Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Solstice!

Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream retold by Bruce Coville & illustrated by Dennis Nolan
Summer in the North, Winter in the South.
A season's change for us all.
May it be joyous.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Disney's "Into The Woo.., er, HEAs" (Possible Spoilers, Except You Expected This)

All illustrations in this post are by Hudson Talbott for his adaptation of an Into The Woods picture book

Rapunzel Lives! The Wolf is Not a Lech! The Baker's Wife is Not Unfaithful! HAEs for Everybody!


What was the point of "Into The Woods" again?

It's taken me a few days to figure out just want I want to say about this news but my thoughts on the matter have basically stayed the same, because, be honest: I expected it. Heck, you expected it. You (and I) really, really, REALLY hoped it wouldn't happen, but it did. The edgy musical favorite, Into the Woods, which turns the popular view of fairy tales on its head by taking a gritty look at some very real consequences of fairy tale actions (in Act II), has been Disneyfied, or in fancier terms:

(The) more subversive elements of the Brothers Grimm-themed story (have) been excised by studio chiefs. 
"You will find in the movie that Rapunzel does not get killed, and the Prince does not sleep with the [Baker's Wife]," (Sondheim) told an audience of drama teachers at Sardi's restaurant in New York, also noting that Disney had objected to the sexualisation of the relationship between Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. Added Sondheim: "Disney said, we don't want Rapunzel to die, so we replotted it. I won't tell you what happens, but we wrote a new song to cover it."

While James Lapine, (original Into The Woods writer) reportedly argued against the rewrites with Disney (but lost the battle) Stephen Sondheim (original composer/lyricist for Into the Woods) has defended the changes (from HERE):

Sondheim said teachers had a duty to explain to their students that creative licence could be undermined by social conservatism. "[You] have to explain to them that censorship is part of our puritanical ethics, and it's something that they're going to have to deal with," he said. "There has to be a point at which you don't compromise anymore, but that may mean that you won't get anyone to sell your painting or perform your musical. You have to deal with reality."
Translation: To Sondheim, it was worth the money to let Disney "Disneyfy" it. He wanted to get paid.

Ya know, I get that. We all gotta eat.


It's INTO THE WOODS! aka the Disney-fication-antidote!


At least we've been warned.

Will it hurt box office? Unlikely. At least not for opening weekend.

Because, in the end, again in the spirit of being honest, the original Sondheim/Lapine team are still on this so there's still a chance it might be good, and you want to know how they dealt with it all, just as much as I do, don't you? DON'T YOU?!



Bonus Brain Stretcher for the day:
There's an interesting article from the Washington Post HERE about why Disney cannot tell grown-up stories. While there are some interesting points, and it makes a good argument for the predictable patterns in (current) Disney storytelling, I think it also makes it even clearer that society in general doesn't really understand the essence of simple timeless stories, or of fairy tales. Fairy tales in particular may be condensed, spare and even, in some ways, simplistic, but they are never "childish". And I have to agree with the author on this point (below):

There is big money in happy endings, ...and Disney can complicate its brand only so much.This is the same problem the company has in other areas, and the reason we hear so many complaints about a juvenile strain in popular media. If your brand relies on the idea that Captain America is a good, trustworthy person,you can only go so far in encouraging your audience to think critically about the implications of giving a single person the ability to do great violence. If you are in the business of selling happy endings, your customers might get less enthusiastic as they become convinced that “ever after” is not an ironclad guarantee.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Aussies 'n' Fairy Tales Week: Shaun Tan, Artist and Alchemist

From the foreword - it's the Brothers Grimm themselves, being told stories by a fox
Shaun Tan, author and illustrator extraordinaire and winner of many, many awards, including:

  • Three time winner of Best Artist for the World Fantasy Award
  • Best Professional Artist Hugo Award (2011) and multiple award nominee

  • Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award or ALMA (2010)
  • Academy Award (aka Oscar Award Winner) for The Lost Thing, Best Short Film (animated)

It's very likely you know of him or know his work, especially if you follow children's literature, fantasy or animation (he also worked as a concept artist for Pixar's "WALL-E").

While Mr. Tan's illustrations have always had that uniquely Australian slightly off-kilter sense of fantasy underlying the mundane, and has always seemed to seamlessly weave the fantastic or 'other' into his largely suburban illustrations, it's only fairly recently that he created works specifically based on fairy tales. It turned out that he found this more challenging than he initially believed but, boy did it pay off!

Note: His Thousandfurs sculpture (shown above) was also a Spectrum 21, Dimensional Art Nominee/Finalist for 2014, which were held in May (they are 'the' coveted International Award for Contemporary Fantastic Art).
The Three Little Men in the Wood (Die drei Männlein im Walde)

As I've seen this quoted elsewhere in entirety, I'm including the whole of Mr. Tan's statement about the project here, as it will be of special interest to fairy tale folk, and those artists working to "illustrate" fairy tales (in whatever manner and media):
In 2012 I was approached by my German editor Klaus Humann of Aladin Verlag in Hamburg to consider a cover illustration, as well as perhaps some some internal drawings for a new edition of the Grimm Brothers collected folk tales written by Philip Pullman (the well known author of the His Dark Materials trilogy). I thought about this for some time, as I've always wanted to do something Grimm related but didn't have an ideal approach (or much time for commissions). Philip had chosen a selection of 50 favourite fairy tales, and written them with a thoughtful clarity that will appeal to modern readers yet keeping true to their original spirit. I was particularly interested in the scholarly notes at the end of each tale, offering background, critique and even a few suggested improvements from a writer's point of view; I was also interested in Philip's introduction which praises the concise, 'cardboard character' narrative of Grimm's fairy tales and points out they do not necessarily benefit much from illustration. A good problem for a visual artist! And one I'm inclined to agree with: I'd long ago researched fairy tales as a possible illustration project, but soon gave it up as the tales had such an abstracted quality about them, I couldn't think of a suitable 'way in' as an artist who favours representational imagery. While I love such illustrations as those byArthur Rackham, I've always felt they conflict with my own less literal experience a reader. And in many cases, the tales are just too strange or irrational for conventional 'scenes'. 
The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich
(Der Froschkönig oder
der eiserne Heinrich
So I was a little reluctant at first, but soon began to think of ways I could avoid painting or drawing altogether. As a child, I was actually more obsessed with sculpture than painting and drawing, working with clay, papier mache and soapstone, and was reminded of this when browsing through my collection of books on folk art and particularly Inuit scultpure and Pre-Columbian figurines from Mexico. Many of these small, hand-sized sculptures are strongly narrative and dreamlike, and offered a 'way in' to thinking about Grimm's stories as part of an old creative tradition. The works I ended up creating hopefully convey the spirit of each tale without actually illustrating them, like anonymous artifacts in a museum open to all kinds of interpretation.
Though Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm was published in the UK and US, each with a nice cover, it's the German edition that is the most wonderful, thanks to the inclusion of illustrations by the, incredibly adaptable, Shaun Tan.  Mr. Tan created some fifty sculptures representing Pullma's chosen fifty tales, which are photographed beautifully and are displayed in the edition throughout. While there are no plans at present, to translate it into English, (I don't understand why myself, as the edition with Shaun Tan's sculptures would be my first choice), one of the wonderful things is that Mr. Tan hasn't stopped there. He continues to be inspired by the tales and is in the process of enlarging the collection of fifty sculptures to at least 60.

Here is a very recent one, from Shaun Tan's blog, with his note:
"One of several new sculptures inspired by Grimm's Fairy Tales, this one for a the story 'The Blue Light' (Das blaue Licht), about a solider taking revenge against those who have wronged him (including the witch above). I began this series as a set of illustrations for the German edition of Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales published last year, and have since continued to create additional works for other stories that I found particularly intriguing outside of that collection. By 1850, the Grimm Brothers included over 200 tales in Children's and Household Tales, so there's certainly no shortage of inspiration; as Margaret Atwood notes, 'no emotion is unrepresented'." (Shaun Tan)
Little Red Cap (Rotkäppchen)
Godfather Death (Der Gevatter Tod)

I find it interesting that, in a discussion with Neil Gaiman, Shaun Tan says the way he uses words is, he believes, not just his style but also a cultural thing:
Gaiman: Your stuff is always laconic. One of the things I love about it is that a picture is worth a thousand words and you make your pictures work very hard. 
Tan: Part of it is that I don't trust myself as a writer. I still lack confidence, probably because the first 20 or so stories I wrote were roundly rejected. I actually started out as a writer and then converted to illustration because I realised that there was a dearth of good illustrators in genre fiction, at least in Australia at that time. I diverted all of my resources to visual imagery, and as a result I noticed that my writing did become more and more pared down, until it started to approximate my normal speaking patterns. When I write a story I imagine I'm telling it to someone like my brother. And we don't talk that much [laughs] – it condenses everything down and that's a very Australian thing, too.
And that trait might just explain why Australians on the whole seem to be so drawn to fairy and folktales and enjoy working with them.
The Nixie of the Mill-Pond (Die Nixe im Teich)

There is a wealth of information on Shaun Tan's work all over the internet, from his website to interviews to articles and awards, so I won't repeat much more here. I will only say that I am so glad Mr. Tan found illustrating fairy tales to be such "trouble" and found his own way around it. The sculptures are unique and beautiful and, now that they exist, it seems odd they didn't before.
The Stolen Farthings (Der gestohlene Heller)
A Riddling Tale (Rätselmärchen)

The Twelve Brothers (Die zwölf Brüder)
I can't wait to see what tales he tackles next in his Grimm sculptures and hope to see the collection together on day as well.
Iron John (Eisenhans) - (Not to be confused with The Frog King or Iron Henry)
(You can see many more of the sculptures from the German edition HERE in a previous post of mine and from a related one over the the SurLaLune blog HERE with an additional write about the book.)

Rumpelstiltskin (Rumpelstilzchen)
In the meantime, he is back to being very busy as author and illustrator and already gathering awards for his latest offering, Rules of Summer, about two brothers, living in a world of fantastic creatures and crazy gizmos, in which one breaks all the rules and the other does his best to stop him doing so... or save him. At home in Australia, this last month, Shaun Tan won both the Ditmar and the Chronos National Awards for Best Artwork for Rules of Summer, and just this past week he also won the 2014 Illustration Prize for Children's and Youth books from the German Gemeinschaftswerk der Evangelischen Publizistik (GEP)another prestigious illustrators award, also for Rules of Summer.

These 3 sculptures were sold at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2013 (sob!)
Here is a brief list of popular works as author and illustrator (or illustrator only, where indicated):
Shaun Tan's website can be found HERE.
He blogs HERE, usually with works-in-progress or pieces that likely won't be published elsewhere, as well as occasional news.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

First Casting for Sofia Coppola's "The Little Mermaid" Makes Waves

The Little Mermaid by Edmund Dulac

Normally I don't bother with casting news unless it appears to be an indication of the direction the tale is going in. This announcement for Sofia Coppola's The Little Mermaid, though, would seem to do just that.

Although it isn't for the lead or any other main character, the casting news for "Sister #4", is already causing a lot of interest. Why? Because Sister #4 (likely a mermaid) will be played by fashion sensation and Australian model, Andrej Pejić.

(Even I've heard of Andrej Pejić!)

Why the big deal? Isn't the addition of pretty people an almost foregone conclusion with the-filmmaker-beloved-by-fashonistas, Sofia Coppola?

You may remember that Ms. Coppola's version of The Little Mermaid is not the Disney one. It's to be based on the Hans Andersen story. And you may also remember that HCA is thought to have written the unhappy story, based on his own unrequited love for another man.

The Little Mermaid has become THE fairy tale for the LGBT community (especially since Disney created their popular version and many people, often for the first time, saw a lower body transform and identified very personally with the agony of being "caught between worlds"), and Hans Andersen's own struggles go a long way to making that a valid interpretation.

Where Andrej Pejić makes a difference by being included in the casting is in being the world's most famous androgynous model, modeling both female and male clothing on the catwalk and being the current fashion poster child for the transgender community. Pejić was ranked number 18 in the Top 50 Male Models of the world in 2011 as well as being included in FHM's 100 Sexiest Women in the World, the same year. Self-described as "living between genders" and indicating a preference for female pronouns, she has never shied away from the controversy surrounding her gender or status, and although, 
1) there's no doubt Pejić is ridiculously gorgeous as male or female (or between) and
2) Pejić has done a small amount of movie/film work before, 
casting her for inclusion in this particular project by the talented, smart and very aware director, Sofia Coppola, is no accident.

While it remains to be seen what direction the film will go and which themes are focused on in the story, at the very least, Ms. Coppola has essentially announced that this film is inclusive for all who see it as "their" film, even if this is the only nod the LGBT community.

It will be very interesting to see whom else will be part of that world...

Source: HERE

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Aussies 'n' Fairy Tales Week: Juliet Marillier, Daughter of Tales, Writer of Legends

Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier - Full cover illustration for Tor UK by Jon Sullivan
Here's a multi-award winning, epic historical fantasy novelist and fairy tale writer whom you will likely be familiar with: Juliet Marillier.

If you haven't read any books by Ms. Marillier, you're in for a treat. "Epic" is an excellent description of the stories she writes (many are, or become, series) and it's clear she does a lot of historical research into time, place, legend and related tales as she's creating her worlds. She cites traditional fairy tales and folklore as being among her biggest influences, and that she continues to read them all to this day. It's no surprise, then, to find folk motifs woven throughout her books, or to discover that she's written some wonderful stories inspired by specific tales (retellings is probably not quite the correct term).

The AFTS spoke to Ms. Marillier recently, asking her just what it was about fairy tales that attracted her. Here's an excerpt:
Many fairy tales weave through your books and short stories. Daughter of the Forest is based on ‘The Six Swans’ and Wildwood Dancing on ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’. What is it about fairy tales that attracts you? 
Juliet Marillier & furry family
I’ve loved fairy tales since I was a small child. Back then, it was the sense of wonder, the huge possibilities opened up by the idea that a magical realm exists alongside, or maybe inside, the world we know; and it was the thought that each of us can be a hero and achieve the apparently impossible. It’s often the gormless youngest brother or the quiet youngest sister who ends up saving the day – a person thought unimportant by his or her family and community. For a shy, bookish child, that was a reassuring message for the future! 
Over the years I’ve continued to read fairy tales, folklore and mythology and to read scholarly discussions of them, and the magic has never died for me. Fairy tales are powerful. They make sense of real life dilemmas. They give people codes for living wisely and well, and they provide hope and reassurance in times of fear and doubt. When I use fairy tale material I do so with immense respect for all the storytellers who have come before me, each of them reworking the story to suit his or her circumstances.
You can read the whole interview on the AFTS website HERE.

Since there's a very good chance she's already on your radar, I'll just list the books that are most distinctly linked to a tale (or tales) with a little added information.

Daughter of the Forest
Based on the fairy tale The Six Swans, it remains one of my favorite retellings of all books to date. A series of five more books followed to expand the story.

From Ms. Marillier's website:
In Daughter of the Forest, the fairy tale story - a youngest sister must maintain complete silence while weaving shirts from nettles in order to return her swan brothers to human form - is combined with a family drama set on both sides of the Irish Sea. More than anything, this is a story about the bond of love between siblings. 
The framework for Daughter of the Forest is a Germanic tale, The Six Swans, from the collection of the Grimm brothers. Beneath the classic fairytale elements (a wicked stepmother, a transformation, a trial by silence) is a story of courage born from loss, and lives forever altered. With its swan imagery and its remote forest setting, the Germanic story settles easily into the Irish landscape and may indeed even owe something to the Celtic tradition, a major influence on European folktales from the thirteenth century onwards. The Children of Lir, the tale of Aengus Og and his swan-bride, these are Irish myths in which child turns to swan and swan to beautiful maiden, in the space of an eye blink.
Wildwood Dancing
Using the fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses (& referencing another...).

There are many mysteries within the wildwood. Jena and her sisters share the biggest of all, a fantastic secret that enables them to escape the confines of their everyday life in rural Transylvania. They have kept it hidden for nine long years. 
When their father falls ill and must leave their forest home over the winter, Jena and her oldest sister Tati are left in charge. All goes well until a tragic accident allows their over bearing cousin Cezar to take control. The appearance of a mysterious young man in a black coat divides sister from sister, and suddenly Jena finds herself fighting to save all she holds dear. With her constant companion Gogu by her side, she must venture to realms dark and perilous in her quest to preserve, not just those she loves, but her own independence as well.
And a bonus question from the Writer Unboxed mini-interview on the book:
Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?JM: It combines fairytale fantasy, history, family drama and love story. The Transylvanian setting allowed me to explore some of the darker aspects of the Otherworld, but I’ve tried to avoid vampire cliché. The relationship between Jena and Gogu is central to the book. I’m always puzzled by those Frog Prince stories in which the girl is so thrilled when the frog morphs into a handsome prince. I mean, would you fall instantly in love with someone who had just … appeared? So I wrote a story in which the strongest bond of love is between girl and frog.
Heart's Blood
Inspired by the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.

Author's Note:
Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favourite fairy tales, and readers will recognise the bones of it in Heart’s Blood: a mysterious house with an alienated, disfigured master, a priceless plant growing in a forbidden garden, magic mirrors and unusual household retainers. The story of my novel has the same general shape as that of Beauty and the Beast. 
However, this is far from a fairy tale retelling. It’s not even a close reinterpretation of the traditional tale. Heart’s Blood is a love story, a ghost story, a family saga, a story about people overcoming their difficulties, and a little slice of Irish history, as well as a homage to a favourite fairy tale. 
Prickle Moon
Ms. Marillier's short story and novella collection.

"She sang them in, verse by verse, name by sweet name ..." So begins Prickle Moon, Juliet Marillier’s first collection of short stories, and what stories they are. Each tale, whether inflected by fantasy, horror or science fiction, is powerful. Each bears the bones of its fairytale ancestors, inviting you to sit by the fire and hear stories at once timeless and ancient, yet shot through with the silver veins of modern life. Entertaining and enchanting, lyrical and lovely, Marillier will sing you in, too. (British Fantasy Award winner Angela Slatter)


Dreamer's Pool (Blackthorn and Grim Book 1)
Set in medieval Ireland, this book contains both fairy tale and mystery elements. Release date is set for October 2014 for Pan Macmillan in Australia, and November 2014 for Penguin's US edition.

Description introduction:
What if you were locked up awaiting execution and a stranger offered you a bargain that would set you free?  What if accepting bound you to certain rules of behaviour for seven years, rules you knew you were likely to break within days? And what if the penalty for breaking them was to find yourself back where you started, eaten up with bitterness and waiting to die?
Blackthorn chooses life, even though she must promise not to seek vengeance against her arch-enemy, Lord Mathuin. In company with a cell-mate, the hulking, silent Grim, the one-time healer and wise woman flees north to Winterfalls in Dalriada, where she settles in a derelict cottage on the fringe of the mysterious Dreamer’s Wood.  Blackthorn has promised her benefactor, the fey nobleman Conmael, that she will use her gifts only for good. But she and Grim are both scarred by the past, and the embittered healer finds her promise increasingly hard to keep. 
Read the first chapter excerpt HERE.

Other books by epic fantasy books (all with folktale motifs!) by Juliet Marillier:

You can find Ms. Marillier's website HERE
Her Facebook page is HERE
And she's a regular columnist on Writer Unboxed HERE.