Open Thread: Caption This

This showed up in my inbox this morning. According to the original message on the chain, the deer comes around daily and zie and the cat are good chums.

You are also cordially invited to watch this:

Open Threads are meant to be chatty, end-of-week fun times. Please refrain from negatively auditing other people's responses as that discourages participation. Thank you.

Tropes: Being Dana Scully

[Content Note: Conservative Christian Upbringing, Rape, Sexual Violence, Death, Hate Crimes, Child Molestation]

Via PinkRayGun in a topical article.
As my newest Conservative Christian Cult Upbringing (not to be confused with Conservative Christian Non-Cult Upbringing) Bestie pointed out to me the other day in email, one of the frustrating things about having a CCCU is the lack of common cultural markers. You grow up with Carmen and Sandi Patti and Adventures in Odyssey and Veggie Tales and Lewis and L'Engle, and you miss out on all the modern, non-Christian stuff that everyone else was watching apparently by law, and when/if you leave the CCCU stuff behind as painfully triggering of a repressive environment you're happy to see the back of, you get to look forward to a lifetime of people who Do Not Understand shrieking "you mean you don't have exposure to [insert common cultural marker here]?!?" like you've just said you don't know what pizza is or something and you have to press your hand to your forehead and decide whether to explain AGAIN or not.

Author Interview: J. Stephen Howard on "Fear in Appleton"

Ana: Today we have J. Stephen introducing their book, Fear in Appleton. I haven't read this book myself, but J. Stephen was kind enough to agree to guest blog about their book to any readers who might be interested in the subject. J. Stephen, how would you describe your book to your prospective readers? In broad terms, what is your book about?

J. Stephen: Imagine a ghost who can find your deepest, darkest fears and make you face them.

Once you're dead, you have nothing to fear other than the truth of your mortal life. At the end of his, creative writing professor Terrence Crawford falls for his student Angela Lacey and can’t accept that she doesn’t love him in return. This unleashes a variety of fears he once kept at bay, ending in his mortal demise.

Then in his anguish as a ghost, Crawford forces people to face their fears, resulting in a haunting chain of events that will keep the people of Appleton, Kentucky awake for years to come.

Ana: What themes does your book explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience? Is there a particular feeling or experience that you hope to evoke in the reader? Essentially, do you hope your book will mean to a reader?

J. Stephen: I hope the reader will feel like he or she is on a roller coaster ride. Essentially, through the first half of the book, the reader is riding shotgun alongside the ghost. To me, it's not that scary if a see-through person is standing before you. If, however, this ghost can penetrate you, root around inside to get at your vulnerabilities, that's terrifying.

Ana: What prompted you to write this book and did you have a specific inspiration in mind? Were you influenced by a certain author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre? Besides the boatloads of money and rockstar fame, what motivated you to write this book? 

J. Stephen: I've been inspired by Stephen King and TV shows like, “X-Files" and “The Twilight Zone."

As for why I wrote the book, I did it to have fun. I find it enormously gratifying to practice the art of storytelling, and I had to do something with all the imaginative ponderings running through my head.

Ana: If you could compare your book to any other existing works, which ones would it be and why? If the one thing you could say to a prospective reader was, "If you like X, you'll love my book!", which work would be invoked so that a reader could judge whether or not your book is their cup of tea?

J. Stephen: Earlier, I mentioned Stephen King, “X-Files," and “The Twilight Zone." Essentially, if you enjoy discovering bizarre phenomena that will keep you on your seat in thrilling anticipation, you'll like my book.

Ana: Is this your first or only published work, or have you published other books? If you have published other books, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more books planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different book or genre?

J. Stephen: I've just completed a book of horror tales comprised of 11 short stories and a novella. It's called Frankenstein's Confessional because each story is written in the first person and involves guilt of some kind or another.

I found it fascinating to write from differing points of view. The range is from a twelve-year-old boy to a vampire fireman. Also featured are a female art student, a former football player-turned CSI agent, and many other divergent viewpoints.

Ana: Where can readers obtain a copy of your book for them to enjoy? How can they contact you with any thoughts or questions? And do you have a means by which they can "sign up" to be notified when your next book comes available?

J. Stephen: They can go to Amazon. Around October 1, 2012, Frankenstein's Confessional will be available on Amazon. At some point, there will be a promotion when it will be free. Also, after three months, it will be available for all eBook platforms.

My email address is here. I have two websites: and

Ana: Thank you. I understand you have the first chapter of your book available as an excerpt for interested readers? Is there anything else you wish to add for our readers?

J. Stephen: Readers can go to the Fear in Appleton website to read an excerpt. There's also an excerpt from Frankenstein's Confessional on that book's website.

I want to say thank you for the interview. In addition, I'd like to thank all the readers of indie authors.

If you are an indie author interested in being interviewed, please read the interview policy here.
If you are an indie author interested in joining the Acacia Moon catalog, please visit the forums here.

Narnia: Wild Gods

Content Note: Physical Abuse, Religious Abuse, Hazing, Swearing, Gender Policing

Narnia Recap: Lucy has met Aslan in the middle of the night. Aslan has told Lucy to get the others to follow her, though they cannot see Aslan themselves, or leave them alone in the forest. Now the entire group is on the march, following Lucy as she follows Aslan.

Prince Caspian, Chapter 11: The Lion Roars

Ha, remember when I said "more on Chapter 11 next week"? I lied! I didn't mean to, but clearly I did. But it's because this chapter drains me like Imhotep drains anyone who opens the chest containing the sacred jars which house the innards of his dead girlfriend. (I re-watched "The Mummy" this weekend.) By which I mean: Chapter 11 leaves me a dried husk of a human being. Let's finish it.

Recommends: Subjective is Not a Dirty Word

Oh my god, how much do I love this post? So much.

I have, on several occasions, recommended a book to a friend or family member with the highest praise imaginable, only to have said friend or family member read--and positively hate--the book I loved. I invariably become hurt and defensive when I hear their reactions, because, to me, the book is like a child who can do no wrong. If I loved it, why on earth didn't you?

Well. Because we're different people. Because reading is subjective. And because "no two persons ever read the same book."

That's just two paragraphs. The whole thing is gold and I want to tattoo it on my forehead.

RECOMMENDS! Share 'em!

Feminism: Legitimate Rapes

[Content Note: Rape, Personal Descriptions of Rape]

This week I am not writing about Twilight. Not because I don't want to write about Twilight, but because there is something more important that I need to address in this moment.

There is a good chance that you're already aware of the Akin mess that has exploded all over the media these last few weeks. There is an equally good chance that you've run into such terms as "legitimate rape" and "forcible rape". And, if you've been frequenting the old Acacia Moon Publishing forums, you've already had the experience of seeing a man-who-has-not-experienced-rape helpfully explain that rape is about power and overriding consent for the evulz, so if a situation doesn't fit that definition, then it's not rape.

So here is a highly personal post about rape.

Open Thread: August 24, 2012

Completely open.

Feminism: The Many Faces of Appropriation

[Content Note: Liking Problematic Art, Cultural Appropriation, Discussion of Geekdom and Pagan/Wiccan Communities, Religious Discrimination Against Men and Trans People]

Ana's Note: This is one of my many "sounding out thoughts in my head" posts that a lot of people may well (and validly) disagree with. This is also going to combine a lot of extremely touchy subjects into a post that may not be as carefully polished as it could be on account of my throwing up All The Solid Foods Evah today. As a blogger, I get to choose between putting up Perfect Posts Only or keeping my schedule flowing, and for today I choose the latter.

As such, please remember that thoughtful disagreement is valued here, and accusations of bad faith are not. A good litmus test in this regard is the difference between "I respectfully disagree with the OP, and here's my personal viewpoint that makes me feel that way" versus "I respectfully disagree with the OP, because [personal attack on Ana's knowledge, experience, privilege, social status, nationality, gender]". I don't think it's inappropriate to request that the topic stay on the actual topic and not on me as a person. Thank you.

Author Interview: Jody Gehrman on "Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft"

Ana: Today we have Jody introducing their book, Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft. I haven't read this book myself, but Jody was kind enough to agree to guest blog about their book to any readers who might be interested in the subject. Jody, how would you describe your book to your prospective readers? In broad terms, what is your book about?

Jody : It’s about a 17-year-old witch-in-training who must hone her newfound magical powers in order to save her mother from an evil necromancer. Oh, and it has magical chocolate cake plus cute boys!

Ana: What themes does your book explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience? Is there a particular feeling or experience that you hope to evoke in the reader? Essentially, do you hope your book will mean to a reader?

Jody: I hope readers will become more aware of the magic in everyday life. Audrey's paranormal ability to absorb everything around her and channel it does happen all the time on a subtle level; we pull ideas and emotions from our environment and channel it into our work, our art, our interactions. It would be gratifying if readers resonated with that and started to recognize it more acutely.

On the other hand, the wonder of being a writer is that readers always see something I never intended to show them. Maybe they recognize reflections of people they know in the characters. Maybe the setting reminds them of someplace they've been. In a way, the responses that surprise me are even more delightful than the ones I predicted. It's the ongoing alchemy that happens when a reader's imagination encounters the words on a page.

Ana: What prompted you to write this book and did you have a specific inspiration in mind? Were you influenced by a certain author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre? Besides the boatloads of money and rockstar fame, what motivated you to write this book? 

Jody: I've always been fascinated with witchcraft. I even dabbled in it a bit in my youth. I started writing it about seven years ago as a book for adults, but I never felt like it was quite working. Then I realized it would be better as a YA novel, so I pulled out the old draft and gave it a radical makeover, including a brand new protagonist and a totally different plot.

Ana: If you could compare your book to any other existing works, which ones would it be and why? If the one thing you could say to a prospective reader was, "If you like X, you'll love my book!", which work would be invoked so that a reader could judge whether or not your book is their cup of tea?

NAME: Rachel Hawkins' Hex Hall Series; Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic; Katie Crouch's Magnolia League.

Ana: Is this your first or only published work, or have you published other books? If you have published other books, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more books planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different book or genre?

Jody: So far I've published seven novels. Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft is my most recent Young Adult book. It's the first book in a planned trilogy, though it doesn't exactly end with a cliff hanger. This is my first paranormal YA novel.

My other Young Adult novels include Babe in Boyland, Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty, and Triple Shot Bettys in Love, (all from Penguin's Dial Books). Babe in Boyland has recently been optioned by the Disney Channel, which I'm super excited about. Before that I wrote three novels for adults, all published by Red Dress Ink: Notes from the Backseat, Tart, and Summer in the Land of Skin.

Ana: Where can readers obtain a copy of your book for them to enjoy? How can they contact you with any thoughts or questions? And do you have a means by which they can "sign up" to be notified when your next book comes available?

Jody: They can get my books from Amazon for kindle or in paperback. They can also get AUDREY'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT from Smashwords, where it is free every dark of the moon or with a coupon, which I'm happy to provide to reviewers and book bloggers.

Follow-me Links:

Ana: Thank you. I understand you have the first chapter of your book available as an excerpt for interested readers? Is there anything else you wish to add for our readers?

Jody: You can preview and buy the book at Smashwords.

If you are an indie author interested in being interviewed, please read the interview policy here.
If you are an indie author interested in joining the Acacia Moon catalog, please visit the forums here.

Disability: Depression Diaries and It's Okay To Be Sad

[Content Note: Depression]

Acknowledging to yourself that you are depressed and have a serious illness that is going to interfere with your daily life sometimes and that it's Not Your Fault and the illness can't be beaten by willpower and bootstraps can be very cathartic and helpful.

It can also open a whole new barrel of worms.

Recommends: Thomas More vs Mary Dyer

Content Note: Religious Oppression

Having watched The Tudors not too long ago, I particularly loved Fred's post on why invoking Thomas More in the name of religious liberty is a LOL WHUT moment. Because even Thomas-More-as-played-by-Jeremy-Northram is more pig than lipstick (through no fault of Mr. Northram).

Commenting Guidelines [credit to Shakesville]: Please take the time to make sure any criticisms are clearly directed at the Catholic Church leadership and not at "Catholics," many of whom are themselves critical of the failures of Church leadership.

RECOMMENDS! What have you been thinking these days?

Twilight Themes: Unconditional Love

Content Note: Cheating in Relationships, Imprinting on Children

Ana's Note: Comments that negatively audit the real life actions, words, or beliefs of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and/or Stephenie Meyer are subject to deletion, if I so choose. This post is about a Twilight Theme, and not about bashing the fallible people connected to the Twilight franchise.

As many of you are no doubt aware, the tabloids exploded this week over the news that Robert Pattinson (the actor who plays Edward Cullen in Twilight) left his shared home with Kristen Stewart (the actress who plays Bella in Twilight) after a "cheating scandal". Kristen, who had been photographed in an intimate situation with the "Snow White and the Huntsman" director Rupert Sanders, released this statement to the press:

Open Thread: Objective and Subjective

Content Note: Rape, Child Abuse, Trigger Jokes, Fat Shaming, Preference Shaming

Re-posted from Shakesville:

One of these things that astonishes me about these comedians is that they seem to have gone through life without realizing that humor is Subjective, not Objective. IOW, they don't seem to know the most basic thing about their craft.

I'm reminded (as I am with all things) of Twilight. We talk a lot about Subjective Beauty in my Twilight deconstruction, because the author S. Meyer seems to believe that beauty is Objective: she states on more than one occasion that Bella is objectively more beautiful than (most) of the girls in her high school. Personal preference does not apply; ALL the "human males" lust after her on her first day of school.

I personally believe that some people absorb cultural standards of beauty so thoroughly that they don't realize those standards are subjective and may vary according to personal taste. You see this particularly strongly with people who insist that current American standards of beauty are universal and timeless. (Research fail!)

I wonder if something similar is going on with these comedians. They think that the Dudebro comedy that they've shared together, watch on television, been immersed in at college, etc. is UNIVERSAL and don't consider a need to tailor their act for a larger audience.

And yet, a part of me rebels that anyone would be so foolish as to NOT realize that humor is subjective. Do we not all of us have "in jokes" with family and friends that outsiders wouldn't get? Do we not, here at Shakesville, have things like "maybe a vestment!!" which will ensure laughter on the boards and incomprehension from a new lurker? Is it not therefore OBVIOUS that this "joke" about a fictional "game" might be funny to Bob-who-knows-you but not to a larger audience who doesn't? (And who collectively probably have more children than Bob and more experience with abuse than Bob?)

But, then, I would have thought "beauty is subjective, people" would be self-evident, too and apparently it's not.

Lately it's been apparent to me that there are subjective preferences in our society (beauty, humor, hetereosexual attraction, etc.) that are treated as objectively valuable, often in a very timeless and universal way. Preferences that go against the grain -- like, for example, being attracted to Fat People or not caring for X food -- are treated as serious deviancies to be to be "corrected" rather than just, you know, preferences.

What else have you noticed that is treated as Objective and yet you think is more Subjective?

Open Threads are meant to be chatty, end-of-week fun times. Please refrain from negatively auditing other people's responses as that discourages participation. Thank you.

Feminism: Consent 101

[Content Note: Rape, Love Spells, Non-Consensual Drugging]

Every so often, I forget that what seems perfectly obvious to me is not perfectly obvious to everyone else on the planet. So here are my feelings about consent. These feelings seems like pretty basic Feminism 101 to me, but here they are anyway.

Metapost: Back To Work Update

Content Note: Surgery Related Stuff

I will be going to the doctor this week to receive my final "return to work" authorization, after which I will be returning to work.

Our current health/work goal is to move me to "part-time" (i.e., less than 40 hours a week) work, so that I can spend the deficit time on indefinite bed rest. This unfortunately won't free up more time for posting and commenting and emailing -- I've found that posting/commenting/emailing from bed is more difficult that I originally thought it would be, and I'm supposed to be spending that time sleeping, anyway.

My hope, as always, is that posting will continue uninterrupted in the vein that it has. The reality is that we may have some open threads or off days in September and October as I adjust to the new routine. The other downside, for those of you who aren't lurkers, is that I'm probably going to be commenting significantly less and in some threads not at all, as a function of available time. This means that if I don't respond to a direct question in the comments, it's totally not because I'm ignoring you -- I'll be reading all comments, but simply unable to answer them all. (The same will be true for emails, though I'll try to send back at least one- or two-word responses as time and ability allows.)

Because I am also the only site moderator at this time, I will point out that one way to make my life easier is to vigilantly watch your posts and try not to flame up, or use ableist language, or otherwise breach the commenting policy. The only way I can moderate from bed is to flat out delete posts, which I prefer not to do. I also heartily encourage self-moderation as applicable in the form of "please can you find another way to say that" and other gentle requests for intersectionality understanding. We all make mistakes, we all learn, we all can become better people.

Thank you, so much.

Author Interview: Anthony Caplan on "Latitudes"

Ana: Today we have Anthony Caplan introducing their book, Latitudes. I haven't read this book myself, but Anthony was kind enough to agree to guest blog about their book to any readers who might be interested in the subject. Anthony, how would you describe your book to your prospective readers? In broad terms, what is your book about?

Anthony: Latitudes is a story about the break-up of a family and the ensuing chaos that surrounds the children, including a series of kidnappings that further fractures them. The main character, the oldest son Will, struggles to form his own identity and break free of his constant depression as an adolescent by indulging in ever more risky behavior and drowning his thoughts in physical activity. Eventually he comes to understand his parents and their behavior and accept the imperfections in his world and in himself.

Ana: What themes does your book explore and what do you hope the reader will take away from the experience? Is there a particular feeling or experience that you hope to evoke in the reader? Essentially, do you hope your book will mean to a reader?

Anthony: That's a great question. For me the takeaway from this book is that the reader hasn't been pandered to. There are no punches pulled. The parents are not spared, neither is the main character, and there are no easy epiphanic moments that lead to a resolution. Indeed, only on the last page does Will find some solace and comfort in the tears he has never shared with his sisters.

Some of the themes explored include the importance of family, the importance of belonging, peer relationships, the role of sports and drugs as self-medications used by traumatized children, religion, identity, bicultural families, divorce, depression, mental illness, and adolescence as a particular state of mind.

Ana: What prompted you to write this book and did you have a specific inspiration in mind? Were you influenced by a certain author or work that inspired you to add your voice to this genre? Besides the boatloads of money and rockstar fame, what motivated you to write this book? 

Anthony: I had strong childhood memories that I wanted to commit to paper and I felt distant enough from them at this stage in my writing career that I could craft a story around them.

Ana: If you could compare your book to any other existing works, which ones would it be and why? If the one thing you could say to a prospective reader was, "If you like X, you'll love my book!", which work would be invoked so that a reader could judge whether or not your book is their cup of tea?

Anthony: A book that I love that is very different but yet inspired me in its tone was "This Boy's Life" by Tobias Wolff. I hate to mention it in the same paragraph even because it is so good and mine is probably extremely flawed in comparison, but what i love about it is its lack of self-pity in the narrative voice. Just tell the story and let the reader make the connections. I love that.

Ana: Is this your first or only published work, or have you published other books? If you have published other books, how do they compare to this one? Do you have any more books planned, either as a follow-up to this one, or as a completely different book or genre?

Anthony: I have two previously published books, both very different from Latitudes in their subject matter, at least. Birdman, my first novel traces the picaresque quest by a man named Billy Kagan to reconnect with his estranged wife and baby boy, and the second novel French Pond Road, picks up years later when Billy is reunited finally with his son, who is now a teenager.

I do plan a follow up to Latitudes, following Will's life in his twenties and thirties, his wild years.

Ana: Where can readers obtain a copy of your book for them to enjoy? How can they contact you with any thoughts or questions? And do you have a means by which they can "sign up" to be notified when your next book comes available?

Anthony: Latitudes is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Readers can stay in touch with me and find information about upcoming projects at AnthonyCaplanWrites and TheNewRemembrance. I'm on GoodReads, FaceBook, and Twitter @anthonycaplan1.

Ana: Thank you. I understand you have the first chapter of your book available as an excerpt for interested readers? Is there anything else you wish to add for our readers?

Anthony: Thanks and spread the love.

If you are an indie author interested in being interviewed, please read the interview policy here.
If you are an indie author interested in joining the Acacia Moon catalog, please visit the forums here.

Animation: Tarzan

@ Wikipedia
When I announced my intentions to deconstruct Disney animated films, I didn't expect to tackle Tarzan any time soon. Yet here I am, in no small part because I've recently read "Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan" and the combination of lush descriptions and painfully slow pacing drove me to put the book down and watch "Tarzan" for some reprieve. (And then I watched "George of the Jungle". Yeah, I know. More on that later.)

A relative newcomer to the Disney line-up, "Tarzan" was released in 1999 and, as such, was not a particularly formative experience for me. All in all, I have a complex relationship with the movie: on the one hand, Phil Collins' voice is like a silver bell made from magic and pixie dust, and capable of extracting tears from my eyes at a mere three words into any given song; on the other hand, about half of this movie is comic relief faffing about by Rosie O'Donnell whom I have no beef with whatsoever (to my knowledge) but I'm not here for the comedy and it's strange to be pulled back and forth between heart-wrenching sobs and wishing the movie would GET ON WITH THE PLOT ALREADY.

And, of course, there's there's a lot of genuinely problematic things in the Tarzan story.

But first, some groundwork. I haven't read any of Burroughs writings, though I have read the Wikipedia page for Tarzan of the Apes, so there's that. And I've read "Jane" (as mentioned above) which was authorized by the Burroughs' estate and which I feel pretty confident guessing is better in every possible way. (Subjective opinion!) So let's dive into the immediate unfortunate implication that comes to mind when dealing with Noble Savage stories like Tarzan:

It's kind of racist.

Or, at least, that's my initial impression. If you watch Disney's Tarzan, you'll notice that there are zero people of color in this movie. None. At all. Jane and her father and villain Clayton are white. Tarzan is white. The ship crew -- both the good and the bad -- are white. And there are no people in Disney's Africa. At all. This strikes me as really bad form. It's like, "Hey, Africans! You've got a really groovy continent, you know that? Do you mind if we erase you entirely from it so we can stage an epic romance between some white people? Thanks!"

Now you might protest that Disney was doing its best, and... maybe they were. Maybe the paring down of the cast to just four humans is necessary from a storytelling standpoint: do we really need to see all the laborers who would have been necessary to set up the Porter's ridiculously huge camp? Wouldn't that introduce a lot of complex questions in a lighthearted kiddie movie, and with no real benefit since none of the characters would have been fleshed out to an adequate degree? Couldn't one-dimensional laborer characters who were also people of color simply reinforced prejudice instead of dismantling it?

But... then I have to cast a long glance at "George of the Jungle", which preceded "Tarzan" by two years, and which --- despite all its faults -- managed to include as many people of color in the first half of the movie as there are people of pallor and they get the best lines. Lots of them. Remember these guys?

I love those guys! And that's not even their best moment; that's just a quick YouTube search. And later we get quick but in-depth shots at a local prison, a local village, and local villagers regarding a FedEx truck with interest, but not awe or astonishment. The whole movie actually leaves the viewer with the impression that Africa has, you know, Africans in it, and that they're not primitive or backwards or stupid or anything else of the sort.

Of course, GotJ is set in the modern day; Tarzan is not. But I'm not sure that's even remotely an excuse.

But really, the whole Tarzan mythos is fraught with a lot of unfortunate implications. If you allow people of color to live in the jungle, then you have to explain why Tarzan is so startled at the appearance of white humans, and why he's so powerfully drawn to Jane as his One True Mate. Burroughs worked around this (apparently, based on the Wiki entry) by giving Tarzan an antagonistic relationship with the locals, and thus he couldn't seek a mate there; Maxwell worked around this by giving Tarzan a respectful-yet-distant relationship with the locals, coupled with a fear of sex (it's complicated), and thus he wouldn't seek a mate there; Disney worked around this by removing people from Africa entirely, and thus Jane really is the only woman in Africa for Tarzan. Probably not the best choice there. (GotJ worked around it, for the record, by having George unaware that his species even *had* females. But George is comedically unintelligent.)

So the Tarzan story has issues with race. And with feminism, at least until Maxwell came along. (Disney doesn't do much to correct this, in my opinion.) And yet, I understand the appeal of Tarzan. Tarzan embodies innocence (that's basically the whole point of the Noble Savage trope) and vulnerability by being cordoned off from the "civilized" -- read: ugly and brutal -- world. But he also embodies power and protection; he is lord of the wild places, and deeply and utterly devoted to his chosen mate. It's a powerful fantasy -- especially if you're feeling the strictures of civilization a little tightly. (A huge part of Maxwell's book centers around womens' clothing. In a good way, I thought.)

And it's a surprising to me that it is such a powerful fantasy, given that I'd live all of 30 minutes in the jungle (disability!) and I'd hate every minute of it (humidity! bugs! dirt! yuck!). And yet the fantasy still holds power for me, in ways that are hard to articulate.

So let's instead jump into the movie.

The movie opens with a ship burning down, but baby!Tarzan plus Pretty Mom and Sturdy Dad manage to not only make it out alive, but also to build a nifty Swiss Family Robinson tree-house. Phil Collins is singing his heart out here and I'm already blubbing; this blub fest is not helped by the flash to Kala and Kerchak losing their baby ape-cub to a hungry leopard. Kala sinks into a depression, but is jostled out of it when she hears baby!Tarzan crying from across the jungle. She visits the ransacked tree-house, sees the bodies of the parents where the leopard left their remains, and uncovers the cutest baby ever.

And it's worth pointing out that all of this is without words, if you don't count Phil Collins. It's Wall-E levels of impressive, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, Kala and Tarzan bond, and the leopard shows up, and Kala saves the baby. A nice touch is that when Kala is finally safe from the leopard, she bares her teeth in a really menacing gesture; I like a good momma-bear moment, I must confess. Kala returns to the family group and shows off her new baby, but Kerchak is not pleased. "It's not our kind," he says, and argues for the baby to be given over to the jungle to be killed.

Yeah, that's not going to bias the audience against Kerchak at all. 

Kala pleads to keep the baby, even to the point of becoming something of a social outcast for the remainder of the movie. And I have to wonder: is this the first "Disney Mom" to make it to the end of the movie alive? Granted, she's an adoptive mother and Tarzan's biological mother has already bitten the big one, but I have to wonder.

But! There are points to be made! There's a lot of faffing about with Rosie O'Donnell and Tarzan gets into trouble trying to prove himself a worthy member of the tribe, which only backfires and ends with Kerchak being even more angry with him. Tarzan has angst and his mother teaches him a formative lesson: Racism is wrong!

And... well. It's a sweet scene. Kala deconstructs the ways in which they are similar: "I see two eyes like mine... and a nose here..." And when Tarzan's visual senses get in the way of the exercise, she tells him, "Close your eyes. Now forget what you see. What do you feel? [exchange of heartbeats] We're exactly the same."

I think this is a good lesson! But it's a lesson that occurs in a world where, as far as the viewer can tell, there are White People and there are Animals. And if we let the Animals stand in for "people of color", then we have a whole slew of problems besides the obvious animals-by-analogy one: Tarzan is faster, smarter, more resourceful, less prejudiced, more curious, more intelligent, more everything than the others. He's the best ape ever, because he's a higher form of life. (Well, biologically-speaking, he does have a bigger brain.) So the Animals must remain Animals and this becomes a story about racism that has white people standing in for the entirety of humanity. Issues!

Moving on. Tarzan grows up in another tear-jerking Phil Collins montage. When the leopard attacks Tarzan, Kerchak is there to defend him, possibly not as a "son", but definitely as a member of the tribe. When Kerchak goes down, Tarzan leaps into the fray and kills the leopard. There's a moment where Kerchak seems poised to finally acknowledge Tarzan as one of them, but a gunshot rings out through the forest and the gorillas -- sans the curious Tarzan -- beat a dignified retreat.

Enter Jane.

Jane is not a feminist character outside of Maxwell's re-imagining. She's not really one here, either, which is a pity because Disney already took plenty of liberties with the story so why not? She starts off well, standing up to Clayton and pointing out that his gunfire is scaring off the gorillas that they've come to study. Then Jane demonstrates a scholar's mind by joining in with her father to celebrate the confirmation of the theory that the gorillas nest in family groups -- but the point is made that it's the Professor's theory, not Jane's. Fine.

Clayton doesn't believe that gorillas can be social animals and instead describes them as wild and violent. Possibly another attempt at showing that Racism Is Bad, but it may just be the usual villain characterization. Then Jane separates from the group and sketches a baby baboon. When the baboon steals the sketch, she demonstrates a deft hand with children; first tricking the child for a chance to grab her sketch, then gently scolding it for making a fuss. But the baboon's parents are less pleased and attack Jane without provocation.

So we have an innocent white woman being chased by dark, violent, angry, unreasonable natives but they're Animals, so it's alright then. *sigh* I just keep thinking that Jane could have gotten into a spot of trouble with a natural disaster. Or even just met Tarzan without being rescued at all! But, no, it's innocent white woman in need of rescue. (For the record, Maxwell's Jane is attacked by a leopard, but the attack is orchestrated by the villain Conrath.)

Tarzan saves Jane rather than taking the side of the baboons, which underscores that he's the intelligent-and-tolerant guy in the jungle. The chase itself has a good bit (Jane uses her umbrella to deflect attacks and Tarzan helps bolster the umbrella with his hands, so they're instinctively working together) and a bad bit (Tarzan rolls his eyes at Jane at one point, probably for comic relief, but really?) and then all is safe forever.

And this is a tough scene. Because there's obviously going to be an undercurrent of sexual threat here; the Tarzan mythos requires him to be openly drawn to Jane from the get-go and Jane doesn't know anything about this stranger who doesn't know anything about society or social conventions. This Jane goes into a childish sing-song about being "in a tree with a man who talks to monkeys," and I suppose that the charitable interpretation is that she's under a lot of stress. Tarzan touches her feet, which tickles her, and her bubbling laughter of "get off, get off" suddenly turns harsh when he tries to peer under her skirt. "Get off!" she says sternly, and gives him a nice round kick for his troubles. He shakes himself, obviously unharmed, and she says "it serves you right."

This is about the most spunk we'll get from Jane, though.

Tarzan sees her hand and hears her heartbeat and remembers the words of his mother Kala. But it is he who takes the initiative to communicate with Jane, pointing at himself and saying "Tarzan". Jane has to be the one who is taught -- slowly -- how to identify herself to him. And that makes me sad, because that could have been a place for Jane to shine, but instead she's the one being the student to the ridiculously perfect Tarzan. Ah well.

Now for more faffing about with Rose O'Donnell. She and a cabal of friends visit the Porter's camp -- which is HUGE, by the way -- and trash the place to a jazzy tune. From a movie perspective, it adds little; from an unfortunate implications perspective, it reinforces that Tarzan is the only person in the jungle with an interest in learning and a healthy respect for peoples' property. Whereas he will learn permanent knowledge from these precious English artifacts, the apes will destroy them to make transient music.

Tarzan returns with Jane and she has a moment where it seems she will connect with the apes, but Kerchak comes barreling into camp, threatens Jane, and orders everyone back into the jungle. He's right, of course -- Clayton is actually there to kidnap the apes and sell them to zoos -- but by menacing the innocent Jane, once again the impression is created that Tarzan is the only Not Racist in the jungle. This is underlined when Kerchak says he won't risk the safety of the tribe and Tarzan bursts out "why are you threatened by anyone different from you?!"

When his mother Kala tries to stop him from stalking away, Tarzan asks "why didn't you tell me there were creatures like me," thus underscoring the fact that there are no humans in Africa. At least not on the coast where Tarzan resides.

Jane is reunited with her father and Clayton, and she lapses into a frenzied babble that makes almost no sense at all. When she gets to the bit with Tarzan, she loses her train of thought and becomes positively soporific with the memory. This does not strike me as overly strong characterization. When she draws Tarzan on the blackboard, her father notes her attraction and asks if she and the blackboard would like a moment alone. It's a humorous moment, but one which underscores that Jane... doesn't seem to know what she wants out of life. Maxwell handles this well, but Disney I feel does not, or not as well as I'd like. If only they'd spent more time on Jane and done more with her than making her seem so... unsure and vacillating.

Tarzan drops into camp and Jane saves his life. Clayton attempts to communicate with Tarzan and points out that he knows where the gorillas are. When his attempts at teaching fail, Jane takes over, and we get... ANOTHER MONTAGE! Living! Learning! Loving! Worried mothers! Jane slowly shedding clothing! Time passes!

White people show up and load the Porters' possessions on board. Tarzan asks Jane to stay; she asks him to come back with her, forever. The two arrive at an impasse, and Jane runs off tearfully. Clayton manages to convince Tarzan that if Jane sees gorillas, she'll stay forever. Tarzan asks Rosie O'Donnell to distract Kerchak by dressing up as Jane and being chased through the jungle, proving that Kerchak is violent and aggressive rather than defensively moving his family back away from the menace. Once Kerchak is out of the picture, the other gorillas are accepting of Jane and her father, at least once they start imitating the gorillas' posture and language.

Kerchak bursts in on the scene and attacks the humans; Tarzan holds him off and Kerchak accuses him of betrayal. Kala steps in and takes Tarzan to the old tree-house, to learn his heritage for the first time. With heart-wrenching sadness, she tells him "I just want you to be happy, whatever you decide." When Tarzan comes out dressed as an Englishman, Kala sobs and he tells her that she will always be his mother.

Tarzan travels to the ship with Jane, who is still wrestling with her feelings for him. The crew mutinies and locks them all in the cargo area while Clayton goes to round up the apes. Tarzan tries to escape and Jane begs him to stop, since it's "no use". Luckily, Rosie O'Donnell shows up with an elephant.

Violence! The white men show up with guns and nets and pack the gorillas into cages. I really hope this isn't analogous to slavery because then we're back to Animals = People of Color. Tarzan busts onto the scene with a stampede of elephants and announces that he's come home. The men take Kala, and Jane goes off on her own to save her; she takes out one by herself, the second man is taken out by her friends the baboons, and a third man who creeps up behind her is taken out by Tarzan while Jane remains oblivious to the danger. Not sure what the Action Girl scorecard is there.

Clayton grazes Tarzan with a bullet; Kerchak charges Clayton to save Tarzan and gets shot for his trouble. Naturally, this makes Tarzan the new leader of the gorillas. (Are there any boy gorillas in this tribe? It doesn't matter; Tarzan is a Human and therefore The Best. Because shut up that's why.) Clayton hounds Tarzan into the canopy, bragging that "After I get rid of you, rounding up your little ape family will be all too easy." This is depressingly true, and we're at that usual White Savior point where only the White Man can save all the locals. Yes, he's human and they're Animals, but they're remarkably intelligent animals. Why aren't they beating a swift retreat or launching a meaningful counter-offensive? I don't know much about gorillas, though.

Tarzan corners Clayton with the gun and Clayton tells him to shoot him and "be a man". Tarzan angrily replies "not a man like you" and flings the gun away. Then, through a complex series of events, and because this is Disney, Clayton foolishly orchestrates his own death so that the heroes won't have blood on their hands. (Is there a trope for this? There should be. Disney villains are practically suicidal at the end.)

Tarzan has a moment with Kerchak, in which Kerchak asks forgiveness and takes all the blame. "Forgive me for not understanding that you have always been one of us." And I can't help but wrinkle up my nose; I mean, this isn't Tarzan's fault per se, but it's not Kerchak's either by a long shot. Having him assert at the eleventh hour that Tarzan was right all along isn't floating with me. The gorillas walk off into the jungle and the Professor moves to follow them, but Jane halts him.

Jane and Tarzan share a final farewell before she piles into the boat to go back to England. Her father tells her that she should stay. She argues that her place is back home, with people, and he counters "but you love him." And... it's true. She does. But we've just had an entire movie of Jane not making up her mind on anything and now at this final, crucial hour it's her father that flat-out tells her that she's in love. (At least in GotJ, Ursula's mother is being dismissive of the notion and that's what triggers the realization in Ursula that, no really, she does love George. Again, that movie? Two years younger than this one.)

"Go on," he says. And she does. And it suddenly impacts on me that she's still wearing eyeshadow. What.

Jane kisses Tarzan and then nervously pulls away. The onus is on him to start the kiss again; she's too shy to be the aggressor anymore. Her father flings himself into the surf to stay with them, and then we cut to Acrobat Jane, cuddling with Tarzan through the treetops, being caught by him, being cradled in his arms by him, and being at least a little bit more badass than most of the rest of the film, so yay.

I like Disney!Jane, but I am really saddened by the fact that there seems to be a lot of wasted potential here. If Disney was trying to stay true to the damsel-in-distress Jane, I think it was a mistake; they changed enough else of the story, so why draw the line at modernizing the heroine a little? Jane comes off as a hanger-on to her Professor father, and a lot of the good grief, she had to be brave and strong-willed to get to Africa at all characterization is lost in the shuffle. Tarzan is the one who initiates their "Me Tarzan, you Jane" conversation; Clayton is the one who suggests teaching him more. Her father is the one who tells her she loves Tarzan and to stay with him. I don't think there's a single moment of Jane asserting what she wants in this movie, without first being prompted by a man. Realistic? Yes. But I expect more.

I want to like "Tarzan". The visuals are stunning, the Phil Collins music is intense. The surrounding fantasy is visceral and appealing to me: I like the idea of a powerful jungle-king protector, draped only in a loincloth and dead-set on meeting my every need while the rest of humanity can go fuck itself. (Sometimes I take my introvertedness seriously.)

But it's hard to look past the fact that this movie chose to remove people of color out of Africa in order to have a cleaner, neater backdrop against which to play this fantasy. It's hard to overlook the fact that this is a movie that acts like it's about racism (Tarzan is one of them!) and yet has the non White People once again having All The Prejudice. Jane and her father immediately accept the gorillas as their equals; the gorillas fear and hate the humans in return. And the leader of the Prejudiced Animals -- despite having made seriously good points about risky behavior and individualism versus social responsibility -- gamely takes all the blame on him at the end despite it not being his fault at all. What.

And the thing is, they could have fixed this stuff. At least 30 minutes of this movie is comic relief faffing about that adds nothing to the plot. Cut that, tighten up the message, give Jane a little more steel in her spine, and away you go. But they didn't. It feels lazy. 

It's strange to watch something like this -- something that plays the Tarzan story straight -- and then watch George of the Jungle, which is far more comedic and yet manages to be more serious. Same Disney label, two years prior, and with a heroine that talks in a baby-talk cadence most of the movie... and yet it ended up being more friendly to women and people of color than this movie.

That blows my mind a little bit.

As does this.

Feminism: How-To Guide for Misogynist Gamers

[Content Note: Misogyny]

Step 1: Create an environment where skilled female gamers are subjected to brutal abuse.

Little House: Let's Read Farmer Boy OMGWTFBBQ

[Content Note: Physical Abuse]

Farmer Boy: Chapter 1

So here's the thing: I've read these books.

I did. I read them when I was a little kid, all the way through, straight through to the middle of "The First Four Years" at which point the drastic change in tone and the new names to remember alienated me enough that I put them down and moved on to Nancy Drew or whatever. But I did read them.

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 13

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 13


It's winter again and Pa is starting to hunt now that the harvest is all in and put away.

   One night when he came in from doing the chores Pa said that after supper he would go to his deer-lick and watch for a deer. There had been no fresh meat in the little house since spring, but now the fawns were grown up, and Pa would go hunting again.

And, no, I still don't understand how the Ingalls are eating if they only have fall crops and winter game. Spring and summer don't sound like much fun at all, in that light.

Anyway, Chapter 13 is very pretty and introspective; Pa goes into the forest to shoot game but he's so dazzled by the gorgeous natural beauty of, in order, a stag, a bear, and a doe and her faun, that he doesn't bring home any food. Mary and Laura don't mind and remind him that beauty and nature are more important than supper. Then Pa plays gorgeous haunting music while Laura falls asleep.

And, really, this is nice. At least when you're a kid and you just assume that the Ingalls' larder is so full to bursting that game isn't a necessity. If it was a necessity, then this makes Pa out to be, um, a little careless for the safety of his family? It's not like Laura and Mary and Ma have much of a say in all this, honestly. But ... yeah.

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 12

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 12

In Chapter 12, Pa hires a machine to come to the farm and thresh their grain.

   One frosty morning, a machine came up the road. Four horses were pulling it, and two men were on it. The horses hauled it up into the field where Pa and Uncle Henry and Grandpa and Mr. Peterson had stacked their wheat.
   Two more men drove after it another, smaller machine.
   Pa called to Ma that the threshers had come; then he hurried out to the field with his team. Laura and Mary asked Ma, and then they ran out to the field after him. They might watch, if they were careful not to get in the way.

Interestingly, Pa is presented as the VISIONARY THINKER who convinced everyone to hire the threshers and embrace the NEW WAYS.

   Pa was very tired that night, but he was happy. He said to Ma:
   “It would have taken Henry and Peterson and Pa and me a couple of weeks apiece to thresh as much grain with flails as that machine threshed today. We wouldn’t have got as much wheat, either, and it wouldn’t have been as clean.
   “That machine’s a great invention!” he said. “Other folks can stick to old-fashioned ways if they want to, but I’m all for progress. It’s a great age we’re living in. As long as I raise wheat, I’m going to have a machine come and thresh it, if there’s one anywhere in the neighborhood.”
   He was too tired that night to talk to Laura, but Laura was proud of him. It was Pa who had got the other men to stack their wheat together and send for the threshing machine, and it was a wonderful machine. Everybody was glad it had come.

I don't really know what to say about that. It seems like a good thing, but then there this blog post who says that a lot of Pa's financial ruin (in the books, possibly not in reality?) is tied to ruinous investments in new technology. So there's that. Foreshadowing?

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 11

[Content Note: Insects, Corporal Punishment]

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 11

Chapter 11 is about harvesting grain at Uncle Henry's house. Uncle Henry's boy, Charley who is eleven years old, is naughty because he is not struck frequently enough.

Chapters so far: 11. Mentions of corporal punishment: I've lost track. Five? Six? Seven? And keep in mind I still have no idea what they are eating in the non-Fall. But damned if I know how often and in what ways each child we encounter are struck.

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 10

[Content Note: Corporal Punishment]

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 10

In Chapter 10, women other than Ma exist and she even gets to talk to some. Notably Aunt Lotty.

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 9

[Content Note: Depression]

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 9

In Chapter 9, spring comes and the girls are allowed to leave the house again.

At one point, a history teacher told me that a lot of pioneer wives suffered from acute anxiety and depression from undiagnosed stuff like S.A.D. coupled with isolation, back-breaking labor, constant pregnancies, and not being allowed to leave the house for weeks on end and not having access to other adult human beings. I don't know if that's true, but it stuck with me.

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 8

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 8

Chapter 8 is the best chapter as far as I'm concerned. There is nothing not good in Chapter 8. It has everything: food porn, dancing, food porn, jigging, and food porn.

Well, there's corsets. That scares me. But other than that.

   Laura loved Grandma’s house. It was much larger than their house at home. There was one great big room, and then there was a little room that belonged to Uncle George, and there was another room for the aunts, Aunt Docia and Aunt Ruby. And then there was the kitchen, with a big cookstove.

THREE ROOMS. Four if you count the kitchen. (Have you read this yet? It's awesome.)

And then there is Uncle George, who seems sweet and whom I envision as Terry Bellefleur (i.e., The Best Character Ever) from True Blood.

   Uncle George was home from the army. He wore his blue army coat with the brass buttons, and he had bold, merry blue eyes. He was big and broad and he walked with a swagger.
   Laura looked at him all the time she was eating her hasty pudding, because she had heard Pa say to Ma that he was wild.
   “George is wild, since he came back from the War,” Pa had said, shaking his head as if he were sorry, but it couldn’t be helped. Uncle George had run away to be a drummer boy in the army, when he was fourteen years old.

As a child, I assume George ran away because that was the hip, with-it thing to do. Now in light of all the corporal punishment around here, I have to wonder. Poor George. But I'm ... glad that his family seems nice and kind in light of whatever issues he does or doesn't have? Like, it's nice to see a disability treated with kindness and understanding in a classic literature book, since usually we instead get horror stories about how badly people with mental diseases were treated. So yay for that, I guess? (I say "I guess" because this is the only thing we see of Uncle George so it's possible there's a bigger picture here that I don't know about. But in the book, he seems respected and cared for, so that is a good thing.)

Then there are corsets.

   Then they pulled on their beautiful white stockings, that they had knit of fine cotton thread in lacy, openwork patterns, and they buttoned up their best shoes. They helped each other with their corsets. Aunt Docia pulled as hard as she could on Aunt Ruby’s corset strings, and then Aunt Docia hung on to the foot of the bed while Aunt Ruby pulled on hers.
   “Pull, Ruby, pull!” Aunt Docia said, breathless. “Pull harder.” so Aunt Ruby braced her feet and pulled harder. Aunt Docia kept measuring her waist with her hands, and at last she gasped, “I guess that’s the best you can do.”
   She said, “Caroline says Charles could span her waist with his hands, when they were married.”
   Caroline was Laura’s Ma, and when she heard this Laura felt proud.

True fact: when you have scoliosis, corsets are the stuff of nightmares and terror. 'Nuff said about that, I guess.

Anyway! There is dancing while Pa fiddles and calls out the dancing instructions to everyone. Grandma is pulled into the room and engages in a jigging battle with Uncle George, and the whole thing seems sweet and spirited and nice. Grandma wins, because she is BADASS. I won't quote it all here because it's a long scene, but it's probably my favorite part of the book. Here's a piece:

   Grandma kept on jigging. Her hands were on her hips and her chin was up and she was smiling. George kept on jigging, but his boots did not thump as loudly as they had thumped at first. Grandma’s heels kept on clickety-clacking gaily. A drop of sweat dripped off George’s forehead and shone on his cheek.
   All at once he threw up both arms and gasped, “I’m beat!” He stopped jigging.
   Everybody made a terrific noise, shouting and yelling and stamping, cheering Grandma. Grandma jigged just a little minute more, then she stopped. She laughed in gasps. Her eyes sparkled just like Pa’s when he laughed. George was laughing, too, and wiping his forehead on his sleeve.

And then there is food porn and candy and more food porn and then everyone goes home. Goodbye, Sugar Snow!

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 7

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 7

Chapter 7 has the Sugar Snow -- a quick spring snow that results in more maple syrup flowage for Grandpa Ingalls. Pa hops to it and takes the family to the grandparents' house to help out, plus there's going to be a dance.

   Pa’s blue eyes twinkled; he had been saving the best for the last, and he said to Ma:
   “Hey, Caroline! There’ll be a dance!”
   Ma smiled. She looked very happy, and she laid down her mending for a minute. “Oh, Charles!” she said.
   Then she went on with her mending, but she kept on smiling. She said, “I’ll wear my delaine.”
   Ma’s delaine dress was beautiful. It was a dark green, with a little pattern all over it that looked like ripe strawberries. A dressmaker had made it, in the East, in the place where Ma came from when she married Pa and moved out west to the Big Woods in Wisconsin. Ma had been very fashionable, before she married Pa, and a dressmaker had made her clothes.


That one little bit is the most interesting thing about Ma ever. Where did she live? How did she meet Pa? How does she know all these farmhand skills, like cheese making and the like, if she comes from the fashionable-back-east? What does she think about being taken away from town life and put into a 1-room log cabin in the middle of nowhere where she goes days or sometimes weeks without seeing other adult human beings who are not her husband?


Also, this entire chapter is about making maple syrup, which seems hard. Makes you wonder who thought to do all that first.

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 6

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 6

Chapter 6 is hilarifying because Ma slaps a bear.

Pa goes out of town to sell furs and ends up being out all night. He's fortunate; he thinks he runs into a bear whilst out in the dark Big Woods without his gun, but it ends up being just a tree stump. But, still, hungry bears and panthers and snakes, oh my!

And we're sort of back to my "spread your survival skills people" advice for your upcoming zombie apocalypse. And I'm also wondering what the hell Ma was supposed to do with three little children if Pa did die? Presumably she'd have to marry again, post-haste -- something like 50% of their food and 100% of their income comes from Pa. Which is kind of scary, actually. So I'm not going to dwell on that any further.


Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 5

[Content Note: Depression, Religion, Corporal Punishment, Racism]

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 5

Chapter 5! Which was, and still is, my personal vision of Hell. 

Because Chapter 5 describes the Sunday routine. Which, I must remind you, comes every seven days.

One seventh of your lifetime is spent on Sundays. Yuck.

Review: Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan

Jane: The Woman Who Loved TarzanJane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan
by Robin Maxwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan / 978-0765333599

I picked this up because while I haven't read the original "Tarzan of the Apes", I have seen several movie renditions and I feel like the underlying fantasy of Tarzan and Jane is incredibly compelling. (Plus, look at that cover. That cover should win an award, if it hasn't already.) So I was expecting a nice action tale with a fresh-and-feminist narrative viewpoint.

And, well, I got that -- but it took a long time to get there.

My copy of this book weighs in at a reasonable ~300 pages, but this feels like one of the longer books I've read in awhile. The pacing at the beginning is slow enough that several times I was tempted to give up, and it's not until about the halfway point that things really picked up for me. Tarzan himself doesn't even appear until page 130, outside of a few brief tantalizing flashbacks that interrupt the narrative of the "main" flashback.

And I think I'll take this moment to register a quibble. This book starts with Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of the original Tarzan stories, as a character in the book, and the whole story is told to him by a 'Real Life' Jane. I'm not really a fan of this kind of plot device; no one is going to be fooled into thinking this was the 'real' origin of the Tarzan story, and the whole thing is largely vestigial: an opening and closing chapter that weakly attempt to explain why this version and the original version don't align neatly.

This flimsy explanation was not, in my opinion, necessary -- and raises more questions than answers in my mind. I don't know if the author genuinely thought this attempt at melding the old and the new was a good idea, or if this was insisted upon by Burroughs' estate, but it feels very clunky -- especially when things get hot-and-steamy and the reader is forced to remember that Jane is narrating extremely intimate details of her sex life to a complete stranger so that he can write it all down as a fictional story.

Anyway, returning to the narrative, once Tarzan enters the picture, things pick up -- but it's not a race to the finish by any means. There are long periods of teaching, learning, training, and diary reading, and finally I realized that this isn't an adventure book. It's more of a romance novel slash world building novel set against the lush backdrop of the Tarzan mythos. And once I realized that, I was still able to enjoy the book even though it wasn't quite what I'd expected going in. Tarzan and Jane are larger than life characters, and the prose here is gorgeous, so I enjoyed the book, if not always the pace.

Other things I liked about this novel: I liked the character growth of Jane (once we got out of the first 100 pages which made me uncomfortable with all the repeated comparisons to her 'natural' beauty against the 'artificial' beauty of Every Other Woman in England). I liked how well the fantasy of Tarzan as a person is handled here; he's equal parts vulnerable and powerful, and the fantasy is played to the hilt. I liked that there's a very real and actually pretty decent discussion here about privilege and prejudice, as Jane acknowledges that she has both and works hard to overcome the latter and not be judgmental of other cultures. (She even comes to realize that the Primitive Savage concept is more complicated than that, which I thought was nice in a property that ultimately hinges on that fantasy.) I liked that there are plenty of people of color in this novel, and they are portrayed (in my opinion) with respect and depth of character.

I do recommend this book for climbing into the fantasy of Tarzan and living for a few sweet hours. Twice during my time with this novel, I set it down and popped in one of the two Tarzan movies I own, just to see the visuals and dwell in the experience. If that reinforces my gripe about the slow pacing, it will hopefully also underscore that there's a lot here to be savored. If you can bear a slow pace for an emotionally fulfilling payoff, then I can recommend this book.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.

~ Ana Mardoll

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 4

[Content Note: Animal Mistreatment]

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 4

Chapter 4 is Christmas, so Laura will finally get a doll that isn't a vegetable! Woot!

Aunt Eliza and Uncle Peter and and Peter (Junior?) and Alice and Ella come to play with Laura and Mary and they make snow angels and get presents and it's all very lovely, even when Ma breaks into Laura's OMG DOLL reverie to demand that she share her things because IF YOU ARE A VIRTUOUS PIONEER, ALL YOUR STUFF IS PUBLIC PROPERTY. Which, I guess if you live in the same 1-room house all your life, maybe it kind of is. But still.

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 3

[Content Note: Corporal Punishment]

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 3

Continuing on in the spirit of the Let's Read, Chapter 3 has guns and corporal punishment.  Woot!

And gods help me, but I always forget -- when I'm not reading Little House -- just how big of a penchant Little House has for corporal punishment. I hesitate to even call a lot of what happens in Little House "spankings"; a fair few of the punishments dished out -- usually in flashbacks and usually to boys -- are to my mind flat-out beatings.* Which is really quite appalling to me.

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 2

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 2

Chapter 2 is one of those "life in the days of", which actually I guess all the chapters are, but we get to follow Mary and Laura through the chores, and we also hear Ma's poem about work days. And Baby Carrie gets her first off-hand mention.

   After this was done, Ma began the work that belonged to that day. Each day had its own proper work. Ma used to say:
   “Wash on Monday,
   Iron on Tuesday,
   Mend on Wednesday,
   Churn on Thursday,
   Clean on Friday,
   Bake on Saturday,
   Rest on Sunday.”
   Laura liked the churning and the baking days best of all the week.

We also get a story about a panther leaping on a horse and tearing its back off. Neat! What a neat story! Ha. Which brings me to a question, or rather a problem that I personally have going through these books: I DO NOT UNDERSTAND NINETEENTH CENTURY AMERICA ECONOMICS.

How wealthy are the Ingalls? They have horses and cows and a pig every year. They seem to have more than enough salt to pack everything nice and tight and you never see any food spoiling. Pa has shiny silver bear traps, Ma has a butter churn and butter pat set-up that turns out strawberry-shaped butter pats (and she can afford to waste a carrot on churning day to make the butter yellow and pretty), and they have nice stiff paper to wrap meat in and to make paper dolls and paper clothes for the girls to play with. They also put little bits of red flannel in the kerosene lamp to make it pretty. Oh, and they have kerosene and fiddles.

I have no idea what sort of economic state we're looking at, but the Ingalls seem relatively comfortable? Maybe? And yet Laura doesn't have a rag doll. Her sister Mary does, but Laura has to make do with a corncob. What?

I do not understand this. I've done the quilting thing and the sewing thing and the doll making thing and the clothes making thing, okay? I've done that. I've made rag dolls. A little rag doll for a 3 year old is nothing. Some scraps, bits and pieces that are too small to use in anything else. You can put it together in a day, maybe two, and then the little kid has something cuddly and soft and All Their Very Own to treasure and take care of. Why does this not exist for Laura?

I initially thought that the Ingalls were too poor, and that every scrap in the house had to go into clothing and bedding and rags for rinsing pig fat off your hands. But they've got pieces of flannel in the kerosene to make it pretty. A story about a horse being killed by a panther is treated as a major nuisance, and not a financial hardship. Even if they inherited their butter pats and fiddles, and their animals and vegetable garden are in some kind of self-perpetuating breeding state, they don't have the quarter yard of fabric to make their daughter a rag doll??

I just think it's strange.

Little House: Let's Read Big Woods, Chapter 1

I wanted to do something fun without committing to a multi-year thing, so let's all watch me completely abuse the concept of "Let's Play" in the context of a Little House on the Prairie binge reading. (Really, you're lucky I didn't call it Liveblogging. I'm older every day, you know.) Posts to be posted when they are posted. Standard Ana-stuff applies: there's stuff about Little House that I love, stuff that I hate, and stuff that I'm ambivalent about; an attack on 19th century attitudes does not mean I want to dig up Wilder's ghost and snark at her, etc.

Little House in the Big Woods: Chapter 1

Chapter 1 of Little House in the Big Woods opens strong with the kind of imagery that makes me love these books: the Ingalls are storing away food for winter. That might not sound like a world-beating plot, but OH MY GOD NINETEENTH CENTURY FOOD PORN:

   Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar, for freezing nights had come.
   Onions were made into long ropes, braided together by their tops, and then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and green heaps in the attic’s corners.
   The barrels of salted fish were in the pantry, and yellow cheeses were stacked on the pantry shelves.

And that's AFTER the venison and BEFORE the bacon, both of which are thoroughly saturated in gorgeous-smelling hickory smoke. I like Big Woods best of all the books by far, and I think it's half because food porn, half because cozy forest setting, and half because none of the annoying assholes that show up later in the series. It's increasingly clear to me that Big Woods was the zombie apocalypse escapist novel of my childhood.

One thing that strikes me, though, and it's something I'm not sure I'd have thought of if I'd not just read Robin Maxwell's "Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan", and it's how gendered the roles are so far and how passive the voice is. I know that this is the nineteenth century plus Laura is just a little girl here plus Rose's heavy editing hand -- I don't care for the moment. What I see so far in this chapter is that Pa is doing all the masculine things (trapping, shooting, fishing, butchering) and Ma is doing all the feminine things (gardening, cooking, child raising) and the girls are mostly ... watching things.

   All that day and the next, Ma was trying out the lard in big iron pots on the cookstove. Laura and Mary carried wood and watched the fire. It must be hot, but not too hot, or the lard would burn. The big pots simmered and boiled, but they must not smoke. From time to time Ma skimmed out the brown cracklings. She put them in a cloth and squeezed out every bit of the lard, and then she put the cracklings away. She would use them to flavor johnny-cake later.
   Cracklings were very good to eat, but Laura and Mary could have only a taste. They were too rich for little girls, Ma said.

There's not a whole lot of "you'll need to know this when you're older" training, possibly because that would be too much like work and school, and therefore wouldn't be as romantic and interesting. Or maybe Ma and Pa were just biding their time until the girls were older. But more than that, Maxell's take on Jane got me thinking, because Maxwell makes the point -- multiple times -- that when you're in a survival situation (like the Ingalls are described here as being, living off the land and storing enough food for winter, and basically on their own barring the occasional help from a relative, a couple of things may become clear.

One, gendering roles is foolish. If someone does something well, they do it. If Ma aims better than Pa, she does the shooting; if Pa has stronger arms better suited for laundry, then he does laundry. In a survival situation with a very small group of people, gendering roles becomes actively harmful to the survival of the group.

Now, you could make the case that the roles are gendered because they were pre-gendered, so to speak. Which is to say, Ma is the better cook because she was trained to be the better cook because gendering was part of her educational plan. And Pa is the better hunter because yada yada. And this makes a degree of sense, but leads to Maxwell's second point.

Two, when in a survival situation, you spread knowledge as much as you can. Hypothetical example: Ma teaches Pa to cook during the long winter hours; Pa teaches Ma how to shoot and aim. The idea being that when you're in a very small group, if one person is knocked out by death or disease or disability, you can't afford to lose one-half or one-third of your survival skill repertoire. Maxwell's Tarzan teaches Jane not because he isn't capable of taking care of her, or because she needs to be his equal; he teaches her because he needs her help. Redundancy systems, people! Very important in your survival novel.

Of course, this doesn't mean that people dropped into a survival situation are going to grok all this instinctively. That's the Noble Savage myth cropping up, the idea that if we just get far enough away from civilization, we'll magically shed all our human-othering bullshit tendencies. Alas, no.

So it's not surprising to me that Ma and Pa engage in this behavior. It's just kind of ... food for thought. Alongside the food porn for thought.