didn’t notice how pivotal Sam was. Without the valiant sidekick, all would have been lost. This aspect became clearer on later rereading and especially as I watched the movie versions. Sam is, in many ways, the hero of the story – he carries the ring (well, he carries Frodo who’s holding the ring) into Mordor without being tempted by its power, he follows Frodo into great danger, not because he needs to, but because he chooses to. The obvious question then is, what would have happened if Frodo had fallen early in the story – perhaps at Weathertop? Would Sam have picked up the ring and taken his place? I’d like to think so: Merrie and Pippin were not adult enough at that point in the story to take on such a responsibility, while Strider/Aragorn probably knew that his internal darkness and human weaknesses would have left him corrupted by the ring.

China Mieville asks this sort of question in Un Lun Dun. What do you do when the obvious hero, the chosen one of which the prophesies speak, falls?

Un Lun Dun is of that strange class of young adult novels that manages to remain interesting even when the reader is an almost-thirty-grad-student-type. It neither talks down to the younger readers, nor is filled with themes that are inappropriate for the sort of preteens who would attempt to read a book of this size (around 470 pages).

UnLondon is a warped mirror image of the real London – the river Smeath cuts a straight path through the city, turning the UnLondon-I, passing under the Battle-Sea and the Towering Bridges. UnLondon contains strange creatures – some wholly fantastic, like the smoglodytes and smombies that serve the Smog and some all the creepier for their almost-familiarity, like the unbrellas and the giraffes (giraffes in our world do not show their true, bloodthirsty, sides) – and amazing adventures.

Zanna is the Shwazzy – the chosen one – who will, according to the book and the propheseers, save UnLondon from the malevolent Smog. As it is written, the Shwazzy and her sidekick/best friend Deeba are pulled into UnLondon. As it is written, they make their way to the propheseers to learn of the destiny that guides them. As it is written, the propheseers are attacked – the first battle, one where the Swazzy is meant to triumph. At this point, what is written and what happens starts to diverge.

Of course, this is good for us – a bunch of kids and hangers-on fulfilling a prophecy would just be another standard kids’ story.  Instead, we get a tense, dramatic tale with moments wonderful wit (and a few moments that made me groan – some of the jokes are aimed more at the “intended” audience) as we are taken on a roller coaster of betrayal, lies, heroic sacrifice and unexpected turns.

Divided into many short chapters, this book reads much faster than it looks on the shelf, and the author’s sketches of the fantastic vistas and strange creatures evoke the creepy almost-familiar or the outright bizarre aspects of his world. Mieville also injects a well written dose of slightly subversive politics into his world, reminding readers not to take everything they’re told at face value and criticizing the easy abuse of the term “terrorist” and security powers we see these days.

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One day, the Moon up and disappeared; where it went, or why, none can say. Without the Moon’s light to keep them in check at night, monsters, crawling horrors, and other creatures of the dark run rampant throughout the land. But Princess November has much more pressing matters to worry about: she hasn’t had a decent sleep in ages.

No Rest for the Wicked is one of our favorite web comics – Andrea’s world of princesses and cats, monsters and witches blends together fairy tales, myth and fantasy into an epic, comic tale.

No Rest For The Wicked Ch 01 p 01

No Rest For The Wicked Ch 01 p 01

Click through on the image to read the rest of this page.

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A number of critically acclaimed animated projects based on Indian folk tales have recently appeared.

In June this year “Sita Sings the Blues”, an animated interpretation of the Ramayana, won an award from the prestigious International Animated Filmfilm awards held in Anncey (France). The Indian feature film, Return of Hanuman was also appreciated by the crowd.

“There is so much talent, culture and ideas in India,” says the festival’s artistic director Serge Bromberg. “You have everything. It’s unfair.” Bromberg’s observation is not off the mark. Indian folk tales, mythology and even tribal art are becoming content for animators from both within the country and outside.

Indian folk tales influencing animators worldwide – India Times

This reminds me of the Birbal tales Peta’s dad told her about a while ago – Peta has written (and written about) one of them on her personal blog:

When the wise man Birbal had made a name for himself, people came from far and wide to consult him.

This day, Birbal arrived home to find a pretty woman resting on his doorstep. “Come, come, sister,” he said, helping her to her feet. “I have some good mangoes here. Let us go inside, and we’ll share sorrows, eh?”

Seated on the floor of Birbal’s hut, the woman toyed restlessly with her fruit. “Ah, I don’t know what you can do, bhaia,” she sighed, “but the Emperor has arrested my husband! He has always been a faithful subject and devoted servant, and he works hard as a gardener for the Emperor but…Please help us. Please come,“ she wept, “I know my husband will want to see you.”

Birbal and the Faithful Gardener

and also discussion of the Birbal story

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When we publish work at Les Bonnes Fees, we always want to know more about it. Fortunately for us, most authors are happy to oblige. Here’s what came about when we asked Merrie Haskell to tell us more about Mother Gothel, grandfathers, and, of course, bells. So, without further ado, here’s Merrie:

Ramps

It started with ramps, or rampion. I don’t remember the why or how of it, though I’m sure it had something to do with Rapunzel (or “The Maiden in the Tower” legend, as folklorists call it)… but one day I was bored and poking around the Oxford English Dictionary–like you do–and I was suddenly staring at the entry for “rampion.” In addition to letting me know that rampion is a salad green, the roots of which taste a bit like filberts, the OED informed me that rampion is a species of bellflower–Campanula Rapunculus. And while reading this, in the distance, the campus belltower struck the hour. And the wheels started to turn: bellflower rhymes with belltower… and a belltower is called a “campanile,” which echoes the genus Campanula

And there it was in my brain, the title complete: “Rampion in the Belltower.” I had the title ages before I had the story; all I knew then was that there were bells, and I knew that my Rapunzel was going to be named Rampion, and that was about it.

Grandfather Magic

My grandfather was a great storyteller. His epic was the story of a turtle who did such clever things as got his tail cut off in a lawnmower, and put ice cream from the Sunday school picnic in his pocket to take home for later. I have many great memories of my gramps, and I’d been long wanting to write something that commented on the magic that grandfathers seem to possess. So, when I decided that the belltower story was about a granddaughter, I knew that Rampion was not a prisoner in the tower–at least, not a prisoner of a family member.

Once I was thinking about the story and thinking about my grandfather at the same time, I remembered the Mackinac Island legend of the Devil’s Kitchen, about cannibal spirits that trap a young woman and her grandfather high in a cave without food or water for many days. This seemed to fit together very well with my vision of a belltower, and it suddenly seemed clear that instead of an evil witch holding Rampion prisoner, a medieval zombie attack would imprison her even better.

Mother Gothel

I knew that if I ever wrote a Rapunzel story–which “Rampion in the Belltower” obviously was–it probably wouldn’t be about the sexual politics of cloistering one’s daughter. That’s interesting stuff, but I didn’t think I had anything new to say about it. And I didn’t want to play with the mother-captor bit at all. Once I’d stumbled upon my medieval zombies via the Mackinac Island wendigos, it was simple to exonerate Mother Gothel in that regard, and turn her into a stork/protective spirit.

Mother Gothel, says Maria Tatar in The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, was a generic term in Germany, “designating a woman who serves as godmother” (p. 112). Mother Gothel is the usual name for the kidnaping witch/fairy/enchantress in Rapunzel, and while the name is clearly loaded, there seemed no better or more appropriate name for Rampion’s mother in the story–even though in my version, Gothel is Ramp’s birth mother, and it was Gothel who craved ramps during the pregnancy, just as Rapunzel’s birth mother does in the traditional versions.

Bells

While writing this story, I would stand outside (and sometimes inside) one of the two campaniles at the university where I work during the noon bell concert. I don’t specify the size of Rampion’s carillon, but it’s more than 23 bells, which is the minimum for a proper carillon (anything less is a chime).

While researching for the story, I discovered that bells were often named for saints or religious events. (Sometimes they were also inscribed with the function of the bell, such as “I mourn for death.” I just now discovered an inscription “I break the lightning”–which I wish I’d come across before writing this story! How poetic.) Rampion’s campanile houses a Saint Sebastian and a Saint Barbara, an Assumption and a Crucifixion. Saint Barbara, incidentally, was shut up in a tower for refusing to marry on her father’s orders.

And I named two of Rampion’s bells in relation to storks: the Kind Mother refers to the stories of the devoted parenting of storks; so the Little Stork is, in a sense, the Kind Mother’s offspring. It is not coincidental–in terms of my story, anyway–that storks and belltowers are both terribly common in the low countries. (I imagine “Rampion in the Belltower” taking place in an unremembered principality between the Netherlands and Germany, where a zombie plague appeared a few hundred years after the first waves of the Black Death.)

Further Reading

I didn’t know that much about belltowers before writing this story. Sure, I could see Duke University’s belltower from my mother’s bedroom window while I was growing up (a tiny Gothic spire in the distance, poking up over the sea of loblolly pines between our house and the chapel)–and sure, one of my college roommates played the University of Michigan carillon and always enthusiastically demonstrated the way she would smack the batons when asked–but I learned a lot through research.

There’s interesting stuff about bell naming and inscriptions at lovetoknow’s Classic Encyclopedia entry on “Bell”.

The Guild of Carilloneurs in North America certainly know what they’re talking about, and had lots of great info.

Everything you ever wanted to know about rampion (circa 1900) is available at A Modern Herbal. Or you could make Ramp butter, but good luck finding any ramps.

And I never rewrite any fairy tale without visiting the annotated stories at Sur La Lune Fairy Tales.

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As some of our lovely readers have noticed, the Les Bonnes Fees machine has been quiet lately. Well, we’re okay. We’re better than okay, actually, because we have a rockin’ second issue I’m really excited about. So, what’s been going on?

I’ve been–and still am–away. I wish I could say I’m off on a fairy tale fact finding mission, but I’m not. Well, not really. I am busy talking to people, searching out literature, and generally doing things for Les Bonnes Fees at the moment. But, because I’ve been travelling, my internet access has been patchy, so I haven’t been able to post much.

A general update–our water theme has been working out rather well, though I’m still looking for non-fiction and poetry. We work with google documents mostly, too, but there have been some issues with that lately so, if you haven’t heard from us, don’t panic. We are reading submissions, and we are sending out .rtf and .pdf notes and comments. Some of these emails will be coming from others on the Fees team due to my woeful lack of regular internet access, but I do see everything that comes in.

And the next issue? There’s no real theme as yet, but I’ve been seeing a lot of Hansel and Gretel works lately, so perhaps there’ll be something in that. Maybe something not quite as specific as that, but a theme to do with eating, or manipulation, or even mother and father figures…what do you think? Comment and let us know!

I’ll be posting a bit more about Rampion in the Belltower tomorrow (Australian time), as the lovely Merrie Haskell has written a bit about how she came to write the story. ‘Til then!

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Hello all!

I hope everyone has enjoyed our June issue –  the July issue is getting close to finalization. We don’t have an exact date yet, but we are planning on some time roughly the middle of the month.

I know things have been quiet here – with Peta away and me working on grad school (Atmospheric physics will eat up a lot of valuable fairy and folk tale time if you let it) the blog has been untended…

“Today’s” links cover Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, Hellboy) talking about the fairy tales she loves, drama in Marburg (source of many famous tales) and previews of two new fairy tale related video games that will be appearing in the near future.

Those links:

[Hellboy II star Selma Blair] told website Parade.com: “I did love being surrounded by monsters and I guess it goes back to my childhood. I loved fairy tales when I was growing up – ‘Aesop’s Fables’, ‘Grimm’s Fairytales’. I was a big fan of ‘The Little Matchstick Girl’. ”

Selma admits she preferred darker stories because she is fascinated by death.

She added: “I loved the ones that ended badly. I still have such a fascination with death. One of the first dreams I remember having as a child, I was saving my father from a burning house. I have a very morbid fascination with death and dead things. But I see the beauty in it.”

Selma Blair’s Monster Love

The university town of Marburg is where the Brothers Grimm collected many of their fairy tales, and the cobbled streets and medieval buildings look like they could have come straight out of one of their illustrated children’s books.

Now, following the approval of a new law, the quaint red-tiled roofs may soon have to be adorned with solar panels and the usually genteel residents are up in arms.

Fairy tale town of Marburg up in arms

Secondhand Lands is the massively multiplayer online game set in a parody fairytale world. There will be none of those pansy elves or cantankerous dwarves in this land. Our heroes are comprised of the Wolves and the Sheep who have pledged their undying allegiance to Bo Peep or Little Red Riding Hood. Well, perhaps not undying…

Secondhand Lands – A fairytale parody MMO

When you look at the root of most fairy tales, you’ll find some very dark things. Most stories have been given the Disney treatment or lightened up in some other way. Imagine if you could bring the darkness back to these tales? That’s the basic idea behind American McGee’s Grimm, an upcoming episodic game that’s coming to GameTap on July 31.

American McGee’s Grimm

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