I’m not going to go too much into the plot of this story; it’s only twelve pages long and giving too much a way would weaken its impact. However, I will say that this short story does everything right.
The supernatural elements are interesting and in depth enough to give this short story an initial hook. But the supernatural is not the point of the story.
The supernatural is a set up to explore the theme of this story; forgiveness vs justice. More specifically, it questions the fairness of the Catholic concept of the forgiveness of sins. These are heavy themes, and in only twelve pages it says everything it needs to and gives the reader food for thought. Owing to its subject matter, it’s dark, gripping, tragic and thought provoking.
The ending is very satisfying and has a great sense of catharsis. At its core, Mama Cried – is sort of justice fantasy. In a world where awful things happen all the time and there’s no accountability, this type of story gives us an escape to a place where this is not the case.
This is a gripping short pages and definitely worth the $1.59 it took to download, and the time it took to read.
Elena Michaels didn’t know that her lover Clay was a werewolf until he bit her, changing her life forever. Betrayed and furious, she cannot accept her transformation, and wants nothing to do with her Pack. When a series of brutal murders threatens the Pack – and Clay – Elena is forced to make an impossible choice. Abandon the only people who truly understand her new nature, or help them to save the lover who ruined her life, and who still wants her back at any cost.
Bitten is the debut novel of Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Other World Series, the inspiration of the TV series of the same name. In every way it is very standard Paranormal Romance / Urban fantasy, but what distinguishes this novel from the pack is Armstrong’s writing.
Her world building is strong. Werewolves are one of the big three of urban fantasy (the big three being vampires, werewolves and witches or some similar kind of spell caster), and they aren’t shockingly different from the wolves of your Mercy Thompson novels or any other urban fantasy series. But the werewolves’ lore is extremely well fleshed out in this story, and their world and history is deep and interesting.
Her descriptions of scene and atmosphere are detailed and really brings to life everywhere Elena is to life- whether it’s the gym, Bear Valley, or the forest where the pack are hunting deer.
However, it’s the action scenes and the humour in which is Armstrong really shines. I think the only way to do justice to Armstrong’s brilliant one liners is to give an example:
He flipped through the pages, stopping on a photo of a bikini-clad redhead sprawled over the hood of a Corvette Stingray…
“What’s the woman doing there?” he asked
“Covering a scratch on the hood. She was cheaper than a new paint job.”
Armstrong’s wit is on form throughout the whole novel. All the action sequences are fast paced, very tense and exciting. They grab you from the word go, whether it’s a deer chase or a show down with the Big Bad.
As for characters, the villains in this book are… serviceable. They aren’t memorable like the ones that can be found in Anita Blake’s (pre book 10) rogue gallery, but their motivations seem believable and they do provide a legitimate threat for Elena and the pack to fight against.
And speaking of Elena, the main selling point of this series is the strong ass-kicking female leads. Bitten delivers. Gorgeous, biting witty, no nonsense and a supernaturally strong fighter, Elena is an extremely engaging character. She is not your virginal lead, and is unashamedly sexual- and the many sex scenes, for that matter, are smouldering. Her downfall however, is being overly impulsive and making bafflingly stupid and reckless decisions. There is one point where she rushes to find the antagonists- while all alone, with no backup- without telling the pack where she’s going and having a big part of her plan hinging on them figuring out where she is and riding in for the rescue. Unfortunately, this is a stupid streak that will continue through later books.
Then, with all these good points, what could possibly go wrong? Well, our heroine Elena has a serious character flaw: her choice in men. Clayton Danvers is one of my most loathed characters in literature and ruins every Elena book he’s in. He is an (unfortunately) very typical paranormal romance lead, and if you’re a big fan of the genre and like the domineering alpha male love interests, you will love Clay. He has a lot of good points: he is gorgeous, sexy, and passionate, has hilarious banter with Elena and he has a single target sexual attraction towards her. Their relationship is very passionate, intense and high drama like Catherine and Heathcliff. But also like Heathcliff, Clay is very possessive and puts his obsession for Elena above Elena’s wellbeing. Clay is possessive to the point where his relationship with Elena becomes co-dependent and stalkerish.
First of all, they met when Elena was a student and Clay was professor of anthropology (a job that after this we never see him do or talk about because businessman Dominic is the only werewolf we actually see do any real work). The much older male love interest is a prevalent feature of Armstrong’s Otherworld series. The fact that he was a professor teaching her class is a dubious start.
Then, Clay bites her. He doesn’t talk to her, doesn’t try and tell her about what he is or give her a choice, he just bites her. He forces a dangerous, irreversible life choice on Elena without even talking to her. This is a big conflict between the two throughout the book, but even reviewers who dislike Clay’s actions don’t quite emphasise how bad he is. There’s a scene where Elena looks at the werewolf dossiers- the history of werewolves- and there’s a section that details all previous attempts to create female werewolves. They all died.
Now, as a man who’s been a werewolf since a child, and as an (alleged) academic, there’s no way that Clay could have not realised that attempting to turn Elena would most likely kill her. This means that he was willing to risk killing Elena rather than risk her leaving. I don’t care how well Clay knows Elena’s taste in maple syrup or how much he worries about her. This is not love; this is limerence; this is self-absorbed obsession.
I could list numerous instances of Clay’s manipulative, pushy and controlling behaviour (he gets very jealous when Elena tries to have other friends), but I will let this point speak for itself.
Elena may be ‘tough’ in the feisty, 21st century ‘Strong Independent Women Hear Me Roar’ way. I would actually find a more timid, female lead who cried a lot and wasn’t an amazing fighter- but had the strength to really stay away from Clay – to be a stronger female lead. All in all, this is a brilliant book and I would be giving it 4/5 for writing quality alone. But sadly the presence of Clay drags its score down.
RATING: 3 ½ restraining orders from the other world / 5
I was born twice, but I don’t remember the first time. The second time, now that is a different story. It began with a game.
Re-union by Eric Liu and is amongst the most enjoyable short stories I have ever read. The first thing to note is that the writing quality and the atmosphere are both really strong. It opens with the middle aged main character playing a video game to try and relive the glory days of his youth. Everything about the description- from the poorly replicated team mates who could no longer be there, to the contrast of his physical form in the game world and the real world- builds up a grim, uncomfortable sense of loss and decay.
The rest of the short story focuses on the conflict between the value of the real world and the merit of the online one. The main action of the story consists of debates between the main character and other people in his life, as he chooses between the real and computer world.
One thing I like about this story is how much it humanises its themes. The problem with a lot of science fiction works out there is that they seem to be cold intellectual exercises where the ideas are fascinating but the story is bogged down by excessive techno babble and the characters feel flat and distant. Eric Liu avoids this problem. The science and the ideas are strong in this one (Eric Liu has technical degrees from Stanford and MIT and his passion for technology is evident in this story), but the story is very personal to the main character. All the other characters felt like nothing but vessels to explore different point of views in this world, but as this was a short story, it was not a problem because the internal world of the lead felt fleshed out.
Another things I liked was that this short story could have really easily gone down the typical cautionary tale route about the dangers of the lack of human connection in the twitter generation. This story didn’t, and acknowledged that technology has brought a lot of good into the world, which was refreshing.
A major criticism I’ve seen of this story is that the world leaves the reader with so many questions about the events of the wider world. It is true that a lot of aspects of this world are never explored because of its length, which can be disappointing because it is so fascinating and has enough potential to provide material for a whole series. It is important to note that it is only a short story, and only focuses on the life and personal choice of the main character. If you go in knowing and accepting this, you will get an enjoyable story set in an interesting world.
It’s a very quick story that I’ve read twice so far and would definitely read again.
RATING: 4 blue screens of death just before you hit the save button / 5
I’m going to put it bluntly: Thakane is awesome and it’s a crime against childhood (most notably mine) that she was never a Princess that every kid grew up with. Not only is Thakane amongst the strongest female leads I’ve come across in fairy tales – but she’s one of the toughest females in fantasy as well.
Thakane is the heroine from an African folktale who travels across Africa on a mission that is usually reserved for male leads only: slaying a dragon. Let’s have a look at her story and why she is so awesome.
Poor Thakane didn’t have an easy life. At the beginning of her story, her parents are dead and so she’s landed with the work of ‘two wives’ in raising her kid brothers.
When boys came of age, it’s one of her tribe’s customs that they receive a leather jacket and a shield made from the hides of animals their father killed;but the hide of a buffalo or wild cat isn’t good enough for the pampered princes. They want their gifts made from the hides of dragons.
Of course, the other villagers think her brothers are being spoilt little wee leeches and tell her not to go, but Thakane’s having none of it.
“If they lack anything, these sons of a chief, I will not be to blame for it. I will go and hunt these dragons.”
She asks for brave men of the village to accompany her on her quest, but no man will step up to the challenge;more and more men refuse to accompany her, and eventually news of this request spreads all over Africa…
Eventually, prince Masilo hears of her strange request and is intrigued.
‘When Masilo heard of this brave girl who decided to go on a hunting expedition for the sake of the family honor, he felt a strange excitement at such a bold plan. He also felt ashamed that no man in the whole country could be found willing to go with her to the land of dragons to kill one for her.’
LET’S JUST TAKE A STEP BACK AND THINK HOW REVOLUTIONARY THIS IS
What a badass! This is makes Misalo a pretty revolutionary prince, because a prince admiring a princess because of her strength is uncommon. Even in the modern fairy tale ‘The Paper Bag Princess’, the main character , princess Elizabeth, is rejected for being strong and ends up dumping the ungrateful prince because of it. This is a glorious subversion of fairy tale conventions and an act of strength on the Princess Elizabeth’s part, but … Quite a sad message lurks underneath. For both women and men, finding someone to love is a pretty important part of happiness in life; it isn’t weak, it isn’t patriarchal, it’s human nature. Presenting woman with the choice of being strong or being condemned to a life of loneliness is a horrible message.
But in this story, her courage doesn’t make her less feminine or desirable; its what brings the prince into her life. Centuries before ‘The Paperbag Princess’, the message behind Thakane is even more positive.
The Prince takes a leaf out of princess Jasmine’s book and escapes the palace and an overprotective father to seek out this intriguing lass. He falls in love with her at first sight (this is pre-Frozen and three pages long, it’s to be expected), and they head off on their journey. All good Princesses seem to like singing and have some kind of magical animal affinity, so hey, might as well use it for practical purposes. Using a magic song, she summons magical animals and asks them to recce the dragon’s locations. They should probably be more confused by the talking eels, but this is African myth, so getting animals to talk is pretty par for the course.
They then arrive and meet an old lady in a ghost town. When they ask her why no one’s there, she tells them ‘that her skin’s too tough, so they prefer to use her as a housekeeper.’ I like this description,
The old lady then tells them to set an ambush while she’s feeding the dragon and when they do that, Misalo drives a spear through the beast’s hide.
The old lady thanks them and then gives them a magical stone that will protect them from dragons on their way home, which raises so many questions: where did this stone come from? How long did she have it? Why didn’t she use it to save the villagers in the first place? Why didn’t she use it to escape? Why is she staying alone in an empty village instead of coming… okay, old woman, magical plot device- turn brain off; it’s a fairy tale, and this is hardly the biggest plot hole I’ve come across.
Moving on, they go use this stone to protect them from future dragon attacks and go on their merry way.
It all ends with Thakane and Masilo arriving home to a hero’s welcome, the spoilt brats getting their dragon hide coat, and Thakane marrying the prince and spending the rest of her days as Queen leading a life of luxury.
Even though this is an old African myth, this is one of the most revolutionary Princess stories out there.
She went further than Elizabeth in that she got to be both strong and beloved.And not just by any prince, but by a prince who loved her for her courage and who possessed more personality in this short story than most of the princes I’ve come across in most other stories.
WHERE TO FIND THIS
Why hasn’t Disney jumped on this? When did African myth feature Dragons? (except the creation myth of Kweku Tsin) and since when did African myth star creatures other than Anansi because we all know the greedy bastard took all the stories for himself? Why haven’t I heard of it until now?
Well, this story, is really, really obscure and really hard to find. It took a lot of work to find this story in the first place, and the only source is an out of print book on Swahili myth. It is worth checking out and a preview of the book can be found on this website:
Now that we’ve had a Princess teaming up with her Prince, how can we match this? Well, next week we’re looking at a Princesses who does the unthinkable- a Princess who saves her prince. Here’s a hint as to what story we’re looking at…
But I didn’t realise Tiana and Naveen did. Two of my favourite Disney lead females in one film, my life is complete. Well actually, its not- I’m probably on track to become a crazy cat lady because I’m watching Disney Princess movies and typing at my computer instead of going out into the real world, but that’s not the point!
Tiana comes from 1920s New Orleans, and Frozen is set in medieval (ish) Scandinavia, so… does that mean she can time travel? Could that mean…
Zacharias did not inherit an easy situation when he assumed the position of sorcerer royal; Magic in Victorian Britain continues to decline; mystery and suspicion surrounds his succession from his late mentor, Sir Stephen; and, as a black man and the freed child of a slave, no matter how well he performs his role, there will always be opportunists waiting to stab him the back.
Ad all that’s before he meets Prunella Gentleman, a woman whose about to make his life a whole lot more complicated. In sexist Victorian Britain where female magic use is considered taboo, Prunella appears to be one of the most powerful magic users Zacharias has ever met. And not only that; Prunella also carries with her a discovery so monumental that it could change the face of magic in Britain forever….
Sorcerer to the Crown is a unique piece of steampunk in so many ways. Having a black lead in an urban fantasy is rare enough. But a black man in a steampunk novel? And a fully realised biracial woman? Virtually unheard of. In spite of the fact that one of the key features of the Victorian era was colonialism and financial expeditions into the ‘New World’, (something that lurks in the background of Dombey and Son and Jane Eyre), most Steampunk novels portray Victorian Britain as an isolated country full of twee white people who have never had contact with the outside world- an absurd representation of the time period. Sorcerer to The Crown however, expertly Britain’s colonialist tendencies into the story and weaves its relationships with none European countries it into the wider plot.
Zacharias himself is a brilliant, complex lead, and a big part of what makes his experiences so unique is the way his difficulty being a black man in Victorian society is portrayed. It’s not only aggressive assaults from villainous caricatures; it’s constant little hints that he’s ‘not quite equal’.It’s the frustration of loving his father figure and mentor, Sir Stephen, who freed him from slavery- but being unable to stop resenting Sir Stephen for freeing him as a sort of experiment, and failing to free Zacharias’ parents too because they were of no use to Sir Stephen.
The real main protagonist (who is set up to be the main protagonist in later books) is Prunella Gentleman. Prunella is the perfect foil to Zacharias- lively, impulsive and not afraid to show her emotions. Prunella is highly reminiscent of Lizzy Bennett or a young Jane Eyre and gets all the best lines. She will no doubt be a very popular character, though she is not one I particularly liked; her selfishness and lack of application frustrated me, and those flaws were made all the more glaring by contrast to Zacharias. Plus, she is another example in the genre of an extremely powerful spellcaster whose the strongest not because she works hard for it (unlike Zacharias, who spent years of studying while he had to essentially bribe Prunella to put in some serious study), but because the powers just happened to fall into her lap.
Her flaws are completely realistic for her situation, however, due to her background and at the end of the book just being really powerful isn’t enough to get her what she wants and she is forced to start making some really tough decisions. Prunella shows potential to mature in later books and I am looking forward to it. It’s just that I found Zacharias to be the much more likeable lead and I wished it could have remained his story, like it appeared to be from the beginning.
The corruption of the thaumaturges (what this series call wizards) is realistic and brilliantly portrayed. Magic is the reserve of the upper classes, and its so classist that you can be a thaumaturge without powers but you can’t be a thaumaturge without rank. They whittle away the limited magic on extravagant spectacle, yet women using magic for beauty is decadent. The Victorian upper class is excellently portrayed, and the way the Thaumaturge is presented is so realistic that if magic did exist in Victorian England, this is exactly how it would be institutionalised.
Now we come onto to the magic. In almost every single urban fantasy/ supernatural steam punk its almost always vampires and werewolves as the main two species, unless it’s witches. But here, the other central creatures, besides the magic users, are fairies, with mermaids and dragons, creatures from myth and folklore rather than horror. The world of the fairies is vividly portrayed and is reminiscent of Midsummer’s Night Dream. The world is surreal, a little absurd (a foppish king and a dragon having the bearing of a strict upper-class old lady) mischievous but also dangerous- fairies were once considered creatures of the occult and the link is present here.
The plot is strong and engaging as well with action, character development and world building happening in the right measure. Never once did the plot sag, and I was interested from start to finish. The only criticism I could add is that the conclusion to the Sultan and witch plot thread seemed too easily wrapped up; it was not a deus ex machina or anything unconvincing- but having a quick solution to what seemed up to be a giant international conflict in the last few pages seemed a bit unlikely. Big power struggles that escalate to the point where foreign powers are dragged in never end up being resolved as swiftly and bloodlessly as this one was; it just felt ‘too simple to be true’. Then again- this is the first book in the series and this could be present in other books, so it will remain to be seen.
All the negative points are extremely minor and this is one of the most engaging fantasy stories I have ever read. I strongly recommend it to anyone who lives fantasy.
RATING: 5 chidings from a most disappointed dragon / 5
This week we travel to Ghana, to look at the Akan tale of Princess Yaa aka the proud princess. I’ve read a few versions of this story, where sometimes the princess is referred to as Princess Afiong or Ewabunmi; sometimes she marries a wolf, other times a skull monster, but in each version, she’s portrayed as spoilt and arrogant princess whom believes no man is good enough for her. In every version her parents want her to marry, but she rejects numerous suitors because they’re not handsome or rich enough until she meets one who deceives her and turns into a monster. The moral of the story is that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.
EXAMINING THE DOUBLE STANDARD
Yet… it has to be said… the gender double standards are strong with this one. Let’s look at what the Princess is punished for. She’s condemned for being vain because she wants to marry someone who’s extremely handsome and rich … yet she is so sought after because she is beautiful and rich herself. In some versions, they know her reputation for being ‘haughty’, but flock to marry her anyway because she’s an exceptional beauty (and her parent’s wealth couldn’t hurt either). But are they ever called out for it? Not at all.
It’s expected that a male lead (even if he himself is ugly) is entitled to marry a girl who is pretty, no matter what the situation. He will sometimes be called out if he falls for a woman who is pretty but nothing else, but even then, it’s usually she who is condemned for being vain, cold etc, while he is never called out for loving her solely on looks. In the end he will always meet another woman who is kind and equally pretty (although usually in a less glamorous, more understated ‘girl next door’ way).
It’s always women who are hit with the ‘looks aren’t that important in a partner’, when with men its a given that his potential partner has to be pretty even if he’s not. Because of this, I can’t help but salute this princess; she wants a prince that does it for her, and she’s not accepting anything less.
WHAT MAKES THIS PRINCESS SO STRONG?
Yet, if this story is so negative, then why is it included on the list of strong princesses? Simple: Farida Salifu’s retelling is amazing.
Salifu is an absolutely astounding writer who retells dozens of Akan myths on her website, most notably the Anansi tales, all of which are brilliantly written. She injects so much character into this princess that you can’t help but love her. She’s vain, spoilt, mischievous and she doesn’t just know it; she revels in it. She rolls around her luxurious bedchamber, wrapping herself with jewels and musing about all the trouble she’s going to cause her poor future husband; even the servant girls can’t resist giggling at her exploits. Princess Yaa’s just too much fun and oozes too much charisma.
And the wolf is excellent as well, and shatters the traditional fairy tale convention a way that is reminiscent of a certain Disney film:
‘Is it funny how you never even asked me my name, but you agreed to marry me?’
He just cuts right to the core. Seriously, that’s a good point that’s never really been brought up in fairytales until Frozen (at least Anna got her intended’s name and knew he liked pudding).Whatever we have to say about the treatment of Princesses in Western fairytales, half the time the Prince is so forgettable we don’t even know his name.
All in all- this is a very, very well told story. I can’t praise Farida Salifa enough as a storyteller, and it’s worth checking out all her tales- especially her retelling of the Anansi stories, Africa’s most prominent funny and infuriating fairytale antihero.
If you know any children, I would strongly recommend reading her work- all of her stories are lively and entertaining, and has the added bonus of teaching them a little about African culture.
But now we’ve had an African Princess who epitomizes bad judgement and selfishness. Next week I’m going to look at another African Princess- this one who exemplifies self-sacrifice and wins the attention of her Prince by her extreme courage and determination. Also, she charms mermaids and slays dragons.
Always love to learn a bit about Japanese history, and this post detailing the democratic process around the emperors negotiation with the Americans is a fascinating read. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a history buff.
The end of divine rule in postwar Japan, and the absolute power of General MacArthur.
Every generation has a fantasy series that really resonates with them. In mum’s case, it was the Chronicles of Narnia. In my case, it’s Harry Potter, which genuinely made me feel nervous each year I got older because it meant that I would be even further behind when my Hogwarts letter finally came (I’m in my 20s and it’s still coming damnit!)
Harry Potter may not be the best fantasy series ever written; His Dark Materials and the Discworld series have far superior world building. But still, It has a good sense of humour, a quirky imagination, a well-structured and gripping mystery and of course, a warm and likeable cast.
We all know Dumbledore’s awesome, Hermione’s genius is incredible and Snape (especially when played by Alan Rickman) is badass, tragic and looks cool in a cape. But they’re not the only great characters. In fact, it’s not just the leads, but the dozens of fun supporting characters that make Harry Potter what it is.
In this list, I’m going to leave out the leads (Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Hagrid and Snape) and look at my top 11 supporting characters.
11) Angelina Johnson
Angelina Johnson may only be a back ground character, but her presence was a breathe of fresh air in this series. I’m not going to rant about the problems I have with the way women were written in this series, but I will say that until Luna came along and Ginny became a tough character, most of the female students were portrayed as silly, less able to keep their head in a tough situation and/ or over emotional.
Johnson however felt like a well needed exception. Sporty, fun, brave and a great Quidditch player, she was one of the ‘cool kids’ and put herself forward to be the Quidditch captain and a contender for the Tri Wizard tournament. She was bold and active, the kind of girl I wanted to imagine myself as being when I was reading the books.
10) Professor Lupin
The calming element of James’ friendship circle and a man whose lessons were always brilliant, Remus Lupin is the teacher we all wish we had. Plus, even though his curse literally turns him into a savage, he’s kind, mild mannered and one of the least aggressive and domineering werewolves in fantasy fiction.
9) Horace Slughorn
Horace Slughorn was a much needed addition to the world of Harry Potter. The concept of Slytherin was that it was meant to be the ‘ambition house’ (or the ‘pure blood’ house), but it never seemed to be the case; the majority of the house didn’t really show that much drive, and they were so cartoonishly nasty that it seemed like the only requirement was being a massive dick.
Slughorn helped to fix some of that. He wasn’t evil and unpleasant, he was ambitious and affable. He also went to great lengths to escape Voldemort, showing that you can be ambitious and opportunistic without being genocidal, something that helped give the morality of the Harry Potter world a more adult and well rounded feel.
What can I say? everything about Dobby was adorable. Starting out as an abused servant who made a mess of things even as he tried to help, we saw him escape his vicious owners and strike out for himself and become his own , um, elf. Weird, sweet, unrelentingly loyal and not afraid to live his life how he wants to, Dobby is a truly memorable character.
7) Mad- Eyed Moody
A tough- no nonsense veteran badass who doesn’t mince words and knows how to take command, Mad Eye Moody is truly one of the cooler characters in the Potterverse.
6) Arthur Weasley
Arthur Weasley was just such a likeable character. A down trodden dad and one of life’s underdogs, Arthur was also a very loving father. Unlike his wife, who felt more like a caricature of well meaning but over protective motherhood than a real woman, Arthur was a well-rounded guy; his obsession with the Muggle world was adorable, and in spite of his goofy nature he could be capable, thoughtful and switched on when the situation needed it.
5) Sirius Black
Of course Sirius was going to be on here. As Harry’s godfather, he was another parental figure that Harry needed in his life. The injustice that he had to deal with made him sympathetic, and how bravely he bore those events for the sake of Harry was deeply moving.
He was also a fun trickster who was clearly flawed (as shown by his attitude to Kreacher and Snape), which only made him all the more real. Tragic and mischievous, Sirius was the first Harry Potter character to truly break our hearts.
4) Neville Longbottom
Increasing the prominence of Neville Longbottom was a smart move on Rowling’s part. While Harry Potter was clearly meant to be a relatable every man hero, after he suddenly became the chosen one, the youngest Quiddich player in over a century, the school hero, he could clearly no longer fulfil that role.
Neville Longbottom resonates more with the experience us geekier ones had in adolescence than Harry or Hermione; he was awkward, chubby, and inept at everything and felt like he was a disappointment to his parents. But he was never just a loser; right from the beginning he was chosen to be in Gryffindor, and always showed potential in small understated ways, whether through his prowess in Herbology or his willingness to stand up for what he thought was right.
In the final book, it was heartwarming to see how strong Neville becomes to the point where even Voldemort can’t help but acknowledge how impressive he is. Plus, Matthew Lewis taught us that there’s hope for the ugly duckling. What more can you want from a character?
Luna Lovegood is an 11th hour character whose charm needs no explanation. She was funny, weird, unique, and sweet and the advice she offered Harry in his darkest hour was one of the more touching scenes in the series. Luna is definitely my favorite female character in the series.
2) Dolores Umbridge
Dolores is such a great villain that even Stephen King, creator of a legion of monsters who have haunted the dreams of millions, had to acknowledge how brilliantly evil she is.
Voldemort was an impersonal big bad, but Dolores was our own personal Hitler. Petty, beaurocratic and manipulative, she was able to control every aspect of Harry’s life and make it hell. We’ve all had someone like that in our lives at one point, so add in an annoying personal tick (ahem) and we have a recipe for one of the foulest most horrifying monstrosities In the history of literature.
Her habits were so enraging, and her rule of Hogwarts was so tyrannical, that seeing her lose control in the most cathartic, glorious, epic way possible was one of the most emotionally satisfying moments I have ever experienced when reading. And because of that, Dolores Umbridge has to be one of JK Rowling’s most brilliant creations.
1) Fred and George
These two stole the series for me. I read with bated breath and a massive grin on my face, waiting to see what creative trouble they would cause. They were the characters with the most charisma in the series and stole every scene they were in. To top it off, in The Order Of The Phoenix they orchestrated one of the best, most cathartic and anarchic exits I have ever come across in fiction. This is why Fred and George will remain my two of my favourite characters of the series.
There’s truth to the idea that it takes more intellectual energy to be successfully deceptive than to be senselessly sincere.
It’s also true that there’s a difference between being ‘good’ and ‘nice’. Being ‘good’- standing up for what’s right in the face of adversity- is laudable. Being relentlessly ‘nice’ – tolerating bad behaviour for fear of being ‘mean’ or ‘starting trouble’- is not; it’s intellectual and moral cowardice that should never be rewarded. Unfortunately, in fairy tales, it often is.
It’s a delicate balancing act to walk the line between being ‘nice’ and being ‘a doormat’ or ‘a complete moron’, and so often in fairy tales not only do the leads fail to walk this tightrope; they fall, crash and drag the beams that held up the tightrope down on everyone else in the vicinity. Let’s look at a couple of examples:
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DARWIN AWARDS
In Little Snow White, the titular heroine falls for the same assassination ploy not once, not twice, but THREE times in the original. Three.With her lemming- like skills of self preservation and her prince’s questionable behaviour around women in coffins, I worry about their future children. Here’s hoping that seven fairies come along and bless their kids with something more useful than ‘song’ and ‘music’ this time, otherwise the kingdom’s future leadership is in trouble.
THE MAN WHO MADE THE CHERRY BLOSSOMS BLOOM OR THE RSPCA’S MOST WANTED
It’s not only women who are susceptible to the trope of ‘passive niceness’. Things only gets worse in the Japanese tale, ‘The Man who made the cherry blossoms bloom’; the old man knows his neighbour abuses his dog at every chance he gets, but he lends his dog to the neighbour anyway because he is ‘a kind man’.
His neighbour beats the dog to death. But is the old man deemed to be guilty of ‘criminal neglect?’ No, his only crime is ‘kindness’, so why should the old man learn anything from his actions? All he needs to do is keep on letting his neighbour walk over him and defile his pet’s memory over and over again until magical karma solves everything.
FINALLY! A FAIRY TALE THAT AGREES WITH ME
The examples above are stories where being ‘nice’ means being relentlessly stupid or passive, which isn’t a good message for adulthood. It may work for getting kids not to bicker with each other or talk back, but it doesn’t prepare them for the real world.
However, there is a brilliant antidote to this message- and that antidote can be found in the little known Iraqi tale of ‘The Honest Man’.
This tale is subversive right from the word ‘go.’ From its opening paragraph it begins:
‘There was once an honest man, upon whom fortune never smiled. His wife deceived him, his sons robbed him, and when his beard was white he found himself without either money or honour.’
We have the similar set up to your Cinderellas, your Princess Hases (a fairy tale I’ll look at in another post)… your poor good person being relentlessly abused by the people around him.
He then goes and asks his friend at the local suq what needs to be done about it- and his friend advises him to go on a pilgrimage to pray at the tomb of a holy man. This introduction of a potential supernatural moral guardian, a sort of ‘fairy godmother’ or ‘divine parent’ if you will, would usually mean that magic will make the world right without him having to do anything.
On his pilgrimage, the honest man meets various creatures who tell him their tales of woe and he promises to pray for them. His most notable encounter is with a talking lion with a massive headache. When he meets the prophet, the prophet tells him how to solve all the problems of the various people he encountered. Simple enough. But when he gets to the lion’s dilemma things get dark:
“His case is also easy,’ answered the Imam.”All that he has to do is is to eat the head of a fool, and he will instantly be cured.”
Uh oh. I can see where this is going. Things get even darker when the honest man finally asks the Imam to help him with his own problem :
“Go in peace,” said the saint [probably with an evil smile] “I have already told thee that which is necessary to end thy troubles.” [emphasis mine]
Whoa! What kind of saint is this man?
After this point, the honest man travels back home and helps everyone he met on the way. Each time, he’s rewarded with a vast amount of riches, but each time he refuses to take the reward for some senseless reason.
Finally, he encounters the lion and tells him what the prophet told him. You can guess what happened next.
Needless to say, this was the end of his streak of bad luck.
After reading this story, I was pretty surprised by the ending . After all, in any other fairy tale the honest man would be the hero. Why wasn’t he here?
The point of this tale is not to discourage people from being kind and honest; in fact, every time the honest man helps someone, karma rewards him with worldly wealth. He’s offered a big sum of money for helping the brothers and he finds an expensive pearl after helping the fish. Clearly, his kindness is rewarded.
But the honest man’s problem isn’t compassion; his problem is that he’s too stupid to make the most of his situation. He complains that ‘fortune never smiled’ on him, but the truth is it does but his own stupidity causes all his blessings to be undone.
It is arguably laudable that he rejected the brothers’ inheritance, because it didn’t belong to him. However, it got ridiculous when he threw the pearl the fish spat out back into the lake. The pearl belonged to no one and throwing it back into the lake was of no use to anybody. He was offered good fortune but he tossed it away like trash because he was too stupid to seize the opportunity.
The honest man was given every opportunity to change his fortune. However, each time he proved to be the undoing of every gift fate threw at him; he was so stupid, so incapable of changing that in the end, the lion did provide him with the only way that could end his woes.
The moral is ‘being nice is good, but don’t be a moron’. And that’s a moral we can all get behind.
‘The Honest Man’, Folktales of Iraq, Edited and Translated by E.S. Stevens, Dover Publications, Inc
Little Snow White, Grimm’s Fairy Stories, Public Domain
Cinderella, Grimm’s Fairy Stories, Public Domain
‘The Story Of Princess Hase’, Japanese Fairy Tales, Yei Theodora Ozaki, Bibliobazaar
‘The Story Of The Old Man Who Made Withered Trees to Flower’, Japanese Fairy Tales, Yei Theodora Ozaki