The grim and the moral: the not quite forgotten bits of fairy tales and fables

Wolves on the Beyond: Book 4: Frost Wolf by Kathryn Lasky

Fairy tales and fables are kind of old, classic things. Sure every once in a while someone retells them in a new, accessible way (which I’m totally for) but it’s not like the Brothers Grimm of Aesop is still churning those out. Which is probably okay too. Lots of people forget how grim they can actually be (Remember Cinderella’s sisters cutting parts of their feet off to fit them in the shoes? Yeah, I wish I didn’t) or how boring (the fox is one trait, that is it, that is all. He is crafty and that’s all you’ll ever need to know about him). But I feel like, just because they’re a little longer now, doesn’t mean these elements aren’t still finding their way into kid’s lives.

See Wolves of the Beyond.

As usual, I grabbed what I hoped was the first one (it wasn’t) and read that one. Therefore there are spoilers for the first three books here (I assume, since I haven’t actually read them). The Wolves of the Beyond have a complicated social structure, ancient customs and preform everything with great dignity. They also have the rather depressing practice of abandoning pups that are in any way physically imperfect. Most die, but some, like the heroes of this story, survive and join packs as the lowest members of society. When snowstorms in summer bring famine and fear to the wolves, one wolf seizes the opportunity to start a terrible cult, that ends with wolves dancing themselves to death.

First off, I would just like to say, this book terrified me. The reader had an amazing voice, and was so good at creating atmosphere that the scenes where the wolves killed themselves were truly horrifying. And that comes around to my earlier point. It’s not exactly a fairy tale, but it is dark and grim, doesn’t sugar coat death or pain or survival. I’m not sure why children need that, but it’s so prevalent that there must be something. Children love the grotesque and the horrible, I would guess because it gives them a lens to view their own realities, where gross and scary things to actually happen all the time, but really, I have no idea. I could totally be making that up.

There’s also a heavy moral component to the story. The big baddie (here there be spoilers, although really it was so predictable it hardly counts) is a wolf who inherits his role as leader of the pack, has no natural instinct for leading and quickly falls into despair. Then he abandons the dignity of his clan, his species and leads his people to their deaths. Really, the moral is obvious – don’t let go of who you are when faced the challenges. So we have a story told with a moral, using animals as the mouth piece. That’s a fable right?

I would probably read this whole series, although I expect that it would get pretty repetitive after a while. The coolest bit by far is the amazing complexity of the wolves’ world and social order. If you can get the audiobook, even better. That gentleman can read a book. And that’s about all I’ve got.

Last movie I watched:

3 Ninjas! So cute. So funny.

Last TV episode I watched:

Smallville. Oh yes, that happened.

The terrible things we do: religion, politics and love

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

I did an independent novel study on this book in high school. At the time I really loved its kick ass feministness and complex characters, its intricate story line and the way it blended so many myths together so seamlessly. Now I can’t believe how much sex I missed. And not like even straight people sex either. Same sex sex and threesome sex and oral sex, like all kinds of sex. How did 17 year old me miss all this?

This is a retelling of the King Arthur myth told through the perspective of the female characters who are traditionally under developed and dull and/or evil. It’s Marion Zimmer Bradley’s really great work, and although it’s very, very long, it’s really wonderful. I love King Arthur stories so much, I’ve read a million of them and I’m always looking for more.

I think the most interesting thing about myths is that we can retell them over and over and over again, across generations because every generation, every retelling and every version brings something new to the story, brings something unique to it, some way to connect it to the teller’s lives and time and reality.

This time I read a lot into the religion of the book, more specifically the horrifying extremes religion can drive good people to. Possibly because that’s something that I, as the reader (And readers become part of the retelling) think is effecting my world and my life and my time in a huge, huge way.

Allow me to summarize the situation in Britain in this King Arthur story. It is divided into two – the old religion is a Goddess worshiping faith with a strong focus on death and rebirth. The Lady of the Lake, the Priestess of Avalon is the Goddess’s face on earth, and under her supervision rituals celebrating the cycles of the world take place. The other religion is Christianity, with its rigid insistence that nature, and naturally occurring acts are evil and that all gods but their God are abominations. And into this giant conflict Morgaine and her baby brother Arthur are thrust, and ultimately end up being on opposite sides of.

Morgaine loves her little brother dearly, and thinks that he’s the only person who ever really loved her. But when she’s a young girl she’s sent away to be fostered by her aunt in Avalon, where she becomes a priestess. Her little brother, obviously goes on to become king of England. Both end up being manipulated by Vivian and Avalon, to conceive the prefect king but still maintain a happy relationship for most of their lives until Morgaine betrays him, in the name of her Goddess.

And that thread trails through the whole book, for so many characters. A few people, like Morgause, use people they love for political gain, and a few people, like Gwenyfar do terrible things for love, but for Morgaine it was always the Goddess. She was ruthlessly used by her foster-mother Vivian, and in the end ruthlessly used her own foster-daughter, resulting in the girl’s death. In the name of her Goddess she murders people who are in her way, sends her lover to his, orders the execution of her former lover and acts against her king and her brother. Her life is spent lonely and empty because of the actions she commits against the people she loves in the name of her Goddess.

To make it more bitter sweet, in the end she comes to understand that it was all for nothing, because her Goddess will always be with mankind, even if it’s in a different form, like that of the Virgin Mary that the Christians worship. While this brings Morgaine peace, to me it is heartbreaking.

Every day, across the world people are dying because we seem to be unable to see our own Gods in other people’s. Or maybe we fail to see our own humanity in other people.

Either way, the people in this book all feel like they are doing the right thing, no matter if it is luring their lover to punishment and death, plotting to overthrow a beloved sibling or engineering an incestuous relationship, everyone believes they are doing it for the right reason. Sometimes it’s easy to look at violence and horrendous acts and think that the people who commit them must be evil. But what if they’re not? What if they really, truly believe that what they’re doing is right?

I think that’s scarier then just pure evil.

This book will always be a re-read for me, because I don’t doubt that every time I read it I will get something new out of it. Now, if you don’t love King Arthur myths that’s okay, but I really think you should find a book to re-read that never tells itself the same way twice. I think that’s important.

Last movie I watched:

I really don’t remember. I’ve been very busy lately. I hope it was good though.

Last TV episode I watched:

Last episode of Charmed season 7. That was a really good ending. If it weren’t for my love for the last episode of season 8, I’d say they should have stopped there.

Predictable and yucky, and still I might just read the second

Wicked: Witch by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie

Because I’m not sure exactly where to start with this book I’m going to start with the summery and go from there. It was one of those books.

Holly is a normal girl (she thinks) who is on vacation with her parents and her best friend, when their white water raft flips over and everyone but Holly dies. Her near death experience involves a flashback to several hundred years ago, and a woman called Isabeau, a witch with a complicated Romeo and Juliet style back story. Surprising no one, Isabeau is Holly ancestor and they are deeply connected. A thousand miles away, Micheal Deveraux is planning on murdering Holly’s long lost aunt, Marie-Clare, who has just become Holly’s guardian but stops when he learns that there is one more woman in the Cahors’ line. Desperate to gain the power lost to his family hundreds of years earlier, he tries to use his sons to get it back. Jer, his youngest son resists his father’s cruel ambition when he realizes he is inexplicably drawn to Holly.
Which shocks no one since he’s obviously the reincarnation of Isabeau’s one true love Jean.

The trouble with this book was it’s dreadful predictable-ness. Teenage girl who is mysteriously special in a time of trouble and transition is drawn into a dangerous magical world by a handsome, enigmatic and deeply dark man (see Twilight as the prime example of this). Like Twilight, Holly is not particularly active in her own story (her discovery that she has magical abilities comes from being manipulated and possessed by her ancestor, her cousin and her cat, she is protected from a distance by Jer and his coven, and in the end she makes a decision to fight for the man she’s madly in love with after 6 seconds of conversation because she’s destined to love him). Basically, she stumbles her way through a well written, very creepy coming-to-terms phase, a quick little training montage and then a big final battle, all centered around someone else’s love story, a connection that fails completely to be mysterious or compelling.

The other thing I struggled with a little was the gore and violence. I’m not opposed to either, and often I think descriptions that are uncomfortable to the reader are really important. I also like the idea of witch craft as a dark thing, and it definitely appealed to the classics nerd in me, all this animal sacrifice and ritual but it became so over the top I felt like the gore was included for it’s shock value. And I don’t see why anyone needs that. Shock me with the amazing writing quality or the epic story or by challenging my assumptions, but don’t do it with dismembering furry animals every other chapter. It stopped being shocking and creepy after the first eight animal deaths.

Having said all that, I would still probably read the next one. I am interested in the secondary characters, particularly Holly’s cousins and Jer’s coven and the cliff hanger at the end has at least made my slightly curious. Still, it’s not high on to read list right now, and that’s a long list. Points also for including two gay characters, who while shallow and under developed, had a powerful relationship.

Ultimately, not my favourite. Don’t hate it, but don’t love it either. Just a kind of boring average novel for teenage girls yearning for an Eward Cullin-esk fantasy with a little more horror.

Last movie I watched:

About half of Shrek 3. I fell asleep.

Last TV episode I watched:

Little Mosque on the Prairie. Still super funny guys. Super funny.