EG: Watership Down and Modern Values

Oh boy, where to begin. I’ll admit that when I saw the news headline saying Watership Down was going to be adapted into a tv miniseries I was not terribly optimistic. The article that I read was pretty thin, mostly just listing a few cast members and saying who was funding it.

No alarm bells went off, but, my experience with adaptations, particularly of Watership Down itself (it already boasts two) told me not to get my hopes up.

I was not prepared to find out that my favorite novel was going to be desecrated in the name of modern values.

I’m only getting around to writing this now because it has literally taken this long for me to calm down. The press release wasn’t terribly long, but the information within it was incredibly offensive to me.

Most people who read it will be disappointed to find out they are toning down the violence. I’m not too bothered by that, the movie version added a main character death and quite a lot of excess blood. “Toning down” the violence will probably actually bring it more in line with the book.

I, on the other hand, am disappointed at their need to meddle with the female cast and characters. I say cast and characters because they are giving one male character a sex change in addition to giving the females a dose of “doe power”.

Excuse me while I gag.

Sorry, I’m going to try and keep it together and have this be a logical dissection rather than a ragefest.

I’m going to tackle the decision to turn Strawberry, a male character (buck) in the novel, into a female character (doe) first. Now, I am going to assume that the reporter got the name right and they don’t actually mean Blackberry, who was turned into a doe in the previous tv series (which went far afield of the book anyway). The problems with converting that character are different and much simpler. Which only makes their decision to pick Strawberry all that more confusing. I can only assume they picked him because he is one of the characters with an “effeminate” name.

Oh, spoiler warning to anyone who hasn’t read the book. I’m going to need to discuss in depth character stuff, so I can’t avoid talking about the plot and character development.

In the book, Strawberry is a member of the Warren of the Snares, aka Cowslip’s Warren. He lives a luxurious lifestyle built entirely around accepting death in exchange for safety and good food, this leads to himself and all his compatriots acting strangely because they have to abandon the very things that make them rabbits to live this lifestyle.

Our heroes end up shattering their facade when one of the strongest in the group is nearly killed and they refuse to just let him die. They leave of their own accord only to find Strawberry (who had shown them around the warren when they arrived) is chasing blindly after them.

He catches up to them and begs to join them, revealing himself to be grief stricken over the recent death of his doe. While we know she died in one of the snares, the implication is that she died a few days prior, but he had been going along to get along to help hold up the facade. The heroes leaving broke the hold the warren had over him, rendering him unable to cope with the loss of his mate and destroying his ability to pretend all is right in the world.

In short, he suffers a devastating loss that causes him to reject the fantasy he’s been living in and attaches himself to the group, because he knows he’s too weak to strike out solo.

Choosing to turn him of all characters into a doe, as opposed to say, simply fleshing out any of the preexisting does that don’t get much screentime, is rather baffling to me. If they had to convert a character, Bluebell would have been a much more sensible choice.

I can see them handling the change in one of two ways, playing it completely straight or turning Strawberry into a sassy doe who was never playing along to begin with. The funny part is, both of those is going to draw ire from the very people they’re hoping to appease.

If they play it straight, Strawberry is changed from a broken buck who begs stronger bucks to help him learn to live in the real world, to a broken doe who can’t cope with the loss of her mate and goes running to a bunch of rogue bucks to save her from her own emotional distress. Basically, Strawberry becomes feminists’ most hated trope in the name of feminism. Also, guys, next time a woman tells you you need to be more vulnerable, think of what they did to Strawberry, the most emotionally vulnerable male character in this book.

If they play it the second way, it’s going to annoy the fans of the book because the whole reason the society in the Warren of the Snares works is because everyone plays along 100%. Their entire mindset revolves around accepting death at regular intervals in exchange for easy food and pretending that this is a preferable way to live. If Strawberry isn’t playing along, then why is she still around? Why hasn’t she left or else been forced into one of the snares? The only way that could really work is if she’s being kept under the thumb of her mate or else she just keeps it to herself. The former would destroy everything that was notable about the original character (and make Strawberry a damsel in distress), while the latter would render her a doormat. I don’t think I need to point out how feminists are going to feel about these respective possibilities. Either way she still has to be rescued by the heroes, who are all male.

Now to tackle the part that really angers me. The supposed need for Clover and Hyzenthlay to be “upgraded” and participate in “heroics”. Firstly, if you honestly think that heroic deeds are what make the characters in this book noteworthy, I have to question your reading comprehension. There are three main characters, Hazel, Bigwig, and Fiver. The only one who participates in what we typically consider heroics is Bigwig. He’s the muscle out of the trio. Part of what makes the book so interesting is the push and pull between Hazel, a non-fighter who has to take on a leadership role over rabbits stronger and smarter than he is, and Bigwig, a hugely strong rabbit with a temper and a need for direction.

Despite his lack of action scenes (he only really has one and this is later described by himself and others as a very stupid thing), no one doubts Hazel’s courage or bemoans his lack of character development. No one can deny that he rises to his challenges and grows immensely despite his lack of bloodied claws.

Yet people are saying that Hyzenthlay and Clover, who display similar courage and rise to their own challenges, need to participate in more heroics.

Let me explain why it makes me so angry that people think that. It makes me angry because what they are actually saying is that female characters that are truly strong, truly brave, and truly very important characters are worthless in their current form because they don’t have an action scene. They are saying that female characters who are strong in their femininity are worthless for the very fact that they are feminine.

They say that Clover, who decided she would rather brave the dangers of the outside world than continue living in the safety of her hutch, who copes with the loss of her mate while adjusting to a vastly different life, is weak and worthless because she isn’t a sassy action girl. Clover, who has the pride of being the first doe to bear a litter and bring life to a warren that would otherwise die off in a generation, isn’t a role model for young girls because she hasn’t abandoned what makes her female to run with the boys. Because her strength is implicit rather than explicit, they cannot comprehend the fact she is already an excellent character.

And Hyzenthlay, my beloved Hyzenthlay, who I long to be as strong as, is decreed to need a power-up in order to be an interesting character. If they could be bothered to actually read the book for comprehension, they would realize that the great escape from Efrafa would not have been possible without her. Bigwig was in completely over his head, loaded down with the strain of his task, unable to even believe that he could carry out his mission. Without Hyzenthlay’s support, he never would have been able to bear up under the weight of it all. She was his soft place to land when he was surrounded by hostility and danger, separated from his support network and facing a task that was beyond his abilities. And that doesn’t even include the work she did to gather sensible does to take part in the escape or the courage she displayed before Bigwig even arrived in Efrafa.

Her true shining moment comes later though, and this is why she will always have my deep and abiding admiration.

She has finally acquired the life she longs for. She is pregnant, she has literally built a home, she has helped establish a community filled with hope for the future. Then it happens, those she escaped from are coming to take her and the other does back, or kill them all trying.

She is one of the first to find out that the forces from her old warren are coming, yet she does her best to remain resolute. Unlike one of the bucks, she does not advocate abandoning the warren and fleeing. She listens to the other does, who whisper in fear about how the bucks will be killed and they will be forced to return to the oppressive warren they came from. She knows that death could very well be in her immediate future. She is afraid, terrified, just as they all are. And yet,

“Be quiet,” said Hyzenthlay. “The bucks aren’t talking like that and why should we? I’d rather be here, now, as we are, than never have left Efrafa.”

She would rather die in the home she built beside the bucks she has come to love than have continued living an unfulfilled life in near perfect safety. Despite the fact that everyone can tell she is afraid, her announcement helps to spur Hazel and Bigwig to search harder for a way to defeat the incoming forces. While her role on the road to victory is not as glorious as Bigwig’s, it is not unimportant. Just because she did not fight does not mean she wouldn’t have if it had come to that, but it didn’t come to that because the bucks that did fight took it up a notch so she wouldn’t have to. Her strength is the feminine strength of support and encouragement, of helping the males around her face the oncoming storm with courage.

But, instead of praising her for the great female character she is and the strength she has, they instead want to turn her into a pale imitation of Bigwig. Who, I might point out, gets bloodied beyond recognition in his battle with Woundwort. I wonder if the makers of the miniseries are prepared to have her brutalized in the same fashion? If they are not courageous enough to bring this book to the screen without making it palatable to the type of people it was meant to criticize, I highly doubt they will be courageous enough to do that. Especially since they have already stated their intention to tone down the more “brutal images”.

It is such a sad and pathetic thing. They’re so hung up on male strength that they can’t even recognize a strong female character when she bites their hand. Because she doesn’t fit their (oddly masculine centric) definition of heroics and power she is seen as weak and pitiable.

In their attempt to pander to women, they reveal what they really think about them. Not very complimentary, is it?

I won’t be watching the miniseries. I don’t want to be insulted or see one of my favorite female characters be ruined. Besides, if the makers can’t understand the book well enough to realize Hyzenthlay and Clover are already solid characters, then I don’t want to see their interpretations of the book’s meatier aspects.

And I definitely don’t want to see what they will do to Hazel.


EG: “It’s Good to Have You Home”

I’ve been away from this blog so long I practically feel like I need to reintroduce myself. I’ll skip that though.

Some of you may or may not know that I did acquire a job around a year and a half ago. It took me awhile to get up to speed and it was tough work, but I liked it. Then, this year rolled around and I started to experience difficulty handling the job. One day in May I came home exhausted beyond comprehension and the summer was similarly hard. I worked only one or two days a week generally, but I got sick with some sort of respiratory issue every single time. During that time there was a potential threat that surfaced. My husband said, “You need a new job”. I began to look and alerted my boss I was looking. Eventually my car broke down at work due to a dead battery and after the ordeal (it was my birthday no less), I admitted, “I was really hoping the breakdown was serious enough I would have to quit” and my husband agreed. The last straw occurred when there was a tropical storm blowing in and my husband sent me a text saying “If it gets dangerous, go home”. I realized that I couldn’t obey his order and I did not like that. The growing realization that the money I was making absolutely did not make up for the stress I was inflicting on myself and my husband crystallized. Neither did it make up for all of much more important things I could not do because I was working. Everything I legitimately cared about was suffering mightily over less than $500 a month on average.

I searched frantically for a new job, but couldn’t find one.

So I did the only thing I could. I handed the reins over to God and walked over that cliff. I handed in my resignation. I still worked for four more weeks, wrote my thank you cards and said goodbye to the community I had been serving. When I got home that afternoon, my husband hugged me and said, “It’s good to have you home”. It is good to be home. I am praying hard that God will make a way for me to stay home and attend to what is actually important. I am thankful I worked that job, if only for the fact that it made me realize my place is at home serving my husband.

Of course, no one I talk to really understands that. Everyone has some reason or other to insist that I ought to keep working in some fashion. It’s been hard enough to argue them down to just suggesting part time work to me. The biggest concession I’ve gotten is from my mother, when she agreed to pray my husband gets a better job first and then pray for me after that. It really is exhausting wanting to do something that is outside of modern norms.

I feel like I need to write some sort of (preferably pithy) conclusion to this, but as it stands this whole situation is far from concluded. I’ll just have to wait and see what door God decides to open. In the mean time, your prayers are appreciated.


EG: The Redwall Books

In honor of the anniversary of the author Brian Jacques passing, I’d like to talk about one of my favorite childhood series: Redwall. It’s funny how I so recently decided to pack up my books for the future, only to suddenly want to unpack them and read them all over again. These are very solid books for older children, full of good triumphing over evil after a long and hard struggle. They contain role models for both genders, though boys will probably find the books more interesting over all. They are fun, relatively easy reads whose similarity in plot will only bother the most cynical (and least comprehensive) of readers.

It’s difficult to address a series as a whole, especially when I haven’t read most of them in entirely too long. I’ll give you an idea of what they are like by talking about my favorite, which I’m currently enjoying in dramatized audiobook format. The Taggerung.

You have the basics of every Redwall book here, evil vermin, the peaceful abbey, certain problems that need solving and threats that need guarding against. However, if one can ignore the basic plot, you will find a very poignant message. The message being that we are more than the people who raised us and it is ultimately our choice who we will become. The book is about leaving behind poisonous upbringings and breaking cycles of abuse. It is about overcoming challenges to become a better person. It is about leaving behind what others (who don’t have our best interests in mind) want us to be and becoming what we are supposed to be. I’d give you a more detailed synopsis, but I honestly don’t want to give anything away.

If the Redwall series teaches anything at all, it is to be courageous in the face of the cruelest of hardships. It may also teach strength and nobility of character, appreciation for simplicity in life, and the importance of community and friendship. It may also make your kids want to learn to cook (and perhaps even eat their vegetables), since the descriptions of the food are always a joy.

The books can be read in any order, but if you want, here is a list of the books in chronological order (as opposed to publishing order).


MS: Growing Fruit Trees from Seeds

Since I frequently complain about having no garden, I suppose my posting this requires a bit of backstory. It should be known that I am sentimental about the strangest things, in this case, NSR going and buying me pears when I was feeling really ill. I felt a strange urge to remember this gesture, so I looked up how to take the seeds and grow them into trees. Since I know there are people who read my blog who have an interest in self sufficiency, I decided I would pass it on.

It’s a bit more complicated than you might expect, but not too difficult. Personally I’m planning to gather seeds throughout the year and plant them in planters in the fall. I’m curious to know what hybrids I’ll end up with.

 


WH: Not So “Strange Magic”

I ended up seeing the film “Strange Magic” yesterday because my best friend wanted to see it. It’s a CG animated film about fairies and other similarly small mythical creatures who live next door to the Dark Forest, full of small, evil mythical creatures. I went in totally blind, I hadn’t even heard of the flick and according to a review on the IMDB page, the trailer wouldn’t have given me the correct impression of the film. It has some story elements that I want to talk about, but I’m going to talk a bit about the other aspects of the film first. That way if anyone who wants to see it and hasn’t yet can be spared spoilers while getting a bit of info on the film.

First off, it is a musical from start to finish. After our brief and somewhat vague opening narration, the first song begins. Although it is presented more as a character simply singing rather than a musical number. The musical numbers are predominantly older pop songs, with at least two representatives from the 60s. I’m not actually sure if any of the songs are original or not. They are all catchy, well sung and largely inoffensive. The film is rated PG solely for action and scary images.

The cast is solid, although I recognized only one name, Alan Cumming, who was in X2. I didn’t know he could sing, but he has some pretty solid chops. The rest are all similarly good. The only weird bit of casting is Roland’s voice, Sam Palladio. He’s not bad, but there is something really weird in the choice of casting a British actor to play a character with a Southern accent. Which the choice to give him that accent still escapes me, the only reason I can think of is that they wanted to play on the stereotypical idea that Southern white men are racist (and dumb). Because no one else in the kingdom has that accent in the slightest. Another odd thing is that this is (at least) the second role in which Elijah Kelley (Sunny) gets together with a blonde girl of a different race, who has a racist parent who has an over the top emotional reaction to discovering their romance.

The animation is absolutely gorgeous, although they decided to skimp on hair animation and texturing on the fairy wings. They have a nice variety of creatures and settings. The world is extremely well realized and the atmospheres of the fairy kingdom and the dark forest are nice and distinct. AS far as CGI goes it gets an A+.

Now for the story, those fearing spoilers should leave now.

 


 

The story is incredibly predictable. You’ve seen it before in part or all in Sabrina, Enchanted, Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, and Legally Blonde.

An overview:

Our female lead, Marianne is madly in love with the dashing knight Roland. We open on their wedding day, mere hours before their vows. She discovers Roland is cheating while trying to deliver a “Buttoneer” (a sort of male corsage worn in the buttonhole, a fairy tradition I guess?). She calls off the wedding and a strong bond between her and her (seemingly levelheaded) younger sister, Dawn is eluded to. She enters a manhating phase and learns to wield a sword.

All the while the king of the neighboring dark forest, (the) Bog King is continuously ordering his minions to cut down all the primroses growing on the forest border, to prevent them from being used to make love potions. He’s also staving off efforts by his mother to get him hitched.

Dawn turns out to be such a hopeless flirt she can’t concentrate on one guy, much to the chagrin of her friendzoned elf, (with a Troll doll hairdo) Sunny. They are attacked by a lizard and saved by Marianne. They go to the spring fairy ball, where Roland is waiting (puzzlingly, with the King’s full endorsement) to try and win Marianne back. She doesn’t buy it and shoves him out of the dance hall. There he meets the forlorn Sunny, who he manipulates into acquiring a love potion. Sunny acquires a primrose petal and begins his long journey into the dark forest to the Bog King’s castle, where the Sugar Plum Fairy (the only one who can make these) is locked up. He’s helped along by an imp (a cutesified opossum, basically), who will cause issues later. He acquires the potion in exchange for freeing the fairy. The fairy gets recaptured and Sunny makes his way back in time for the elf spring ball. Marianne attends after her fat father begs for help looking after her sister Dawn. Sunny prepares to use the “potion”, just as the Bog King arrives very angry with his trespassing. Despite Marianne’s efforts, the Bog King kidnaps Dawn just after the potion has been administered and demands the potion (just stolen by the imp from earlier) be delivered to his castle by moondown. Marianne flies after him, Sunny is sent after the imp, and Roland leads an army into the forest.

The Bog King arrives back at the castle and releases Dawn from her bag, making him the first person she sees. The potion takes effect and she begins tormenting them with love songs and makes a buttoneer for the Bog King. The imp is busily spreading the potion around at random, causing a lizard to fall in love with Sunny (and Pare his companion), they use the lizard to capture him and get the potion. They then catch up with Roland. Marianne arrives at the castle, battles with the Bog King until they come to an impasse, and then has it revealed to her that Dawn is under the effect of the potion. The Bog King demands a cure from the Sugar Plum Fairy. Marianne and the Bog King bond over hating on romantic stuff. Except the buttoneer Dawn made, the Bog King is oddly attached that. It turns out the only cure for the love potion is real love. It’s revealed the Bog King hates the potions because he used one on a woman and it didn’t work. The romance between Marianne and the Bog King officially begins with a moonlit flight through the not-so-dark forest. Roland arrives, the romance is jeopardized, Sunny sneaks into the dungeon again to free everyone (those under the love potion’s effects had been rounded up to be cured). Roland sends his henchmen to destroy the castle on his signal and goes to meet the Bog King. He ends up battling both Marianne and the Bog King, before signaling to his men. The castle begins collapsing, the Bog King seemingly sacrifices himself to save the sisters. He survives (as does everyone). Roland pops back up and uses the potion on Marianne, it doesn’t work because she loves the Bog King. Dawn is healed of the potion’s effects when she hugs Sunny and immediately announces she loves him. Her father faints. Roland gets potioned and shoved off a cliff. Dawn encourages Marianne to admit her feelings (because she’s suddenly sagely again like at the beginning of the movie). Marianne and the Bog King sing “Wild Thing” to admit they love each other. Mid-credit role we see Roland making out with an ugly fly creature seen earlier in the film. The end.

The TL;DR version is “Pretty girl trades in useless pretty boy for the less conventionally attractive ugly, but much higher status guy after finding herself.”

There are some pretty major storytelling issues here, mostly revolving around presenting Marianne as a healthy character during her anti-love manhating phase (that lasts most of the movie). Dawn goes from seemingly levelheaded in the first few minutes of the movie to a girl with zero self-control when it comes to boys. The only reason she doesn’t have a long list of exes is because she can’t focus on one guy for more then fifteen-twenty minutes. No one can keep up with who she is crushing on. The father is a poor parent who is bizarrely attached to the idea of Marianne marrying Roland, despite the fact he cheated on her and he would realistically be extremely angry about that. Roland is practically a caricature of scummy, racist, cheating man with a tiny ego that one finds in too much media. All this to make  I’ll-marry-the-first-guy-I-don’t-want-to-punch Marianne seem like a good role model. There is also the puzzling dearth of other men vying for crown princess Marianne’s hand. Another thing, it’s not really a story issue, but it does strike me as odd that the Bog King gets so attached to the buttoneer Dawn made for him, and that Marianne returns it to him after they’ve fallen in love. Finally, at the end, there is the fact that Roland would have no way of knowing how the Bog King’s castle was constructed, so there was no way he could have come up with his plan to destroy it. Since his plan revolved around using the cages in the dungeon as wrecking balls against the main strut that held up the castle.

The story was obviously attempting to mimic Frozen with sisters saving each other and the pretty boy being the bad guy, it was also trying to subvert the princess marries prince charming idea by pairing Marianne off with the Bog King. Instead all they did was play into a typical Game narrative of a girl being attracted by status and aloofness. That subversion they were attempting has been done better in other films, and while I don’t like Frozen all that much, it is the superior movie here. I also spotted where the movie was going to go as soon as Roland’s scumminess was revealed, and I don’t generally predict where plots are going to go.

Is it a fun movie? Certainly. The music is good and the jokes are on point. There are worse movies you could show your kids. Is it a great movie? No. It is rife with issues, particularly with the characters and message. While it comes out pro-love at the end, most of the running time is spent being very, very anti-love and pro-you-go-grrrl. Also it spends a lot of time endorsing the idea of not rushing in love, only to portray Marianne and the Bog King’s love as strong enough to resist a love potion. The idea that people are stronger together than alone is thrown out there, but by a character who is implied to be racist and obviously lacks good character judgement. Therefore undermining that idea. What the movie does best is illustrate that character is more important than appearance, but that’s hardly an unusual message.

It’s a good rental movie and certainly fine for kids. You may want to discuss with older kids why Marianne’s distrust and even hatred of an entire group because of the actions of one person is unhealthy, but that is of course up to you as a parent and depends on your kids. The soundtrack is worth a listen if you like pop music. I doubt I’ll see it again, but I’m quite critical of movies.


Oh, The New Year Started Didn’t It?

I feel like I kind of missed the New Year in the midst of the chaos that has surrounded the past few weeks.  I was worked nearly to death Christmas week, then I frantically went around visiting people before their vacations ended and found out a friend had passed away, now NSR is sick and I’m trying not to get sick myself. Despite the current situation of general illness I’m finally finding my feet and trying to get everything back in order.

I have goals more than resolutions for the new year. Improve my knitting and other home making skills, see about seeking a job that doesn’t leave me so exhausted. Exchange the PC for a laptop so I can work on certain projects more effectively and use the space for a sewing machine instead.

I’m also praying about a place on a friend’s farm that may come up for rent in the early spring. If it does, and the space works for us it would be a great opportunity to reduce our rent and for me to learn a bunch of new and useful skills. We might even be able to invest in our own chickens, start chicken ownership on the tutorial setting you might say. It would certainly assuage my need for nature time. There are still a lot of unknowns though, so we’ll have to see what God’s plans are.

I’m also praying very desperately that my car doesn’t give out, it is a necessity for my current job and we don’t have the spare cash for a new one should it go kaput. This is part of why I’m seeking a new job.

Happy New Year to everyone.🙂


WH: John C. Wright Says It Better than I Could

After two suggestions to see it, NSR and I decided to give Interstellar a shot. I was reticent due to science based criticisms, but after seeing the movie, was frothing at the mouth in anger at these…these…people who had the gall to criticize the movie in that manner. It is science fiction of the highest grade, and I say that as a hardcore fan of Asimov and the like.

I was going to write up a post about what sci-fi is actually about and how wrong these people are, but John C. Wright said it much better already. So I’ll save it for another time.