Without Great Power Comes Great Opportunity Aug20

Without Great Power Comes Great Opportunity...

It’s the ultimate nerd personality question: what superpower would you want? I wonder whether people’s answers are actually an indicator of personality—like healing powers for a nurturing person—or whether it’s about the side benefits, like using telekinesis in a magic act to make lots of money. I’m not sure I want a superpower at all. Some of the most beloved characters in the geek world are the non-gifted teammates on a team of heroes. Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Marvel’s Agent Coulson, and Tolkien’s hobbits are “weak” and unskilled compared to other characters, but their deficiencies give them experiences other heroes don’t have. As someone without superpowers, those experiences are pretty familiar. When I’m not the strongest or most efficient person at home, at work, or with friends, I can learn how to value my unique attributes and use them well, focusing on what I can offer. Sokka and Contentment All Sokka ever wanted was to become a great warrior, protect his tribe, and find his father. “I’m just a guy with a boomerang,” he says when he and Katara discover Aang and meet Appa. “I didn’t ask for all this flying and magic!” But he agrees to help Aang, and becomes a valuable member of the group, even though he’s the only one without bending powers. Sokka rarely complains about feeling useless, but in the episode “Sokka’s Master,” when he can’t help put out a forest fire, he begins to despair. “All you guys can do this awesome bending stuff, like putting out forest fires and flying around… I can’t fly around, okay? I can’t do anything.” To encourage him, his friends suggest he train under a sword master, and he hones not just his fighting skills, but his creativity, resourcefulness, and...

Eowyn Defines the Church’s Restrictions for Women Jul27

Eowyn Defines the Church’s Restrictions for Women...

As the niece of Rohan’s king, Eowyn is a leader of her people, one who is loved and respected. When their city is under attack, it is her responsibility to lead the people to Helm’s Deep for safety. Shouldn’t this be enough responsibility for her? Shouldn’t she realize how much her uncle and brother value her leadership by putting her in charge of the people, and how much they value her life by forbidding her to ride into war with them? But Eowyn was born for battle. She is destined, through an ancient prophecy, to defeat the Witch King in defense of Middle-earth. Sheildmaidens are an actual thing in Rohan; they are a part of the culture and history of war in this kingdom. Her entire society is centered on defending their kingdom from the ever-nearing enemy that looms over their land. Everything in Eowyn’s life points to her taking her place as a Shieldmaiden, except for one thing: the men in her life. Her brother and uncle don’t want to risk her death, taking the decision out of her hands. But, their loving care—though they didn’t know it—would have prevented her from turning the tides of battle in the war against Sauron. They would have kept her “safely” in a cage, where she couldn’t live out her passions and strengths. When many people are invited to question what they believe, they may reconsider their actions. I work for the Catholic Church, an institution that loves and respects women. We seek to protect the dignity of women, recognizing both genders as equally made in the image and likeness of God. We believe women are uniquely able to participate in God’s creative action on earth and celebrate that gift. I love the Church, and feel...

Why Your Friends Don’t Deserve to be Eaten by Dinosaurs Jun04

Why Your Friends Don’t Deserve to be Eaten by Dinosaurs...

There were few events I anticipated as a kid as much as the opening weekend for Jurassic Park. The excitement around that movie was palpable and all the news and entertainment shows on television—not to mention my friends—were clamoring for it. All the enthusiasm persuaded me to read the novel on which it was based, which was a big deal for me. It was the first book I read for fun, and I enjoyed it fully. Michael Crichton’s work made me feel like an adult, with all its multifaceted characters and scientific context. Well, that and the curse words. I was full of adrenaline when I finally made it to the theater to watch Spielberg’s film. The opening scene with the unseen velociraptor capturing a terrified worker mesmerized me, but soon afterwards, confusion set in. The plot differed greatly from the book and the characters weren’t quite the ones I remembered. I was most confused by the absence of lawyer Donald Gennaro. A major figure in the novel, I wondered why he was missing from the movie. There was an attorney in the film, but that couldn’t be Gennaro, who the author described as strong and stout, who had his faults but also showed scruples. This attorney was thinner, balder, and older than the one in the book, and far more befitting of the “evil lawyer” stereotype. My loved ones are not simple stories or funny punchlines. In Michael Crichton’s version, Gennaro is a corporate lawyer looking out for his employers’ investment and his own well-being, but through the course of the story, he changes. Once put into life and death situations, he focuses on his own safety rather than his greed, and later, also on the safety of the other survivors. When it...

When Identities are Forced Upon Us: Furyborn and Prophecy May16

When Identities are Forced Upon Us: Furyborn and Prophecy...

Prophecies are a staple plot device in fantasy fiction: they reveal information, advance the plot, and create intrigue around characters. But they are also subject to interpretation. The way they are understood often has more impact on the story than the prophecy itself. For example, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry finds out that there is a prophecy about him. But, the prophecy doesn’t mention him by name, just that “the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies.” As it turns out, two boys were born at the end of July: Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom. Though Voldemort chose Harry, he could have chosen Neville just as easily. Voldemort’s interpretation of the prophecy is what led to Harry becoming the Chosen One, not the prophecy itself. Some secrets—like sexual orientation and past abuse—are scary and life-changing, and people should not be forced to reveal them when they are not ready. Interpretation of prophecy is one of the major themes in Furyborn by Claire Legrand, because the identity of the protagonist, Rielle, becomes wrapped up in one. In Furyborn, the people of Celdaria have lived with one central prophecy for hundreds of years—one day, two Queens will rise: the Sun Queen, who will save the world, and the Blood Queen, who will destroy it. In this world, people have the ability to manipulate one of seven elements. However, while magic users need to channel their powers through something, these two Queens will have the ability to perform magic at will—and they will be able to manipulate all seven elements simultaneously. Rielle has been able to use multiple elements her whole life. But, after causing a fatal accident with fire at the age of...

Community through Addiction: Angel, Spike, and the Desire for Blood Apr18

Community through Addiction: Angel, Spike, and the Desire for Blood...

When Joss Whedon took a break from Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the show’s sixth season, the writers took Willow on a dark path where she became more and more reliant on the power of magic—an allegory for addiction and recovery. But if you were paying attention, the real addicts had been there all along, skulking in the shadows, always after another hit, hiding in the very title of the show. Vampires are addicted to blood. Their thirst for it is the reason they get up, get out, see anyone, or do anything. They spend most of their waking hours stalking prey. Vamps often corner their prey in dark alleyways, a stereotypical site of drug deals, which means they often find their deaths slumped over against a brick wall—an unfortunate trope of addicts in television and film. The vamps of Sunnydale know that the Slayer is out there, but their cravings send them out into the night despite the danger. There are no “casual” vampires. No one goes on a one-night blood bender. One hit and they are hooked for their immortal lives. Vampirism turns Angel from a fun-loving Lothario into Angelus, a demon transfixed by others’ pain. Similarly, Spike transforms from an unpopular man suffering unrequited love and a reputation for “bloody awful poetry” into a being willing to kill his own mother. Through drinking a vamp’s blood, Spike and Angel contract a vampirism “disorder,” with symptoms they will manage for the rest of their lives. Even after they regain their souls, they struggle with their addiction. Angel and Shame While on the surface Angel and Spike are glossy bad boys, underneath they are men looking for wholeness that blood can’t fulfill. By the time Buffy meets Angel, he’s isolated himself out of...

Feeling Inadequate as a Support Mar21

Feeling Inadequate as a Support...

Receiving the nickname “vomit boy” is not a promising beginning for a would-be hero. Neither is forging school transcripts or succumbing to the demands of a bully. In short, Jaune Arc’s early days at Beacon Academy are anything but an inspiring origin story. From its first episode, RWBY’s main character has always been Ruby Rose. In spite of the show’s large cast, Ruby stands apart from the rest and garners the most screen time. In some ways, Ruby and Jaune are not so different: they enter Beacon together, become team leaders, and go through most of the same adventures. But whereas Ruby was allowed into Beacon two years early because of her fighting prowess, Jaune can barely hold his own on the battlefield. Ruby is everything Jaune wishes he could be: an exceptional fighter with a state-of-the-art-weapon. In other words, hero material. In Volume One, Jaune wrestles with a lot of frustration. Although he knows he’s not a strong fighter, he feels embarrassed when his teammate, Pyrrha, offers to help him train. “I don’t want help!” he tells her. “I don’t want to be the damsel in distress; I want to be the hero!” Because of his pride, Jaune pushes away Pyrrha and his other teammates—just in time for Cardin, Beacon’s resident bully, to learn that Jaune lied his way into Beacon. Cardin blackmails Jaune into all kinds of dirty work, making him less of a hero than ever. Jaune’s always played a supporting role, not because he’s second-best, but because that’s where he belongs. Finally, Cardin threatens Jaune’s teammates. For the first time, we see Jaune’s heroism when he stands up to Cardin in defense of his friends. In the aftermath, Jaune becomes humble enough to ask for Pyrrha’s help. His friends’ need...

My Soul for a Suit of Armour: A Supernatural Response to Grief Mar07

My Soul for a Suit of Armour: A Supernatural Response to Grief...

Grief is debilitating. It clouds my judgement. It breaks me, tearing off pieces of my heart and revisiting after I hoped it had left for good. Staying at my grandparents’ house recently, I was overcome by emotions because of my grandpa’s death. He died a year ago, and I miss him. If I could do something to get him back, I would. If I could hear his voice again and it would ease the pain, even for a second, I would jump into the TARDIS to do so; I’m not sure even the threat of tearing time apart would stop me. People respond to the death of loved ones differently. Some seek retribution out of anger. Like Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride, they dedicate their lives to hurting the one who hurt them. Others try to force the grief away. Like Rose Tyler from Doctor Who, who attempts to reverse her father’s death, they’d do anything to get a happy ending. Characters who deny their grief often end up paying horrible prices. Just ask Edward and Alphonse Elric from the Fullmetal Alchemist (and the more faithful to the manga, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood) anime series. At a young age, Ed and Al lose their mother. In desperation, the two boys attempt to resurrect her with a forbidden alchemic spell. As a result, Ed loses an arm and a leg, and Al loses his entire body. Ed manages to attach his brother’s soul to a suit of armour, and they are left to deal with the consequences of meddling with death—their losses only compounded by the contorted corpse of the woman they love. The brothers wanted a fast way to solve their problems. They knew they felt sad—sad to the breaking point—and they wanted the horrifying emotion to go away. Who doesn’t? Grieving is a process, and at such a young age, they may not have understood that. Many adults don’t, either. There is arrogance in the brothers’ actions—they thought they could cheat grief and death when no one else had ever done so—but they were ignorant as well. On the other hand, Dean Winchester from Supernatural knows exactly what he’s doing when he makes a similar decision. He’s dealt with crossroad demons before and knows the price of striking a deal with one, but does so anyway because he wants to save his brother, Sam. His motives are similar to those of the Elric brothers; he’s acting out of intense grief, love for the deceased, and the fear of being alone in the world. Several times, Dean has lost Sam. Each time has been as devastating as the next to him as he can’t bear the thought of being without his little brother. He makes so many deals with demons and other supernatural beings, that he actually becomes blackballed from ever making such deals again. With each deal he strikes, the cost is high. He constantly puts his own life and humanity on the line, which may mend the problem of losing Sam, but causes more grief than good to Dean, Sam, and those around them. To respond irrationally to grief, to run away from horrifying feelings, is to be human. No one wants to feel unhappy. No one wants to miss someone so much that their chests hurt and they have trouble breathing. However, how we respond to loss impacts our mental health and influences how we react to others experiencing similar situations in the future. Ed and Al learn from their mistake—from attempting to bypass the grieving process—and when they encounter a young woman who has lost her lover, they understand why she wants to bring him back from the dead. When she sees that Al doesn’t have a body, Al says, “This is my punishment for setting foot on holy ground where mortals are forbidden. We made a mistake, Rose. And we’re paying for it.” When she...

Samurai Jack and Being Valued in Another’s Eyes Mar05

Samurai Jack and Being Valued in Another’s Eyes...

Though it’s not his preference, it’s Jack’s job to live by the sword. He’s a Samurai, but he tries to complete his mission with as little violence as possible. Jack’s goal: to prevent Aku from destroying everything good in the world and save his family’s empire. However, he gives every monster and villain he faces an opportunity to repent, even letting them walk away unharmed if they do so. It’s with this attitude that he faces Ashi, one of the Daughters of Aku who are trained as assassins to kill Jack. He treats her with compassion when she is used to a life devoid of love or kindness. She has been treated as an indistinguishable cog in a fighting machine; not cared for, not recognized for her gifts, just an agent of death used to accomplish her father’s evil plan. During her training, little glimpses of beauty in the midst of cruelty distracted her (which she was severely punished for). What was being beat into her didn’t sit right in her heart. But it was all she knew, so she tried to be the best assassin she could be, and excelled at it. When Jack goes out of his way to avoid killing her, even saving her life, she is surprised. As she continually tries to kill him, Jack offers her mercy, opening her eyes to a truth she had only caught glimpses of throughout her life. Because of Jack’s kindness toward her, and having observed his care for strangers, Ashi begins to see her own value in his eyes. Ashi can’t help but see the difference between Aku’s evil and Jack’s selfless service to the vulnerable. Truth assaults her heart, turning it away from her murderous plans and toward Jack. Because of Jack’s...

Reading Grimm: Marriage and Emotional Labour Jan26

Reading Grimm: Marriage and Emotional Labour...

All fairy tales have a lesson, but I’m not sure what the moral in “The Singing, Soaring Lark” is besides “be a good person.” This tale is not actually about a lark; it’s about a young woman (the youngest and favourite daughter) whose father is tricked into trading her to a lion for a lark. This, as you would imagine, radically changes her life. The lion, it turns out, is a prince cursed to be a lion by day; no light can touch him. He and the young woman marry, and they live happily together sleeping by day and being awake by night. But, one day, the lion is touched by a ray of light “about the breadth of a hair,” and he is transformed into a dove. He tells his wife that he must fly across the world for seven years and that she must follow him, but that every seventh step he will let fall a drop of blood and a white feather. So here we have our beloved tropes: a favourite child, the contrast of red and white, a curse, and someone transformed into an animal. For the rest of the story, the young woman is looking for the prince. She receives help from the Sun and the Moon, who give her gifts to use when she needs them most, and the Night Wind and the South Wind, who give her information about where to find her husband. After battling a dragon that turns out to be an enchanted princess and wandering the wilderness some more, she breaks the spell and they ride off on a griffin, living happily ever after until the end of their days. Emotional labour—the work of managing feelings and expressions—is often considered “woman’s work” and is,...

On Being the Perfect Daughter Jan15

On Being the Perfect Daughter...

Mulan and Moana are two of my favourite Disney princesses, and they have a lot in common. Both sneak off and disobey their parents in order to save their homes from great danger. Both are in the minority of Disney princesses because their parents are still alive. Neither are taken seriously when they start their quest, but end up gaining the esteem of their companions. (Also, they both have five letter names starting with the letter M.) But the similarity that stands out most to me is that they both struggle with the failure to be the daughter their parents long for them to be. Look at me, I will never pass for a perfect bride, or a perfect daughter… if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart. (“Reflection” from Mulan) Mulan is a thinker and a dreamer. She longs for greater things, but culture demands that she bring honour to her family the only way women are allowed: marry well and bear children, preferably sons. I feel like I need to fit a certain mould in order to honour my parents. I wish I could be the perfect daughter, but I run back to the water, no matter how hard I try. (“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana) Moana is an explorer at heart, but as the daughter of the chief, and as next in line to lead her people, she is constantly forced to turn her gaze from the sea to the people in front of her. Both Mulan and Moana are faced with expectations they don’t feel they are able to fulfill. Society, their parents, and even they themselves have set a bar that seems impossible to overcome. And it seems all the harder because these...

Reading Grimm: Redefining Family Jan12

Reading Grimm: Redefining Family...

When I first read “Brother and Sister,” I was struck by how many familiar elements it contained that I knew from other fairy tales: siblings who are forced out on their own (like “Hansel and Gretel”); a wicked stepmother (like “Cinderella”) who is also a witch (like “Snow White”); that wicked stepmother also tries to usurp her stepchildren’s position with her own children (again, like “Cinderella”). Add in a little therianthropy (humans transforming into animals) and this odd fairy tale is a weird hodgepodge of tropes. But of all the familiar elements, it’s the portrayal of the domestic that strikes me as the most interesting. As noted folklorist Jack Zipes commented, fairy tales were never the sole domain of children; however a key aspect of fairy tales is an attempt to understand the complexities of the world. Only a superficial reading of these stories would say that home is safe and the outside world is dangerous and full of predators. In “Brother and Sister,” we see the strength of the familial bond between the main characters, but their home life is not safe. To escape the tyranny of their wicked stepmother, Brother and Sister leave their home to make their way into the world and, in essence, find their place in the world. In the broad strokes of fairy tales, stepmothers represent a disruption to the family unit. It’s a wholly unfair portrayal that still has negatively coloured stepparents, but as a sort of literary shorthand, it shows a family that looks whole on the surface with dysfunction just beneath. In the absence of a caring, nurturing home life, Brother and Sister embark on a search to find family. What’s most interesting to me is that although Sister marries the King and has a...

The Anger of Apes and Humans Jan10

The Anger of Apes and Humans...

I admit it—I struggle with road rage. It was particularly out of control when I first received my license as a teenager. While I was driving one evening, a car turned into my lane unexpectedly. I changed lanes and hit the gas, intending to pull up next to the driver and, uh, show my displeasure. But before I could do so, the elderly woman behind the wheel waved an apologetic hand toward me, and in that instant, I calmed down and realized how inexplicably angry I had become. I waved back and went on my way. Whenever I’m behind the wheel now, I remember that incident. I try to become a calmer driver, one who doesn’t need a wave to remind me to be kind on the road. But it remains a challenge for me to respond with grace when I feel wronged. Anger is easier, and satisfying in the moment—an emotion Caesar, the protagonist in the Planet of the Apes reboot, is intimately familiar with. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the previous film in the trilogy, Koba, a bonobo who is unable to forgive humans for the experiments they conducted on him, sets the impetus for war between humans and apes. Though he died in that movie, his specter continues to haunt Caesar as he finds himself becoming more and more like Koba. In War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar chooses to hunt down the Colonel, who had murdered his family. Caesar leaves his tribe defenseless by doing so. As violence escalates, Caesar, having always been the ironic picture of what humanity could be rather than what it is, grows angrier and angrier. After one of his comrades, Luca, is killed, he declares that the humans must pay,...

Dealing with Dementors and Depression Jan08

Dealing with Dementors and Depression...

J.K. Rowling’s dementors, first introduced in The Prisoner of Azkaban, are a frightening, visceral force of evil, serving both as a villainous power and a major plot point. But these cloaked and hooded minions are more than just another antagonist that Harry must defeat; they are reminiscent of a stigmatized, fundamentally human struggle: mental illness and depression. Rowling herself has confirmed that the dementors represent the horrors of depression, and if we take a closer look at these frightening creatures, similarities between their impact on the characters and the realities of mental illness abound. In both the Harry Potter books and their on-screen counterparts, dementors cause a creeping sense of dread, a tangible coldness in the air, and a dredging-up of horrible memories. The longer a character is in the presence of a dementor, whose very name suggests “mental demons,” the worse these symptoms become. Harry hears his mother screaming, feels a numbing cold, and eventually, unable to cope with the horror, passes out. These symptoms are similar to clinical depression—a darkness, an almost existential dread, and claustrophobic, tunnel-like enclosing, which leaves the one suffering in a state of suspended numbness and despair. Though hope may exist outside of the dementors’ range, that hope is inaccessible; it might as well be non-existent to those suffering. Lupin affirms that the amplified reaction Harry has to dementors is not because there’s something wrong with him. The first time Harry experiences the terrifying effects of the dementors, he is ashamed and embarrassed in the aftermath. Though Hermione and Ron are also horrified, they do not respond nearly as viscerally as he does. Indeed, Harry is frequently mocked by his arch-enemy, Draco Malfoy, because of how strongly he responds to the dementors. Lucky for Harry, though, he is...

Reading Grimm: Mental Illness and “The Juniper Tree” Dec29

Reading Grimm: Mental Illness and “The Juniper Tree”...

Baking your murder victim into a pudding may not be the best way to dispose of the evidence, but that’s what we get in Grimm’s fairy tale, “The Juniper Tree.” In this story, a rich man and his beautiful wife love each other deeply, but they have no children even though the wife prays for it everyday. One day, while she is peeling an apple beneath the juniper tree in their courtyard, she cuts her finger and blood falls on the snow. She sighs, “if I had but a child, as red as blood and as white as snow.” The juniper tree fills her with a sense of joy and comfort, and she feels that her wish will come true. But, eight months later she eats some juniper berries and becomes ill. One month after that, she has a baby boy and dies because she is filled with so much joy at the sight of him. She is buried beneath the juniper tree. The man marries another woman and they have a daughter. There is an immediate contrast between the boy’s biological mother—who essentially died from her own “goodness”—and the stepmother, who beats the boy because he stands in the way of her daughter receiving an inheritance. In order to get him our of the way, she kills him, but frames her daughter for the murder and then bakes the boy into black puddings (something more akin to a cake, for those who are unfamiliar with British colloquialisms for desserts), which she serves to the father when he returns home. The little girl, however, is so distraught that she collects the boy’s bones, wraps them in her best handkerchief, and places them beneath the juniper tree. There, the bones are turned into a bird,...

The Lies We Tell: Deception in The Good Place Dec27

The Lies We Tell: Deception in The Good Place...

Warning: Spoilers This Way Lie In the first season of NBC’s The Good Place, deception is not only part of the storytelling and catalyst for humour, but an important thematic element. Anyone who’s watched even a few sitcoms knows how often they use lying and deception as a plot device to get the most laughs. Whether it’s George Constanza tricking his employers into thinking he’s at work by leaving his car in the parking lot or Chandler and Monica keeping their relationship secret from their friends, lies provide significant ground to explore comedic possibilities in these shows. But at a time when politicians and media pundits continue to normalize “alternate facts,” The Good Place explores the moral consequences of lying and the power of telling the truth. In the pilot episode, Eleanor Shellstrop discovers that she has died and has been admitted to “the good place,” an idyllic, heaven-like neighbourhood where only the best and altruistic souls go. Eleanor soon realizes that she’s not supposed to be there. She’s been somehow confused with another, much better woman who’s also named Eleanor Shellstrop. When Eleanor discovers that her presence is having disastrous consequences for the good place and its inhabitants, she decides that she has to do whatever it takes to stay—including lying and shifting blame to others.  In flashbacks to her life on earth, we see how self-centered and self-involved Eleanor was—every decision she made was about her own personal comfort and interest. Lying can make us feel powerful and help us avoid punishment, but can also create a subtle hell. As part of her plan, Eleanor also embarks on a course of study on ethics taught by Chidi, a tightly-wound professor of moral philosophy who is still haunted by the memory of a...

Facing Anxiety in a Wide World Dec26

Facing Anxiety in a Wide World...

I love stories of brave, powerful heroes and dream of being like them. But in reality, I’m shy and struggle with anxiety. I think I’m too weak to be a hero, but characters like Bilbo Baggins remind me that it’s possible to be both anxious and heroic. If anyone understands what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, it’s Bilbo. In the opening of The Hobbit, Bilbo is very comfortable in Bag End and doesn’t like anything disrupting his quiet life. Then Gandalf appears and embroils the hobbit in an adventure—without taking Bilbo’s opinion into consideration. When the dwarves unexpectedly arrive at Bag End, Bilbo is pushed to higher and higher levels of stress, which also describes my own experience. Gandalf sent the dwarves to Bag End without giving Bilbo any notice or explanation, and my life has a similar way of introducing one “dwarf” after another at the most inconvenient times. Eventually, it feels like too much to deal with. I end up wanting to react the same way Bilbo does: “The poor little hobbit sat down in the hall and put his head in his hands, and wondered what had happened, and what was going to happen, and whether they would all stay to supper.” That is, essentially, a description of anxiety: feeling overwhelmed by what is happening, what might happen, and what may be expected of you. Courage isn’t about what you feel; it’s about the choices you make regardless of your feelings. To make matters harder for Bilbo, the situation that stresses him feels normal to the dwarves and Gandalf. While the dwarves calmly discuss an adventure that might cost their lives, Bilbo has a panic attack at the thought: “Poor Bilbo couldn’t bear it any longer. At may never return he...

Reading Grimm: Old Women are Evil Dec08

Reading Grimm: Old Women are Evil...

The evil queen in Snow White. The old woman in Hansel and Gretel. The witch in The Little Mermaid. Cinderella’s stepmother. Are old ladies ever decent people in fairy tales? In The Old Woman in the Wood, a poor servant-girl is traveling with the family she serves, and robbers attack. Everyone dies except her, and she takes refuge under a tree. A dove gives her keys that open the tree and she is provided with food, a bed, and riches. The dove asks for a favour in return: that she enter a cottage where an old woman lives and steal a ring. The word “witch” or “hag” is not used at this point, and yet warning bells still go off in my head. In the fairy tales I’ve read, the old women, the stepmothers, the queens—they’re always evil. And my suspicions are confirmed when she turns out to be a “wicked witch” who had transformed a prince into the very tree the serving girl had taken shelter under. So why are so many old women typecast as evil? Maybe because, historically, mothers have had more influence on their children than fathers, and twisting that influence results in horrifying villains; someone who should be a nurturing role model turned into a psychotic murderer is terrifying indeed. Or maybe because women of power were a frightening thought to the patriarchy. Maybe they still are. Consider how much influence these characters have—they’re usually queens, can use magic, or both. And yet they’ve become corrupt, often attacking the young protagonist in order to protect something they value, acting out of vanity or jealousy. Is that just what men expected to happen if a woman came to power without a prince by her side? Though in this story’s case, the witch...

Samwise and Bob: Pages in a Greater Story Dec06

Samwise and Bob: Pages in a Greater Story...

From the moment I met Samwise Gamgee on the big screen, he has been beloved to me. Seeing Sean Astin bring one of my favourite Tolkien characters to life made the actor inextricable from Sam in my child’s mind. And through the years, as I have grown older and more aware of the beauties and horrors of the world around me, the roles which Sean Astin has played have stood the test of time, largely due to their redemptive qualities. So, when I saw that Astin would be playing Bob Newby in Stranger Things 2, I was sure that I’d find something to love about him. Both Bob the Brain and Sam Gamgee are vehicles for a universal truth, helping to show that there is in fact, “light and high beauty forever beyond” like Sam notices in The Return of the King. This hope is beyond the reach of the dark, even when the characters themselves seem fairly insignificant in their respective worlds. Bob and Sam are aware that they are in a larger narrative, that their role in their worlds and their small acts of goodness can reverberate through eternity. Sam’s revelation comes in the latter chapters of The Two Towers: Sam acknowledges that the truest and most memorable tales include some suffering, some sacrifice, and a heap of courage. “The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, the...

Reading Grimm: If Beauty is Skin Deep Nov24

Reading Grimm: If Beauty is Skin Deep...

We’re obsessed with beauty. I get it. Pretty things are nice to look at. But I don’t hide away in my room because I don’t have the grace of Gwyneth Paltrow or the glamour of Gal Gadot. Apparently that’s a thing you do in fairy tales, though. In the Grimm story “The Crystal Ball,” the youngest son of an enchantress sets off to find the Castle of the Golden Sun and save the princess, who is “waiting for deliverance.” He feels the need to leave home because his enchantress mother had transformed his two older brothers into an eagle and a whale, respectively. (She thought they would try to steal her power because, remember, people in fairy tales do not trust each other). After stealing a magic cap from a couple of giants, he finds the castle and is shocked when he meets the princess; though he had heard tales of her great beauty, she “had an ashen-gray face full of wrinkles, blear eyes, and red hair.” (Is red hair supposedly unattractive? I beg to differ, and so do all the Weasleys.) I’m saddened women have been taught the value of beauty within a culture of ridicule and body shaming. He is very disappointed, but the princess assures him this is not her usual form. She tells him to look at her reflection in the mirror to see her true appearance, and when he does, he sees “the likeness of the most beautiful maiden on earth, and saw, too, how the tears were rolling down her cheeks with grief.” She explains to him how she is to be “set free,” but it doesn’t seem anything is holding her captive besides her ugliness. The enchanter who cursed her isn’t keeping her in chains, she just...

Frodo vs. Beowulf: A Hobbit’s Heroics Nov22

Frodo vs. Beowulf: A Hobbit’s Heroics...

I’m going to die. Sometimes that thought swirls through my brain as I try to grasp its reality. That’s what living is: slowly expiring. And the older I get, the more frightening it becomes. I don’t want to die, but sooner or later someone will put my body in the ground and there will be nothing I can do about it. I probably won’t even get a say in how I die; it’ll happen how it happens. A similar thought plagued Frodo on his journey through Middle-earth. Though warrior societies view death as a matter of personal honour, what is a hobbit (or a hobbit at heart, like me) to do when confronted by the matter? Many of us are little people, more in love with the shade of a green tree in summer than we are with great deeds and adventure. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo finds his friends under the spell of a vengeful spirit—a barrow-wight. Much like the threat of Black Riders on the road, darkness has snuck up on him and fear grabs hold of him; the Ring also plays a subtle role. Out of sight, the wight chants a chilling incantation that freezes Frodo’s heart. Then a dark thought comes to him: “He wondered if he put on the Ring, whether the Barrow-wight would miss him, and he might find some way out. He thought of himself running free over the grass, grieving for Merry, and Sam, and Pippin, but free and alive himself. Gandalf would admit that there was nothing else he could do.” My respect for Frodo’s character would be reduced if he took this option out of danger, yet the thought makes sense because both the quest and Frodo’s life are at stake. Self-preservation...