Reviews and interviews

I turned up this bunch of links that have been mouldering in the folder for some time -- several interesting articles and conversations by and with cool people about the latest in sci-fi, fantasy and fairy tales. Enjoy.

TIME recently had a very nice interview with Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman about their new movies out, Serenity and Mirrormask, as well as Firefly, Neil's new book Anansi Boys, and geek culture going mainstream.

TIME: I almost miss the stigma that used to attach to these things. Now everybody's into Tolkien. And I feel a little like, hey, I've been into that stuff my whole life. And in fact, you used to beat me up for it.

JW: I miss a little of that element, the danger of, oh, I'm holding this science fiction magazine that's got this great cover. There a little bit of something just on the edge that I'm doing this. That's pretty much gone. Although when I walk into a restaurant with a stack of comic books, I still do get stared at a little bit.

NG: I always loved, most of all with doing comics, the fact that I knew I was in the gutter. I kind of miss that, even these days, whenever people come up and inform me, oh, you do graphic novels. No. I wrote comic books, for heaven's sake. They're creepy and I was down in the gutter and you despised me. 'No, no, we love you! We want to give you awards! You write graphic novels!' We like it here in the gutter!

JW: We've been co-opted by the man.

In the Slate article "Fairy Tales in the Age of Terror: What Terry Gilliam helps to remind us about an ancient genre", folklorist Maria Tatar uses Brothers Grimm as a jumping-off point to consider the role of fairy tales in the modern world.

A film about fairy tales and about the two men who collected the traditional German tales that migrated across the Atlantic to become part of our folklore, The Brothers Grimm delivers a startling reminder that the narratives started out as adult entertainment—violent, bawdy, melodramatic improvisations that emerged in the evening hours, when ordinary chores engaged the labor of hands, leaving minds free to wander and wonder. Fairy tales, John Updike has proposed, were the television and pornography of an earlier age—part of a fund of popular culture (including jokes, gossip, news, advice, and folklore) that were told to the rhythms of spinning, weaving, repairing tools, and mending clothes. The hearth, where all generations were present, including children, became the site at which miniature myths were stitched together, tales that took up in symbolic terms anxieties about death, loss, and the perils of daily life but also staged the triumph of the underdog.

Salon has an interview with "Fantastic friends" Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I will read as soon as I can get my hands on it. They discuss their friendship, their respective books, the elusiveness of an authentic English fairy tradition, and the nebulousness of the fantasy genre.

Do you make this material up or do you go back to the folklore?

S.C.: I do go back to the folklore and to Katharine Briggs. That's the only bit of the magic in "Strange & Norrell" that I really researched. English folk tales and fairy beliefs are very fragmentary. Scottish, Irish and Welsh are a bit more developed. They have more remnants to pick at. Obviously, though, you also pick out stories from books you've read as a child. So I can't say I've been absolutely strict about it. It's just what's useful at the moment.

Do you think it's the lack of a developed folk tradition that spurs the imaginations of British writers?

N.G.: We don't know! We can lie, though. We're writers.

S.C.: That's the theory I'm beginning to come up with.

N.G.: It gets really interesting when you start trying to look for English folk tales. You wind up in places like the Appalachians, reading the Jack stories. Except the Jack stories in the Appalachians have no magic. It's all gone. So you think, well, they were telling these stories in England and the king in them would have been a real king, not the rich man at the other end of the road. Reading any book of English folk tales, what you're mostly struck by is the grumblings of the people who in the 19th century went out on the road trying to collect them and discovered that all they had was bits of stuff that had come over from [the Brothers] Grimm or [Charles] Perrault that people had been reading and passing on.

Lots of good stuff. That's all for today.

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