Writing on the Wall: Classical Colours

One of my biggest issues with my attempts with art is that I never feel that it’s as good as other people’s masterpieces, or that it’s not quite right, so it needs to be a little better. When I was younger I was convinced that I’d be better as I drew more and learned more about art – used different techniques and mediums and just find my niche. Sadly enough, over the years, even though my enthusiasm still sparks into life when I’m in the arts and craft section and when I read about different styles of drawing, it fizzles out a little when I pick up a pencil (or drawing tablet!) to draw something myself.

I saw this a few days ago and loved the riot of colour in all this – even though it’s framed and placed against other frames, they don’t act as boundaries, there’s patterns within patterns, and beautiful details which overlap and pulls the eye.

I’d love to paint something like this, and it’s when I see beautiful things like this that I feel inspired, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. I’m not sure I’m skilled enough to paint with oil paints just yet, but I’d love to try mixing colours and media to see what beautiful colours and patterns I get. So here’s a little colour to brighten up the weekend.

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An Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

I’ve mentioned before how much I love fairy-tales/myths re-tellings, there’s something fascinating about seeing a new angle on a classic story we already know, and I love to discover new books with a different view.

This is a chart created by the cleverbots at EpidReads, who compiled a list of books and grouped them by similarities.

You can find the full chart list here by epicreads – it’s not a complete list of what’s out there of course, but it’s a decent place to start!

Have you read any of these? I’ve added a few of these to my book list already!

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Love, Graphics and Slavery in ‘Habibi’

Habibi, by Craig Thompson, is a novel with a difference. Not just because it is a beautifully drawn graphic novel, full of layers of subtle meanings, stories-within-stories and a depiction of society, but also because of the ingenious way the artist weaves together the life of a young slave woman’s, Dodola, with that of a chance meeting with another, slave child named Zam, whose own life is shaped just as he shapes hers.

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Thompson, then, begins20121111_134856 a story which, although not conventionally happy, becomes one which is beautifully moving and extremely easy to engage with. We follow Dodola from her poor and unfortunate beginnings of being sold by her parents to be a wife at the age of six, and from there, her life does not get any better – kidnapped, sold into slavery and rounded up until she meets Zam, a toddler with whom she runs away with to look after.

From there, we see plenty of layers, of love, of slavery, of being gender roles and of being a possession. Thompson does not shy away from the brutality of sex, as well as the hardships of being a slave, of being poor and of course, of being a woman.

Dodola, then, becomes almost an archetype for almost every role a woman can assume – mother, sister, daughter, wife, slave, prostitute, and even food-bringer, as she shrugs off her hardships and her past to try her best to survive, and of course, bring up Zam.

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Throughout the novel, we see both character’s roles, personality and even relationship change, which has a tragic effect on both Zam and Dodola. This is particularly emphasised as Thompson combines modern realities such as coming to terms with your own identity and sexuality, with older-fashioned values such as trading for food, the life of a slave and the realities of  being a woman, being black or being poor.

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Just as we see Dodola’s concerns in bringing up her adopted child, however, we see Zam’s (whose name is no accident, originating from Zamzam water, a holy well situated in Mecca), anxieties in his own role as a man.

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And that is not to say that the story focuses purely on these characters, as Thompson weaves in beautiful architecture in the Middle East combined with the grimy, poor dwellings of the rest of the country. Stories of King Soloman, the Queen of Sheba and Islamic number based puzzles are weaved in as parables to mirror Dodola’s dilemmas and concerns, as well the history of the country, different plans in the city, and the environmental concerns of current society.

And it is no accident that there is a motif of story-telling, calligraphy, writing and drawing throughout the story, artist points not only to the graphic form of the novel, but also the centuries old form of telling stories, writing and recording history, and in a way, recording our identities. Thompson does not leave20121112_125713 a topic untouched, yet this does not feel messy, everything is weaved in beautifully and depicted in seriously beautiful, detailed drawings.

I particularly also liked the architectural drawings in the story, which ranges from ships and small towns to beautifully regal palaces and gardens, and back again to shanty towns and rubbish filled waste-grounds. Again, Thompson points out the range of cities and it’s environments through these encounters – the danger of pollution, the apathy of its citizens and the excess carelessness of the rich are all movingly captured – one sub-plot which struck me was a fisherman who catches rubbish from the sea every day, never getting a fish and yet remaining happy until he has a breakdown – which is surely symbolic of the Earth slowly killing itself with pollution in a truly depressing scene.

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As each scene and circumstance changes, it is no accident that the characters change and adapt with them – Dodola changes from young innocent girl to a teenage thrifter to a harem woman and still goes beyond this, just as Zam’s identity anxieties take him on his own adventures.

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While I though this novel was brilliant, some readers may be put off by the amount of sexual content in this novel, which is never crude but does seep into a lot of its chapters and scenes, and can feel unrealistic. When reading this, while I felt sympathy for Dodola’s character, I also felt it was depressing to see that she is constantly measured by her worth as a woman, and how she can satisfy men sexually. While I’m sure that this is Thompson’s intent, to show that she is objectified to the extent that this defines her above all else, it is sad to see that she is constantly seen as a sexual object by all the characters in this book, which is only stressed by the fact that she is the only female character in this novel and essentially is alone in any type of sisterhood, motherhood or any other positive, female relationships.

Without revealing too much, there are certainly some twists in the novel which changes the initial outlook on not only Middle Eastern society, but the rest of the world and its history in general by the time you reach the end. While the ending itself is ambiguous, it is not a sad one and there is certainly a note of hope by the end of it, although it one which has taken a hard journey to get to. Thompson has done a great job with this novel, and one which is full of beautiful illustrations, poignant meaning and amazing symbolism which is weaved together cleverly – it’s certainly made me want to look out for his other work.20121112_231253

Idunn’s Apples

Iðunn (Idunn) was a Norse Goddess, wife of Bragi and guardian of the golden apples of youth (which was also the Food of the Gods).

These apple boxes aren’t quite the same as Idunn’s golden apples, but they were very pretty ornaments, and reflected light beautifully in a way that made me think of the old Norse myth. I wouldn’t mind buying a few of these, if only to keep my secrets of youth in there (think jelly bears and No. 7 Beauty serum, that sums it up).

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Fairy Tales & Long Tails: Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales

With stories of frightened young women giving birth to a pot (yes you read that right!), the Little Red Riding Hood who DOES get eaten by the Hungry Wolf, and old women who live in odd places like vinegar bottles, Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales is hardly the usual type we think of when thinking of ‘fairies’ and ‘happily ever afters’.

I loved reading stories, folk stories and myths from around the world in my childhood (think Spider Anansie and Baba Yaga from Africa, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba from Arabia, Greek gods and goddesses and Egyptians tales of the afterlife), all of which had rich characters, quirky tales and interesting morals to them. Who’d have thought that the stories about the beginning of the world would involve such interesting events – How the Tortoise Got a Hard Back, for example, or How the Snake Lost It’s Legs. Maybe not scientifically accurate by today’s standards, but still interesting stories to read.

And these stories are brilliant at challenging the norm – with beautiful girls leading miserable lives, crafty witches being the winners, wives getting the better of their husbands and the heroes don’t need to be rich to complete their tales.

Angela Carter’s book of tales brings together stories from all across the globe, ranging from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, America, Australia and even the Artics to fully bring a flavour of several countries and cultures. I love the sinister sides of these stories, the gory sides of fairy tales and human nature, with good nature and humour mixed into this pot of short stories which are a far cry from Disney stories we’ve seen.

Definitely a book I’d recommend if you’re a lover of fairy tales and folk stories, if you’ve read Grimm’s book of tales, Hans Christian’s collection of stories or even Roald Dahl’s genius stories as a child, then these will be right up your street. With stories entitled ‘Reasons to beat your wife’ and ‘The woman who married her son’s wife’ (don’t worry, it doesn’t encourage incest or domestic violence!) there’s certainly a quirky style to these stories which are memorable and magical : )

If in doubt, draw dragons…

…especially when you’re in a really long phone-call which involves a lot of ‘mhm’s and ‘I see’s while the person on the other end blabbers on about the injustices in life like having only a five bedroom house when really they wanted a six. Gah.

Behold the Dragon to save the day.

Er…that was supposed to be a knight of some kind on the left hand side, but that didn’t really work out. As you can see from the angry scribble where I crossed out. Needs a bit of colour, right?

Fairy Tales and Long Tails: Gruesome Truths & Origins (Part II)

Back to the macabre world of children stories, with all the censored parts put back in. Here’s a few more stories as they were originally intended in the land of fairy tales (you can find the first part of this series here).

5. Mutant Hair, A Bad Hostage Situation and secret hanky-panky
The initial basics of Rapunzel remains pretty much how we’ve heard it, Rapunzel’s momma craves some variant of pumpkins/Rapunzel plants/Hershey Bars from the garden of the cranky witch next door, her hubby tries a spot of thievery and gets caught. The price is, of course, handing over their first-born (isn’t it always the first-borns) to Ms Witchy in returns for not being, well, killed. Where the story becomes a little more x-rated than the cartoons (and last year’s cuddly adventure from Disney) when Rapunzel starts getting a night-time visitor in the shape of a passing prince (I’m not sure where he was going but he never got there, I can tell you that), and where she and her princey boyfriend clearly get up to something naughty. That strumpet. Eventually Adopted-Witchy-Mum catches out ‘Punzel by her swelling stomach and her size 8s no longer fitting, and figures things out, so the hair is cut and Blondie is thrown out on her ear. Meanwhile her unlucky boyfriend is blinded by thorns after a showdown with the witch, and is left wandering in the deserts for months, unaware of the building child-support payments which are building up. Not to worry though, the couple are soon reunited, along with their twins who were also being dragged along by Rapunzel. There’s not much mention of what happens to the witch though.

6. Cross-dressing, cannibalism and savagery
Red Riding Hood is another story which had a conveniently-edited ending. A little girl decides to visit her grandmother’s house wearing a come-bite-me red hood, which attracts a wolf (notice how red seems to be an evil colour in fairy-tales? Not a coincidence) Wolfy gets to Grandma’s house first, gobbles her up and then puts on her pretty nighty to trick Red Riding Hood. And of course, being the dim-sighted (and dim-witted) child she is, RRH can’t tell the difference (must have been all those hairy warts), and gets eaten up by the Wolf. Yup, that’s the end. The Woodsman with the axe got added in later to save RRH and kill Wolfy. In other versions of the tale, the Wolf even feeds part of poor old gramma to the Red Hooded one to taunt her a little more (and there’s even other versions which suggest that RRH even strips for the wolfy to ‘distract’ him in an attempt to escape. Doesn’t work though).
Moral of the story is, children, don’t talk to strangers (or tell them where your grandmother lives).

7. Coma, Rape and enchanted curses
The story of Sleeping Beauty has had a lot of parts tweaked, and rightfully so because there’s a lot of questionable content in the earlier versions. While the beginning remains the same, with the Princess falling into a coma (or “deep sleep”) because she pricks her finger due to a curse, what happens afterwards is not so much a dream come true but a waking  nightmare. A passing prince (they’re always passing, where are they all going?) falls in love with Sleepy on the spot and decides he doesn’t need her to be awake, and just has his way with her, resulting her getting pregnant, TWICE. The princess is eventually woken up by her suckling babies, after which I imaging she has more than a few questions to ask. As if thats not enough, in true Jeremy Kyle form, her baby-daddy comes back to bring her and the kids home – but forgets to update her on a tiny little detail of him already being married until they get there. Understandably, Wife No.1 is in a stabby mood and tries to kill them all, but gets foiled by her hubby. In the end, Sleeping Beauty lives happily ever after with her polygamous, rapist husband. In other versions, Wife no.1 is replaced with an evil mother-in-law who isn’t happy with the new bride, although she too is thwarted and throws herself into a cooking pot in defeat. Yikes.

8. Ex-wives, Secrets and Zombies
The story of Bluebeard is not a typical Disney one (by the way I lied about the zombies, that was just to grab your attention), but it’s still a pretty disturbing story. The story follows a wealthy aristocrat appropriately called Bluebeard after his blue coloured beard (as good as name as any, I say). I’m pretty sure they didn’t have hair-dye back in those days so blue was certainly quite a conspicuous colour. Bluebeard marries a pretty young thing and brings her back to his house, warning her not to open the door to that tempting, spooky room at the back because he won’t be a happy bunny if she does, and he’ll KNOW if she opens it. So being a typical woman, Wifey decides to not listen to silly ole hubby and look inside the Forbidden Room. Cos, you know, what’s the harm? Waiting inside for her though, are the corpses of all the women that Bluebeard married in the past, and then consequently killed. Chop and change, and all that, fickle man that he is. The floor is covered in blood and generally, it’s just a mess down there. So Wifey, knowing that her husband is planning the same fate for her plots to escape with the help of her sister and two passing gentlemen (or in some versions, their brothers), and manages to escape with their help. Bluebeard, is of course killed.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways that the violence and x-rated content has been disguised from the original tales. There are several morals and reasonings which can be taken from these tales, yet these become altered once the stories are edited, and the meanings become slighting distorted or even ambiguous.

More horrid stories coming soon, folks! In my  next post for this series, I’ll be looking at fairy tales and stories which are from the more exotic parts of the world, and different cultural values attached to these. Any suggestions?

Fairy Tales and Long Tails: Gruesome Truths & Origins (Part I)

I’ve always been a huge fan of fairytales, folk stories, ancient legends, long-winded myths, and heck, even gossipy limericks. These are tales that we have all grown up with in, and storytelling has always been one of those parts of life which is always around us in one form or another.
I’d like to start a series of pieces looking at these fairytales, myths and folk stories, and present a theme for each piece. For this week, a look at how fairy tales were really meant to be told, without the censor’s cut. These stories, handed down from each generation to the next are full of violence and shocking details, and some classic stories which we all recognise may surprise us with the x-rated content they feature, and which have been removed from today’s versions.

1. Self-mutilation, attempted murder and teen angst
Contrary to how the Disney Powers That Be tells it, The Little Mermaid does not have a happy ending at all, and is in fact a little sadistic in tone. The nameless Mermaid, as told in earlier versions by the legendary storyteller Hans Christian Anderson, sacrifices her tongue for the pain of walking on two legs, which will feel as if she is walking on sharp swords with every step (not to mention the fact that she is completely mute so cannot express her dainty-walking pain). And if that’s not enough suffering, the object of her affections , the charming (yet admittedly, dim-witted) princey, isn’t even aware of her existence, nor notices her mooning at him, never mind her long-winded quest to get him to kiss her. The story finally culminates with the unsuspecting Prince taking a bride elsewhere, and the Mermaid being given the ultimatum to either kill her love and ‘let his blood run over her feet’ to become a mermaid again, or otherwise run out of time and turn into the froth on the sea. Although she comes close, our heartbroken heroine simply can’t bring herself to kill her beloved, and sacrifices herself by flinging herself in the sea. In the meantime, our prince and his new wife sleep peacefully on, blissfully ignorant of the attempt on their life.

2. More self-mutilation, sibling rivalry & arranged marriages
Cinderella, before she becomes the beautiful, lucky winner of Who Wants to be a Princess is forced to suffer countless abuse, carry out chores and generally doesn’t get paid for her troubles. Cinderella is a very recognisable story which has been told across several cultures, and although there has been several versions and variations, the general concept of the story remains the same. What is often edited out, however, is one quite bloody detail, involving Cinderella’s stepsisters. These two girls are just as determined to become princey’s wife, and each even go to the extent of slicing off their toes and heels to force their mutilated stumps to fit into the dainty, size zero shoe. The prince is soon alerted, however, by the trail of blood that they leave behind, and in some versions, some spoilsport pigeons also alert the prince and peck out the girls’ eyes to blind them. Yikes. Meanwhile, Cinderella goes on to live her life of luxury. In a slightly more sinister version of this story, the young Cinderella is described as having murdered her first stepmother in a bid to get rid of her so her father can marry her housekeeper. Bet she regretted that when the new housekeeper moved in with her daughters, and when she got the laundry list from them.

 3. Possession, shopping and dirty dancing
The Red Shoes is a story which some of us may have already heard of, although it is not one which Disney deemed suitable for PG audiences. The story follows a young, orphaned girl who lives with her blind (or perhaps, just near-sighted) aunt, who allows her to buy some sensible Mary-Janes, but forbids her to buy those shiny spanking-new red dancing stilettos she instead falls in love with. Our little clever clogs (see what  I did there?), however, tricks her aunt into paying for the red shoes, by showing her one of her old pairs, and decides to celebrate by going out dancing with the new pair. But it turns out that Aunty was right and they were the devil’s colour, because our heroine finds she just can’t stop her feet dancing. In the end a passing woodcutter (or executioner) who is taking a break from his hard work of cutting helps the poor girl out by, yup, cutting her feet off. In true Evil Dead style, these shoes (and the feet in them) up and carry on dancing away and are rumoured to still be dancing away to this day.

4. Beauty contests, paedophilia and cannibalism
The beautiful Snow White is one of many stories featuring women clashes and rivalry because they want to win Fairytale-Land’s Next Top Model. Snow White’s questionably-intentioned ( let’s face it, ‘evil’ is a such a strongly harsh word, and she is pretty hot) stepmother, being the sneaky, more experienced shrew that she is, conspires to get her competition out of the way. Hiring a huntsman to not only kill Snow White (I’m guessing because of jealousy over skin colour), the queen orders that he brings back her heart (or other vital organs in various versions) – for the purpose of eating it. Savagely unusual eating habits for this one.
Another point of contention in this tale is Snow White’s age – in the Grimm’s Brothers’ version, she is described as being only seven years old at the start of the story, which not much detail on just how much time passes over the course of the tale. Needless to say, this puts a different, more sinister light on the prince who is passing by who decides that this is the wife for him (unless he’s an eight-year old prince which makes it less disturbing). Taking the comatose Snow-White away with him, with questionable intentions about what he intends to do with her (I’ll leave that to your imagination), it’s a good thing Snow White with the Red Lips wakes up. And it’s not the mythical, magic kiss which wakes up Snow White, but rather an accident on the part of the prince’s horse, who trips and dislodges the poisoned apple from our fair skinned heroine.
But all’s well ends well, as Snow White and her husband to be legitimise their (unnatural, fetish) love with marriage, while the evil queen is forced to suffer a fate which could have been thought up by Jigsaw of the Saw series – being forced to wear iron hot shoes and “dance until she fell down dead.”

That’s all for now, although there are several more stories with disturbing parts which we never knew about, which wll follow soon in a second part (to make this nice and bite-sizey for you to digest), which will be posted soon. Can any of you think of any more stories which were censored/Care-Bear-fied for the young innocent?