Category Archives: Book review

The Social Commentary in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

The Bear and the Maiden Fair by Skribbles

Check out more art by Skribbles at http://skribbles.deviantart.com/

The alternate title of this post would be: The Smallfolk don’t give a fuck.

Anyone who has read A Song of Ice and Fire knows that the characters mention singers and songs quite frequently. Especially Sansa–I’m actually beginning to not hate her. Now most songs/stories that Sansa mentions are from times long ago, the Age of Heroes. We get a lot of the more modern songs from Tom Sevenstrings and Marillion. And most of the modern songs don’t seem to name specific people; the two living characters that have songs about them are Tywin Lannister with “The Rains of Castamere” and Robb Stark with “Wolf in the Night.”

It’s funny then to hear all of the knights or lords talk about doing deeds worthy of songs, when there aren’t that many songs about current events that get popular. In fact, the most popular song in the world seems to be “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” The only songs that mention specific people are all about kings or great battles of historic significance. “The Dance of Dragons” is about the Targaryen civil war; “The Night that Ended” tells the tale of the last great battle with the Others; “The Hammer and Anvil” describes Prince Baelor Breakspear and Prince Maekar’s battle tactics; and Renly gets his own song with “Lord Renly’s Ride.” None of these songs are about little lordlings that hold fords or battlements in small skirmishes, but the knights still think that somehow they’ll be immortal in song. Catelyn Stark even says: “We’re all just songs in the end. If we are lucky” (Storm of Swords, page 627).

Viserys lies to Dany when he tells her that the Smallfolk stitch dragon banners and await their return. The Smallfolk don’t care about the game of thrones; Jorah and Varys both say as much. And they really don’t. They care about songs like “Seasons of my Love” and “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” The most popular songs are about things that the Smallfolk can relate to like outlaw gangs, barmaids and bawdy stories, love and bedding, ale and drinking chants, reaving (for the Ironborn), and religion. But Martin chooses “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” to make one of his points about society. It is one of the only songs that we get full lyrics to, and we hear several characters either sing it, mention it, or notice that it’s being sung at a feast. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is a silly tale of a bear that goes to a fair, licks the honey out of a maiden’s hair, and then carries her away. Now some people think that this song is really foreshadowing (and a lot of people seem to think that it points to a Sansa/Hound pairing… yuck), but I think it’s social commentary. The use of this tale cements the view that the Smallfolk really don’t care about the game of thrones as long as their own lives aren’t affected, and the actions of the high lords really aren’t that important in the grand scheme of life in this world. Otherwise, they’d be singing about their liege lords all the time, which they don’t–they just gossip. But when it’s time to sing, they sing of bears and girls with honey in their hair.

It could also just be a song about oral sex. *grins*

A full list of the songs can be found here: http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Category:Songs

edit: 8/30 Added in Catelyn Stark quote

Winter is Coming

For those of you that didn’t tune into HBO last night or watch it online later, as soon as you get home from work today watch Game of Thrones. Trust me.

Game of Thrones is the first book of an epic fantasy series called The Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, and it’s one of my personal favorites. Now you might be aware of my constant disappointment in adaptations of my favorite books, but I think you’ll be surprised to know that I loved the first episode that aired at 9 PM last night. It covered roughly the first 85 pages of the first novel, and although I was surprised by how far it got, I believe it did a good job of keeping all the crucial introductory material. We were introduced to the Night’s Watch, a band of fierce rangers that guard the Wall and patrol the wild lands on the North; the House of Stark, the main good guys throughout the series; King Robert Baratheon, a drunkard king with a good temper and a slightly sick sense of humor; the Lannisters, Queen Cersei Lannister, her devilishly handsome twin brother Jaime, and their dwarf brother Tyrion who is better known as “The Imp;” and the surviving  Targaryen siblings.  Even though we meet a huge group of people in the first episode, we’re still confined to Winterfell, the castle home of the Starks far to the North where they aid the Night’s Watch in keeping the wilds of the North away from the prosperous South. Once the show moves to the capital at King’s Landing, we’ll get to meet a far more colorful bunch.

The first episode did a fantastic job of setting up the main conflicts, introducing us to the world and the main characters, and setting the gory mood for the rest of the series. Now it’s HBO so one has to expect a certain amount of blood and boobs, and Game of Thrones does not disappoint. There are 3 beheadings, 1 scene of gore, 2 creepy White Walkers with ice cold eyes, at least 8 pairs of bare breasts, a few butts, and 4ish sets of people having sex (if you watch it, you’ll understand the “ish”). You don’t have to guess which characters are the good guys and which will make your skin crawl, although you may be surprised by one man later. (I’m trying so hard not to give spoilers here but still stir up some anticipation, guys. I think my boyfriend hated watching it with me because I kept having long sighs or hiding my face before scenes, giving away spoilers through body language.)

The one part that surprised me was the time allotment between stories. You see, there are two continents, and the Stark/Lannister storyline takes place on one while the Targaryen storyline takes place on the other. When reading the books, the story stays on the main continent the majority of the time, probably since there are more characters involved in that plotline. The story shifts to Daenerys and her vile brother every few chapters for glimpses of their life. From what I remember (it’s been a few years since I’ve read the books), it always annoyed me when we shifted over to Daenerys just because the other plotline is so good and her brother creeps and annoys the crap out of me. I expected maybe one scene with them per episode, but they were given a fair amount of time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just something that I didn’t expect.

While all the actors did a fantastic job portraying their characters, my favorite part of the adaptation so far might just be the scenery. The characters have already come to life for me through the books, so watching the storyline doesn’t bring that much surprise. But I usually skip details about scenery when reading. I mean yes, they describe the Wall as very large and covered in ice, but it’s hard for me to really imagine and grasp images about settings. I just thought of the Wall as a big, frosty Great Wall of China when reading. But ooooooh, that long shot of the 3 Night’s Watchmen coming out of the Wall and riding into the North was absolutely stunning, breathtaking, and overall epic. All of the scenes were beautifully done, paying attention to the smallest of details. I loved it.

In short, if you can manage it, watch the first episode of Game of Thrones as soon as possible. You’ll be hooked, I promise.

In defense of pulp fiction

So lately, it’s come to my attention that there are some serious literature snobs that walk among us. Now I still have all of my English textbooks and reading material from college, but that doesn’t mean that I read Edmund Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” for poops and giggles. I’ll get out my hardcore reading materials sometimes when the mood strikes or when I need to look up a reference, but in general, I read “pulp fiction.” Now I thought I was snobby for still having my lit books, but no, there are people who refuse to read anything but “classics” and nonfiction because pulp fiction books are “beneath” them. I so do not get this attitude.

I’ll keep my argument for pulp fiction short and sweet. Just because most things that a published now aren’t “high brow” doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth reading. They still have similar themes as classics, and they often make allusions to classics. The difference is, they’re more accessible to the general public. And when you’re a writer, you have to ask yourself, is making my message a literary piece of genius and art more important than making that message readable and enjoyable for a larger audience? Honestly, I always veer towards the latter because the purpose of my own writing is to change someone’s life like books changed mine. Even just one person is fine with me. I’m sure the James Joyce is very proud of his “Ulysses,” but most people put it on their shelves to look smart and actually haven’t read it. Hell, I have it on my shelf from my Irish literature class, and I’ll admit right off that it confused the hell out of me and the message wasn’t worth all the digging that it took to get to it, so I switched to SparkNotes a few chapters in. And an entire chapter without punctuation? Oh my god, shoot me now. It was cute for a few pages but after a while I just felt like my brain was melting.

Pulp fiction doesn’t always dumb down messages, it just doesn’t beat you over the head with them like I feel that hardcore literature does. And pulp fiction can open someone’s interest for “higher reading.” I can’t believe that I’m about to defend the Twilight Saga, but I have to admit that it’s done some good for reading in a younger generation. Some of the classics have been redone with Twilight-esque covers and little seals that say “Bella’s Favorite Book” (Wuthering Heights) or “Edward and Bella’s Favorite!” (Romeo and Juliet). Now when I was working at a bookstore, these editions were actually quite a pain in the ass (I hate having identical titles shelved in different sections of the store based on covers or editions; it makes everything so much more complicated). But I can appreciate the fact that maybe Twilight has done something good in terms of getting younger girls to read more classics. 

The point is that pulp fiction has an impact on popular culture which makes it relevant to read. Yes, we should not forget the classics, but unless you’re a lit scholar or professor, reading only the classics greatly hinders your common knowledge. I believe that a healthy dose of both is necessary for a well-rounded individual. Which means that I really have to beef up my nonfiction/classics reading because I generally just read the pulp fiction. I read the newspaper on the Metro ever morning and listen to CNN while I cook dinner; when I sit down to read for myself, I try to escape this world and live in one more fantastic for just a little while. Everyone needs an escape from reality sometimes. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Hunger Games

So a few months ago, I read this amazing trilogy called “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. Okay, maybe “read” isn’t quite the right word; “devoured” is much more appropriate. Let me just start by saying this is one of the best series that I’ve read in a long time. While the main plot line of the novels is not a new one—children forced to kill each other—Collins does a remarkable job of creating a rich and deep alternate universe to explore the effects of war on adolescence. It is an extremely well-written addition to the canon of young adult (YA) dystopia novels. A few other examples would be Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies, The Long Walk, The Lottery, and Death Race 2000. It is set in North America after a third world war. The new Nation that is set up revolves around an extremely wealthy capitol city, set high in what was the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by 13 extremely poor districts that each specialize in a certain industry (coal, fishing, agriculture, etc). 74 years before the first novel starts, there was an uprising against the Capitol. The Capitol crushed the district’s rebellion and completely annihilated District 13. To remind the districts every year of their failed attempt at freedom, the Capitol hosts the Hunger Games where one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from every district to compete. These 24 contestants are shown the life of luxury in the Capitol for about 2 weeks before being set loose in the arena where only the last child left alive will be set free. And all of it, the preparations beforehand to every moment of bloodshed in the arena is televised 24/7 to the districts and the Capitol. The citizens of the Capitol live and breath for the Hunger Games while the district populace is forced to watch every moment.

Let’s skip the obvious YA dystopia for a moment and contemplate the voyeur aspect of these books. In a culture where the cast of the Jersey Shore is the most recognizable “TV stars,” it’s easy to see our sick obsession with “reality” TV. What’s realistic about any of these shows? That’s not how life works. It’s just ego-centric people getting rewarded for stirring up drama. There are no “afterschool special” moments that you get in sitcoms where some morality lesson can be obviously inserted. There’s no educational value whatsoever. The only way you could gain anything from reality TV is by considering it a guide on everything NOT to do to be a decent human being. (The only exceptions that I make to this opinion are Man vs Wild, and Survivor Man, since they’re preparing me to live in the wild after the zombie apocalypse.) Still, it’s very entertaining… like a trainwreck… you know you should look away, but the morbid fascination keeps you locked in. But in the Hunger Games, it is all real, but the people of the Capital treat it like light entertainment. I really like this subtle criticism of American culture and how Collins uses it throughout the books. Because along with the reality TV aspect of television, there’s also a propaganda war in the third book, but I can’t say more without spoiling something.

There’s something about these YA dystopia novels that really intrigues me. With the absence of adults (except the fact that adults always put the children in these situations), the children are forced to rapidly mature or die. And with the promise of either death or glory, children are capable of the most unspeakable acts. The YA dystopia genre completely removes a slow transition through maturity and forces the main character(s) to conquer Darwinism by transforming into epic heroes.  While most YA dystopia novels have a few innocent characters (one of which is always the main character) surrounded by more mature, bullying characters, Collins leans the other way. Katniss is used to taking care of her entire family by hunting and providing for them. She has carried the weight as the head of her house for years now and is already mature in the sense that she can provide for the physical needs of herself and those around her. In this sense, Katniss is very much like Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials, or Sabriel from the Abhorsen trilogy. In these books, the characters not only grow in the emotional and moral areas that they are lacking, they mature into natural leaders. Most YA dystopia novel main characters don’t lead, but mainly mature enough to ensure their survival. In this way, Collins has mixed some elements of epic YA lit into the dystopia, causing the characters in The Hunger Games to develop more deeply than others in the same genre.

What I enjoy most and least about this trilogy is the ending. I will admit that I might have thrown the book across the Metro car and scared an old lady with my choice of colorful language as I read the last page. But after cooling down and re-reading it, I realized that it was the only possible ending that could really happen. I won’t say anything else because it would spoil it, except for the fact that Katniss is NOT a Bella or a Mary Sue character where everything works out just so perfectly in the end and everything is roses and butterflies. Ugh. I hated the ending to Breaking Dawn purely because no one died and everyone was fricking happy in the end. I wanted Bella to die…

Wow, ok tangent. Basically, The Hunger Games is a MUST READ trilogy for anyone who enjoys YA literature. I’ll be watching for anything else that Collins does in the future and praying that it lives up to her first trilogy.

For the love of God and all that is holy, stop making the books that I love into movies!!!

Worst. Film. Adaptation. Ever.

Dear Mr. Peter Jackson,

I would just like to start off by saying that I love your adaptations of the Lord of the Rings, and I am eagerly awaiting The Hobbit. With that being said, I’d like to ask you a question and then a favor. The question: Why oh why does Hollywood destroy everything that I love? It keeps building up my hopes of something equal to your adaptations and only ends up breaking my heart. Here’s a rough list of what has caused me intense emotional/literary scarring in the past few years:

*All of the Chronicles of Narnia movies

*The Golden Compass

*Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

*The Last Airbender

*The Legend of the Seeker

These movies started off with broad fan bases, excellent plots and casts of characters, and high levels of interest. They get huge budgets and stellar actors. They then flush it all down the toilet by trying to please a very broad, general American audience by changing things, which doesn’t actually help the non-fans understand the plot any better and only pisses off the real fans. All of this ends up with no one liking the film and ensuring that the rest of the trilogy remains in book form.

Now for the favor. I can think of three ways that you could potentially help this disease of Hollywood.

1.) Direct everything of any literature value or importance because you’re amazing and true to the source.

2.) Convince the big wigs of the industry to let Joss Whedon have total creative freedom and have him help you with all of the good adaptations.

3.) Teach other directors with potential how to research and create a script that doesn’t piss off the existing fan base.

Do you think that you could have any influence on the shocking state of nerd culture in Hollywood? Or at least, book/literature nerd culture? The only adaptations that don’t leave me crying and seeking professional help seem to be the graphic novel films, but I suppose that’s because the idiots who write screenplays already essentially have a storyboard in front of them. Thank you very much Mr. Jackson.

Love,

A lit nerd

What I miss most about college

I’ve recently been discussing books with my officemate, and we had a discussion about the film adaptations of the Chronicles of Narnia. She’d only seen the movies, so I began breaking down the books and why they’re better. She let me rant for awhile, but it was obvious that she couldn’t keep up and that she wasn’t really interested. And then I realized, what I miss most about college is talking to educated and engaged minds about the books that I’m passionate about. I miss the structured setting where people have a common group of books to base discussion off of and then people bring further insight and reading material into the conversation as necessary. It’s so difficult to talk to just anyone about books because you might have nothing in common. Of you can’t fully illustrate a brilliant point because your audience hasn’t read one or more of the books that you’re comparing.

What I miss most are my peers. I miss watching “Interview with the Vampire” in Dan’s living room at one in the morning to further prepare for our Screening Fiction class the next day, stopping after every other scene to break down the motifs and compare it to the other clips that we’ve watched in class. I miss writing papers next to classmates T-minus 12 hours before it’s due and being able to engage them in conversation to help ease you through writer’s block. I miss theorizing about our professor’s lives with Rachel up on her roof on sunny spring days.

I miss being challenged to see deeper than the page. And I miss having someone adequate to challenge me.

Are there any other young adult literature enthusiasts that would like to engage in discourse about favorite books? I’m most familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials, the Abhorsen trilogy, and The Hunger Games trilogy.  I’ve read much less scholarly YA books as well that I could discuss at length, but I haven’t done much outside research on them. I guess Harry Potter counts too, but I’ve only read them for pleasure, not for analyzation. *sigh* I guess that The Twilight Saga has to count too, but I’m warning you right now that while I admit to reading them several times for pleasure, I WILL rip them to shreds on a literary level. Of course, I’m always up for reading new books to talk about. I’ve heard that Ursela LeGuin’s “Earthsea” series is a must read for someone of my interests.

In which you should always be polite to dragons

Recently, I re-read one of my favorite intermediate series: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. The first book is Dealing With Dragons, and explores the life of Cimorene, a princess who is very tired of being lectured on “proper” princess behavior. She runs away to be a dragon’s princess because she can’t take dancing, sewing, or etiquette lessons any longer. Throughout the books we meet a peculiar cast of characters including Kazul the dragon, Telemain the magician, Morwen the witch, and Morwen’s nine cats. Honestly, the cats might be my favorite characters.

There are several reasons why I love these children’s books so much and keep reading them, but I won’t go into full detail in just one blog post–it would be more like a 20 page paper! One of the reasons is that it’s very to the point. There’s no unnecessary details or fluff, but at the same time we still get rich backstory and characters. In just one chapter, we quickly realize how uncommon Cimorene is, how dreadfully common and proper her parents are, and that something must be done or else she’ll end up having to marry a silly prince who only wants to talk about tourneys. By the second chapter, Cimorene’s journey has begun. And the pace keeps up thoroughout the books. Each chapter has a similar problem/solution set up that leads one after another. Now this may sound very simple and boring, but it’s actually quite genius how Wrede pulls it off. The extraordinary humor and wit on each page helps as well.

All of the characters are very likable as well (er, the ones you’re supposed to like at least). Morwen is my favorite. She’s a tart little witch with nine cats and a sign that says “None of this Nonsense, please” above the door of her tidy little house. And she’s very much a no nonsense character which is where most of her humor comes from–that and the one-sided conversations with her cats. Kazul is a very practical dragon with a dry sense of humor. Cimorene is a princess who is extremely bored with proper princess skills and wants to learn things like fencing, magic, Latin, and how to make cherries jubilee. She’s always pointing out people’s faulty logic, especially when they’re doing things just because it’s “proper,” and she’s very helpful to everyone she meets even when she doens’t mean to be–except wizards, of course.

I also adore that all the characters use correct grammar. They say “to whom” when appropriate and “may” instead of “can.” I believe that it’s especially important to get these details right in children’s lit, that way correct English comes more naturally to a younger generation.

And then there are all the quirky things that stick in your head once you’ve read the books. Every chapter title begins “In Which” and then describes it–a trait I often use in blogging and emails now. Soapy water with a hint of lemon melts wizards; not only is it good for cleaning, but it protects you from your enemies! Because of these books, I’ve always thought that a kitchen was cleanest when using lemon scented products. I know, I’m impressionable, but the smell really does just smell cleaner! And whoever heard of a dragon who’s favorite dessert was cherries jubilee?! Also, almost all of the famous fairy tales/nursery rhymes have a cameo in the quartet with a quirky spin on them. McDonald is branching out and growing magic hay for the magic animals that he wants to add to his farm to make things more exotic. Riponzelle really let down a chair, not her hair to haul guests up her tower with no door. And the list just goes on.

Basically, these books are just wonderful in every way imaginable and should be a required bed-time read for all parents and children. Oh, and the most important lesson in the whole series: ALWAYS be polite to dragons.