Darkness and Hope: the History of Fairy Tales

Very interesting article about fairy tales by Joan Acocella over at the New Yorker. One part I found especially interesting:

“The main reason that Zipes likes fairy tales, it seems, is that they provide hope: they tell us that we can create a more just world. The reason that most people value fairy tales, I would say, is that they do not detain us with hope but simply validate what is. Even people who have never known hunger, let alone a murderous stepmother, still have a sense—from dreams, from books, from news broadcasts—of utter blackness, the erasure of safety and comfort and trust. Fairy tales tell us that such knowledge, or fear, is not fantastic but realistic.

I wonder if fairy tales have to be hopeful or realistic. Many tales end with the villain defeated (even if it’s a violent manner, ala The Goose Girl), which suggests hope. Maybe it’s not as bright as Zipes would like, but I think it balances with the realism and darkness Acocella mentions. Cruelty and violence are real. We need to confront the world and its violence. But I think folktales also reference how goodness can prevail, even if death is inevitable.

Make sure to check out the whole article through the link. Lots of engaging history and literary criticism.

(image: Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Mrs. Edgar Lucas, translator. Arthur Rackham, illustrator. London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1909, via SurLaLune Fairy Tales)

Learning from Faulkner

Photo by Ralph Thompson of Faulkner in Rouss Hall [Print# 0218]

You can break everyone into a dog person or a cat person, a chocolate person or a vanilla person, or (like I do) a Hemingway person or a Faulkner person. I’m a Faulkner person through and through.

July 6 marked 50 years since William Faulkner’s passing.One way to mark the occasion is to check out the University of Virginia’s digital archives of Faulkner’s materials and lectures from his time at the University. During one of his classes, Faulkner was asked about Caddy in The Sound and the Fury:

Frederick Gwynn: Is Candace a common name in Mississippi or—?
William Faulkner: No. No, Caddy seemed a nice name for her, and I had to think of something to justify it.

I kind of love that Faulkner just thought it sounded like the right name. Sometimes that happens–a character just comes to you in a certain way and you’re not quite sure why a particular detail rings true, but it does.

Lots of awesome material in there for all you fellow Faulkner fans.

(quotes and image from Faulkner at Virginia, © 2010 Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia; Author Stephen Railton)(via UVA Today)

Cell Phones, Blogs, and Writing YA

When I was in high school, cell phones were pretty new. We emailed and IMed, but we didn’ tweet or reblog things. Sometimes I’m really glad that Facebook didn’t exist when I was a teen.

For better or for worse, technology and social media are a huge part of teens’ lives today. So if you’re writing contemporary YA or  MG, you need to deal with these issues at least a little–how does your main character keep in touch with friends? Does he have to pay for his own cell account? Does she have a vlog?

If you’re wondering how your main character might actually use social media and gadgets, check out this study on how teens view their digital lives. There’s even a neat infographic with some summary. One point I found interesting is that almost half of teens would prefer to talk to their friends in person. It’s not like everyone is hiding at their computers. They want interaction, but texting and Facebooking can also help teens keep in touch when they’re not together.

It’s not like you have to make you main character attached to his cell phone, but it’s good to recognize and these things have some kind of impact on teens lives.


Historical Fact in YA Fiction

When I was in high school, I took the AP US History exam. After the test, a couple of friends mentioned one of the multiple choice questions that neither of them could answer. “Oh, it was C,” I said. When they asked me how I knew that, even though it wasn’t covered in class, I said, “It was in one of the Felicity books.”

I really enjoyed history in school, but most of the historical knowledge I retain probably has to do with novels I read. (The American Girl books cover most American History for me.) As Whitney Etchison says in this post at The Hub, history isn’t about dates and facts–it’s about the story of people’s lives. And what better way to engage in those stories than through great fiction?

She also offers some great options for historical YA fiction, including Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. A few others I’d suggest:

Maybe fiction can’t take the place of high school history classes, but novels like these can certainly engage readers and get them emotionally invested in historical events.

Any other historical fiction favorites to add to the list?

Looking at the Mad Scientist: Frankenstein Online

Last November, I read Frankenstein for the first time. Until then, I’d just seen the movie and read the background information on how Mary Shelley came up with the story. So I’m psyched to see that Biblion is looking at the book, Mary Shelley, and her circle. Lots of cool background information and essays.

Right now they have a lot of info up about the Romantics. Seriously guys, the drama in this group could make for some awesome TV drama. (Downton Abbey is already a hit, so why not have more historical dramas?) Get those English major vibes going!

PS–I’m also going to see the National Theatre Live version of Frankenstein when it’s shown in a couple of weeks. Really psyched to see Benedict Cumberbatch rock this one.

(H/T NYPL Wire)

Like Having a Cool Lit Class Discussion via Youtube

Sometimes you see people online and think “Man, I wish we were friends in real life.” You think about all the awesome things you’d do and all the cool conversations you’d have. That’s kind of how I feel about the YA Subscription crew. Their discussions about YA literature are my new favorite thing. It’s like hanging out with very cool, very thoughful people who also love YA*. What more could you want?

Currently working through their videos on The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. If you haven’t read the book yet, you really need to.

*Granted, I have a couple of groups like that in real life, so I shouldn’t complain. But the more, the merrier!