Misery Loves Company: The New Yorker on the popularity of YA dystopias (Hunger Games!)

This week’s  New Yorker has a wonderful article analyzing the popularity of dystopian novels for younger readers (though acknowledging that many of the most fervent readers of the Hunger Games are adults). Among the reasons the author, Laura Miller, gives for this trend is the possibility  that high school is a dystopian world much like Panem (no wonder those of us who weren’t  “Careers” felt like we were fighting for survival every day of four years of misery!). [Read more…]

Some “Muse”ings about Inspiration: the Voices in Meyer’s and Collins’s Heads

Inspiration often comes from unusual places. According to tradition, Charles Dickens was asked whether he wanted a lemon twist or an olive in his drink—“olive or twist”—and thus lighted upon the name of one of his most beloved characters.  Rowling got her inspiration on a train, Meyer’s came in a dream, and Collins’s idea for the Hunger Games sprang to life while she was flipping channels on television.  But, after that initial surge of inspiration, an author has to sit down and write, often even when he or she does not want to, and that’s where a different brand of inspiration comes in: auditory inspiration.

Many authors report that listening to certain kinds of music helps them write. Sharyn McCrumb, New York Times bestselling Appalachian author, usually has different soundtracks for the different characters in her Ballad novels, and has even produced a CD of traditional songs linked to the books. Suzanne Collins has noted that she prefers listening to classical music as she writes, since she finds lyrics distracting (and with Katniss’s voice in your head, there really isn’t room for more voices, perhaps). And of course, Stephenie Meyer has Muse, the band she has thanked publically as her inspiration and included on many of the “playlists” she posts for her novels on her website.  Muse is an interesting group. Like Queen, with whom they share some stylistic elements and whom they cite as an inspiration, Muse is a band named after a female figure, through the band members are all men. In addition to being a noun describing the nine lovely ladies of mythology, however, the word “muse” is, of course, also a verb for thoughtful pondering, and Muse’s lyrics certainly give much to think about. [Read more…]

Myth Placement: How and Why Popular Media Monkeys with Mythology–Part 2

In the early 1980s, Joseph Campbell indicated that mythology had fallen out of favor in the media, but he could not have foreseen the rampant popularity of mythological themes, characters and structures;  from comic book-like TV series like Hercules and Xena to the epic big-screen journeys of the Fellowship of the Ring and the fall and rise of Anakin Skywalker, mythology has experienced a revival among the general public. More recently, of course, the Greek pantheon has been embraced by an even wider audience through the Percy Jackson novels and inevitable movie, the Clash of the Titans reboot, and a forthcoming War of the Gods. Although mythology is seldom taught anymore in an academic setting (I am finally up to teach a college myth in human culture class next year after ten years of asking), and few college students can recognize the simplest of allusions to classical myths, Perseus is an action figure, Zeus is on keychains, and schoolchildren can dress up as Athena or Ares for Halloween. As mythology loses its place in the academy while being embraced by the popular media, the themes, characters, and events of mythology are being morphed from their traditional forms to fit modern sensibilities and values. At last, here is part two on the subject of how and why the mythical world is altered in text and on-screen. If you missed it, here’s part one.

1. What ARE they teaching them in these schools?

One reason, surely, that film makers and writers use mythological themes and elements is because they themselves like the mythology. Some of them were undoubtedly Latin nerds like me, who always thought, “You know, this stuff is great; if it had the right presentation, it would catch on faster than Spider-Man!”  Thus, authors like Percy Jackson’s Rick Riordan operate from a deft and deep knowledge of mythology to bring their stories to life.  Other media mongers, however, seem to be under the impression that mythology is not widely taught, certainly not in public schools if the scant knowledge of college freshman is the indicator, so therefore they are at liberty to make any changes they like, assuming no one will actually notice.  Like filmmakers who think no one knows much about the original book on which their film is based (read: Tim Burton’s movie that was charming, but was not Lewis Carroll’s story!) these folks depend on the gullibility and lack of mythological knowledge among the general public to pass off shoddy versions of the myths. Unlike C.S. Lewis and J. K. Rowling, who include great in-jokes assuming their readers actually do know a classical allusion is not a magic trick performed to the accompaniment of Bach music, such writers and filmmakers trust in the general lack of knowledge  to get away with whatever changes they want to make. Sadly, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: because the general public watches television instead of reading Edith Hamilton or Bullfinch, most viewers and readers are duped into thinking the “tinkered with” version of the myth is authentic. This has been clearly illustrated to me as I give a reading quiz on “Leda and the Swan” in my literature survey class, and I always offer extra credit for names of other women with whom Zeus dallied. The most frequent wrong guess? Xena. [Read more…]

What’s so funny ‘bout Peace, Love, and the Order of the Phoenix? Point of view and reader reaction

According to the great philosopher Obi-Wan Kenobi, a great many of the truths to which we cling depend upon our own point of view. This nugget of wisdom has been clearly illustrated to me lately as I’ve been reading aloud Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to my nine-year- old. I really hadn’t expected so much laughing from him as I read this one. Granted, there are some great Fred and George moments, and he is a big Fred and George fan, but I don’t really think of OP as being funny. It is, as we’ve discussed here at great length, the “black” book, the nigredo of Harry’s transformation as he begins to be stripped of his father substitutes with Sirius’s death. The Wizarding Wheezes humor, particularly appealing to pre-teen boys (setting off fireworks indoors, stuffing people in toilets, and puking seem much funnier to that age demographic) do serve to lighten the mood, and I guess they can be really laugh-out-loud funny if one is at the age to be deeply impressed by people who can burp the alphabet.

    That difference of reaction I understand, and I’m glad that his amusement has brought more of the humor to the forefront through this darker phase of our journey together with the boy wizard; what caught me up short was when we were reading “Snape’s Worst Memory,” a chapter I had actually been dreading (with “Career Advice,” my favorite chapter waiting just after to encourage me). I just did not look forward to reading that painful Pensieve scene, which I found unpleasant even before Deathly Hallows and its reassurance that Snape truly does deserve pity rather than contempt. Much to my horror, as I read, with some discomfort, of the Mauraders’ taunting of Snape, my sensitive, kind-hearted son actually laughed. I was appalled, and even snarled, “It’s not funny,” as defensive of Snape as Lily Evans is.

[Read more…]

‘Inside Higher Education’ Notes Trends in Twilight Scholarship: Lovable Quacks or Sneaky Smugglers

Last week’s issue of Inside Higher Education features a very interesting article about the scholarly attention being paid to Twilight. There is considerable mention of Twilight and History and comments from editor Nancy Reagin and contributor Janice Liedl.  It’s a well-written article, though, sadly, no mention of Spotlight and its excellent analysis of the Saga’s worth in critical studies . (Someone please post a comment to that effect. It might look weird coming from me). It’s also a much better article than this one from a local paper in which sentences I never spoke were inserted into my mouth, my name and the book’s title are wrong, and I’m called “co-author” rather than “contributor,” an important distinction.

Still, it is intriguing to notice the way Twilight scholarship is treated here. Though both these articles at least purport to be favorable in their tone, they indicate the two “safe” ways of viewing Twilight studies: [Read more…]