I’m disabled and spend all of my time in the house because trying to go out and about wipes me out for days. I’d like to be able to be more independent and mobile and not worry about things like going shopping at the grocery store or going out to the park with family.
I used to really enjoy this blog. I think it was the disappointment of how boring the scifi and fantasy Coursera course was that made me stop doing it. I’m also in pain a lot. But now I have a program that allows me to type by just speaking so I may use that more … who knows. It’s a little awkward and annoying to use the program.
I might be back. I might not be. We’ll see!
Every good children’s book has an element of exploration that is impossible for kids in reality. This allows them to vicariously explore the world through fiction in a way that is impossible for them in real life. For a child, a story that has no elements of boundary breaking is a boring one.
Most children live in a world of restrictions and dependence. Even those who are allowed to run somewhat free must comply to the rules of society such as being in school, being expected to respect those older than them, and being unable to make their own major decisions.
In Alice in Wonderland the first thing Alice does is to run off on her own without a thought to telling anyone where she is going. This is something most children are not allowed to do. She goes on to make her own reckless decisions about eating and drinking strange foods, and talking with difficult or weird strangers, and solving her own problems.
Alice explores not only the strange and fantastical Wonderland but also different states of being for herself physically and personally. She grows suddenly - as children do - and then wishes to be small again. She talks back to the Queen herself with confidence and fearlessness even at the threat of being beheaded. But she then gets away with this when the king pleads with the Queen saying, “… she is only a child!” So the Queen moves on.
She explores by behaving like a confident adult and then reaches a limit and settles for being treated like a child who gets away with rude things by default of being a child. This back and forth between pushing boundaries and then accepting the conditions that put the boundaries there in the first place is perhaps a common way of all children to explore the strange world around them.
In Grimm’s Fairy Tales forests or woods are the setting in seemingly every other story and represent the real dangers and unknowns that peasants of a certain era faced in everyday life. The forests that bordered their farmlands and villages held very real threats. For example, they had reason to be afraid of the wolves that emerged and often attacked and killed the livestock that they so depended on and even sometimes attacked humans, perhaps especially defenseless wandering children. It’s possible that some of the tales, such as The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats (in which a wolf who eats a bunch of young goats is cut open while sleeping and filled with stones in place of the still living goats so that he falls into the water when he attempts to drink and drowns) is a way of using humor to deal with the serious problems and anxieties that wolves caused in their lives.
Another danger in the forests were the bands of criminals that sometimes hid there. This danger is talked of in The Robber Bridegroom in which the bride is unknowingly given over to a robber who lives in the woods and associates with a group of “cut-throats”.
Generally sinister people or magical talking creatures live in the woods in these tales. There is the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Cap, and The Robber Bridegroom, for a few examples. In some of the tales the innocent wanderer in the woods leaves bits of food or stones trailing behind them as a way to find their way out and home. People in those days often spent their whole lives near forests that they rarely ventured into so it’s no wonder that they are not only thought of as places where you could easily get lost but places ripe for wild imaginings of what could be within.
This is maybe the best memoir I’ve ever read and although that opinion may be influenced by the fact that I very strongly relate to her experiences I’m an experienced enough reader to recommend her on the sole basis of her skill as a writer and a storyteller.
I just spent the entire night unable to put this book down. It’s past eight in the morning and it was maybe the best night I’ve had in months.
If you are forced to confront your fears on a daily basis, they disintegrate, like illusions when viewed up close. Maybe being always protected made me more fearful, and I would later dip cautiously into the outside world, never allowing myself to be submerged completely, and always jerking back into the familiarity of my own life when my senses were overwhelmed. For years I would stand with a foot in each sphere, drawn to the exotic universe that lay on the other side of the portal, wrenched back by the warnings that sounded like alarm bells in my mind.
Cormac McCarthy now writes about serial killers and post-apocalyptic worlds. Michael Chabon writes about alternate realities and hard-boiled detectives. Philip Roth writes alternate history. Kazuo Ishiguro writes about clones. Colson Whitehead writes about zombies. Kate Atkinson writes mysteries. Jennifer Egan writes science fiction, as does Haruki Murakami (and as did David Foster Wallace). And on and on. (The borrowing happens the other way, too: writers like Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, Catherynne Valente, John Green, Susanna Clarke, Richard Price and China Miéville, to name a very few, are gleefully importing literary techniques into genre novels, to marvelous effect.) Krystal brings up Gary Shteyngart and his love of Zardoz (not the movie, oddly, but the novelisation thereof), but what he doesn’t mention is that Shteyngart’s last novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is science fiction. These days, I find, literary novelists are much more interested in plot and much less interested in plausibility, or in realism, than literary critics are.
In other words — and here’s the real nightmare, horror-movie reveal, wait for it — literary fiction is itself a genre, just like mysteries or westerns or fantasy. (I can’t resist quoting M. John Harrison here: “The sooner literary fiction recognises & accepts its generic identity, the sooner it can get help.”)
The course “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World”, by Professor Eric Rabkin from the University of Michigan will be offered free of charge to everyone on the Coursera platform. Sign up at https://new.coursera.org/course/fantasysf
I’m taking this lit course and will be using the blog for a while to write about it. I’ve started on Dracula already which I found to be a big disappointment and now am putting off starting on Grimm’s Fairy Tales (so boring). Later on in the course there will be better readings, many of which I’ve already read at some point which makes the course easier for me.
By the way, this course and many others is free and anyone in the world can join.
Here are the books we will be reading:
- Grimm — Children’s and Household Tales
- Carroll — Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
- Stoker — Dracula
- Shelley — Frankenstein
- Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems
- Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, “The Country of the Blind,” “The Star”
- Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland
- Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles
- LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness
- Doctorow — Little Brother
All of which are available free online except a few and that’s what libraries and/or pirating is for.
Here is the goodreads group. And #courserafantasy on Google+