Coming Soon Short Story by Steven Millhauser Analysis

“Coming Soon” is a short story by American novelist and short story writer Steven Millhauser, first published at The New Yorker in 2013. (About 3,900 words.) Chang-rae Lee discussed this story with Deborah Treisman at the New Yorker Fiction podcast. The following are my thoughts after reading the story and listening to their discussion.

“You go to sleep one day, wake up and everything’s changed!” This is the sort of hyperbolic statement you might hear from someone describing the pace of change and their inability to keep up with it. Millhauser has taken a sentiment like this and turned it into something literal.

I believe this story has much in common with cosmic horror, and could be described as a contemporary version of that subgenre. Cosmic horror of the Edwardian era has limited appeal to modern audiences, but the big cosmic question remains: Do humans see reality as it really is? Like stories such as The Turn of the Screw, once you start reading this story, you realise that nothing in it is really clear. The less clear a situation, the more readers project our own personal nightmares onto it.

1957 April cover for Fortune magazine by Edmund Lewandowski
1957 April cover for Fortune magazine by Edmund Lewandowski
Continue reading “Coming Soon Short Story by Steven Millhauser Analysis”

Purple Blooms by Carol Shields Short Story Analysis

Alain Le Foll, The Very Obliging Flowers, 1968

“Purple Blooms” is a short story by American-born Canadian writer Carol Shields (1935 – 2003), included in the collection Various Miracles (1985).

This short story showcases how different the lyrical short form can be from the novel. For one thing, “Purple Blooms” doesn’t seem to have a typical ending. Look closer, and that’s because the plot is an unusual shape: Cumulative. Another short story with a cumulative plot shape is “The Fifth Story” by Clarice Lispector, though Lispector’s story is more obviously so. In a cumulative story the author keeps circling around a topic, enlarging it with each revisit.

Sometimes, the shape of a lyrical short story echoes its symbol web. In this case, I feel the shape of the story continues the motif of ‘blooming’. The ‘purple bloom’ of the title is a verb as well as a noun; to bloom is to start small and then, well, blossom. That’s how it feels to read a short story shaped in this fashion. This plot shape is especially well-suited to the short form. The shorter the better, probably. Adult readers have limited patience for revisiting something over and over. (In contrast, the cumulative plot shape is far more common in picture books. Young children seem to require repetition; it helps them to learn language and to understand their world.)

Continue reading “Purple Blooms by Carol Shields Short Story Analysis”

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Aardema and Vidal Analysis

Bringing The Rain To Kapiti Plain cover

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain (1981) is a cumulative picture book written by Verna Aardema and illustrated by and Beatriz Vidal. The rhyming scheme borrows from the well-known childhood rhyme, “This is the house that Jack built“.

Vidal’s illustrations have a folktale vibe about them, partly due to those nice white outlines reminiscent of a woodcut.

I don’t know how Kapiti is meant to be pronounced —  semi-arid lands in Kenya with a 550mm average rainfall — but my pronunciation is influenced by the name of the south-western North Island of New Zealand, called Kapiti Coast, in which the first syllable is stressed.

This picture book is subtitled “A Nandi Tale”.

Here is a PDF of a book written by a white person about the Nandi people in 1909, so you can guess what to expect, but it does include a collection of Nandi folktales. On page 123, I was interested to find a Nandi equivalent of “The House That Jack Built” cumulative tales, because this style of story can be found all over the world. However, it’s not this one. It’s a story about an old woman and her pig. This rhyme is clearly meant to be shared between two or more people, each taking a part. That is the joy of cumulative tales.

STORY STRUCTURE OF BRINGING THE RAIN TO KAPITI PLAIN

PARATEXT

A cumulative rhyme relating how Ki-pat brought rain to the drought-stricken Kapiti Plain. Verna Aardema has brought the original story closer to the English nursery rhyme by putting in a cumulative refrain and giving the tale the rhythm of “The House That Jack Built.”

MARKTING COPY

Why the cumulative story structure? These can be tedious to read for tired parents, especially if you’re reading at bedtime; in my experience I start yawning uncontrollably. However, a cumulative tale that builds on itself is a good narrative choice for an environmental story, because cumulative tales emphasise connections between things.

This particular story is mythic rather than scientific. But still.

SHORTCOMING

Focusing on the main character, Kipat, his big problem is that a drought affects Kapiti Plain, and his cows can’t get enough to eat and drink.

DESIRE

There are big rain clouds in the sky. Kipat wants the clouds to release the rain!

OPPONENT

Nature

PLAN

When a bird drops its feather, Kipat makes a bow and arrow

THE BIG STRUGGLE

Kipat shoots the arrow at the cloud. Then the cloud releases the rain.

ANAGNORISIS

Kipat has worked out how to make it rain. Honestly, I kind of wish this is how it worked.

NEW SITUATION

Like many old tales about young men who solve a problem and become successful, Kipat is rewarded with a wife. Woman as chattel, treated as about as important as the cows.

How Nandi folklore thinks of cattle… and human mothers.

EXTRAPOLATED ENDING

Well, I’m guessing there wil be another drought in Kipat’s lifetime. At some point he’s going to learn that him shooting that arrow into the sky was coincidental rather than causal. Until then, I’m sure he’s properly full of himself.

RESONANCE

Rain (too much and too little) is a growing problem as the climate changes.

When humans attempt to control where and when it rains, this is known as cloud seeding. Listen to The Seeded Cloud” episode of The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry to get an overview of efforts that have been made so far (not very successfully) and problems that will arise if some scientists do work out how to seed clouds really well.

WHO GETS BLAMED FOR DROUGHTS IN FOLKLORE?

The nuckelavee is a horse-like demon. British folklorist Katharine Briggs called it the nastiest of all the demons of Scotland’s Northern Isles. It was held responsible for droughts and epidemics.
Lemon girl young adult novella

READ AT MY OTHER BLOG

Home » cumulative

The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash by Hakes Noble and Kellogg Analysis

The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash (1980) is a carnivalesque, cumulative picture book written by Trinka Hakes Noble and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. This picture book is a great mentor text for the way it handles dialogue visually, and also for the way the ironic distance between text and image expands at the end, leading to a satisfying climax.

Continue reading “The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash by Hakes Noble and Kellogg Analysis”

Harvey Slumfenberger’s Christmas Present by John Burningham Analysis

Harvey Slumfenberger's Christmas Present cover

Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present (1993) is a picture book written and illustrated by British storyteller John Burningham. The pacing in this story is a little different to most picture books seen in bookstores today. The word count is higher than 300-400 words. There’s a reason for this. The cumulative nature of this narrative feels designed to lull excited children to sleep on Christmas Eve.

I know it’s a hugely controversial thing to say that some reading material is designed to lull children to sleep. After all, shouldn’t reading be fun and exciting at all times, to hook kids on reading? I don’t think this is the case in reality. Some books are writtten to soothe and calm. Also, I feel there is a time and a place for lulling children to sleep. I suspect this story can do the trick nicely. Also, kids seem to have a much higher tolerance for repeating scenes than I do; it is in fact myself who starts yawning uncontrollably while reading some stories structured like this one. (Also, I suspect some kids will be riled up by the excitement of what’s in Harvey’s present.)

Continue reading “Harvey Slumfenberger’s Christmas Present by John Burningham Analysis”

Cumulative Plots and The Fifth Story by Clarice Lispector

the fifth story clarice lispector

“The Fifth Story” (1964) is a work of microfiction by Ukraine-born Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector (1920-1977). I tend to analyse short stories by looking at their dramatic arc, but what of a story like this? Surely “The Fifth Story” does not fit traditional ideas of what makes a complete narrative.

I also love when I read a story for adults which helps me to understand how children’s story works. (It more often works the other way, to be fair.)

If I could persuade the fiction writers of the world to do one thing every year, it would be to read the winners of the Newbery Medal and other awards for best children’s literature. Writers of children’s fiction know that the apparent simplicity of the novel is anything but simple to write. Yet, their accomplishment offer superb models of all elements of craft.

Elizabeth Lyons, Manuscript Makeover

In understanding the strange narrative of “The Fifth Story” I’m guided by Jane Alison, who offers this story as an example of what she calls a ‘fractal’ narrative shape in her book Meander, Spiral, Explode. (I’ve written a lot more about plot shapes in this post.)

Continue reading “Cumulative Plots and The Fifth Story by Clarice Lispector”

Frog Went A Courtin by John Langstaff Analysis

This month I wrote a post on Teaching Kids How To Structure A Story. Today I continue with a selection of mentor texts to help kids see how it works. Let’s look closely at Frog Went A-Courtin, a Scottish folk song from the 1500s, which was turned into an iconic picture book for children written by John Langstaff in 1955. There’s a brief history of the ballad included in the picture book which explains how the words of songs change and evolve over time. This case study is interesting because there is no true main character. This story is about a group of characters.

The illustrations are by Feodor Rojankovsky, who emigrated from Ukraine to America just as WW2 was cranking up. By that stage he’d already been a soldier in Ukraine and taken prisoner in Poland. If you’re familiar with Little Golden Books you’ll have seen his work elsewhere.

Frog Went A-Courtin won the 1956 Caldecott Medal.

First, a note on frogs in children’s stories.

Just so you know, in a picture book, frogs are the speedfreaks & grizzly bears are the stoners.

@lilymandarin
The Frog Who Would A Wooing Go by Charles Bennett
The Frog Who Would A Wooing Go by Charles Bennett is another example of a rhyming humorous story about a frog in search of a mate. This one dates back to 1844. (Available at Project Gutenberg.)

Frogs and Aesop

Unless you’ve got a really unusual animal like a naked mole rat, when animals appear in children’s stories, you pretty much need to go back to Aesop’s Fables and then you’ll see why these characters are the way they are. Frogs don’t feature heavily in Aesop’s tales, but there are a number of them. Unlike foxes, which are always cunning, or hens, which are always naive and vulnerable, frogs have no clear personality archetype. In Aesop’s fables featuring frogs all of the following can be said:

  • Frogs have no natural ruler, unlike creatures of the jungle, who are ruled by the lion.
  • Frogs are quite vulnerable because they are obliged to stay near water.
  • Frogs can do silly things that lead to their own demise, but they are not natural tricksters.
  • Frogs are capable of doing good deeds. They can also be stubborn, brave, timid and mendacious.
  • Aesop used frogs when he wanted to set a story in or near a pond or in a well.
  • Amphibian frogs exist in contrast to mice, who live on land and are about the same size.

On this last point, the Scottish folktale Frog Went A-Courtin is therefore a direct descendant of Aesop, setting mice up to contrast with frogs. Or perhaps humans naturally see frogs as the ‘inverse’ of mice, Aesop’s cultural influence aside. Humans think quite differently about animals when we don’t have a formal (or cultural) education.

Bear that in mind as we get to the ‘opponent’ part of the story.

STORY STRUCTURE OF FROG WENT A-COURTIN

Story in a nutshell: Frog courts a mouse. No one says that anymore. Frog woos a mouse? No one says that either.

Mouse must ask male relative for permission to wed frog, as she is considered chattel. That’s how women were treated in the 1500s and in many parts of the modern world.

Mouse seems happy about it anyway. Mouse recounts her wedding plans to Uncle. Uncle Rat gives consent. The wedding itself doesn’t go exactly to plan, as a variety of creatures turn up. This creates a carnivalesque and cumulative story within the wrapper story of the courting. Finally the baddie turns up — the cat.

WHO IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?

Is Mr Frog the main character? The title suggests so. Mr Frog is a male bachelor amphibian whose life will not be complete until he has found a wife. So at first glance this looks like a romance, but in fact frog’s shortcoming (he needs to find a wife) only starts the story. He’s like a McGuffin character. (I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a McGuffin character, but we’ll go with it.)

In a true romance/love story, the finding of the bride/groom lasts the entire length of the story and the story stops at (or just before) the wedding. The MAIN part of Frog Went A-Courtin is the wedding itself, which makes this story a madcap farce. There is no true main character. This is an ensemble cast.

What is wrong with the ensemble? (What is their biggest shortcoming?)

I have to get something out of the way. I’m not sure if we’re meant to think this as we’re reading, though it’s inevitable to an adult, modern reader: This is a cross-species relationship. Also, how is a mouse related to a rat? They can’t breed with each other. Okay. Let’s ignore that for the sake of the story. We’re not supposed to consider these characters animals. They are humans in animal form, to lend the story a bit of madcap comedy. (Turning people into animals always lends a bit of madcap, though we’re so used to this now it’s no longer really funny in and of itself.) As for the frog in this particular frog story, he is heavily anthropomorphised. In other words, he’s basically a human. Man as frog simply gives a story a touch of madcap humour. This frog is the Every Man.

However! When we get to the big struggle scene (see below) we can no longer ignore the animal-ness of the animals, because that is integral to the plot. The cat would not be dangerous to those smaller creatures if it were not a cat.

To cut a long story short, in stories starring animals, sometimes the animals are people, sometimes the animals act as animals. Authors and illustrators use animals how they wish at any given time in order to suit the plot. That can happen. I do think it happened more in earlier eras of children’s literature. Olivia the Pig is always a little girl, for instance. She never goes rolling about in mud. Then again, Julia Donaldson’s Highway Rat is a contemporary story, and he is both humanlike (as a highway robber) and ratlike (as his punishment, cleaning crumbs from the bakery floor).

Here’s another point about animal characters: When animals act like human and are then required to act like their animal selves, that means everything’s gone to pot. Something’s gone wrong. Someone’s being punished. When humanlike animals behave like animals suddenly, this will only happen from the Big Battle onwards, not before. This is a different take of Masks in Storytelling. All along, the animals were only sort of pretending to be genteel like humans. Then something bad happens and their untamed, wild side emerges.

Feodor Rojankovsky, Frog Went a-Courtin', 1955 sewing
Feodor Rojankovsky, Frog Went a-Courtin’, 1955

WHAT DOES THE CHARACTER ENSEMBLE WANT?

They want to have a fun time at the wedding party.

OPPONENT/MONSTER/BADDIE/ENEMY/FRENEMY

No one, until the cat turns up! A cat is the natural enemy because it is a much larger hunting animal.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

There is a sequence where Miss Mouse tells her Uncle Rat how she would like the party to go. This makes it funny when the wedding party does not go like that. Planning a wedding is a bit like planning a birth — it’s impossible to plan everything to the last detail because events will take their course!

BIG STRUGGLE

Obviously this is the part where the cat turns up. With no words, the pictures show us the cat creates havoc. The small animals scatter.

WHAT DO THE CHARACTERS LEARN?

Frog Went A-Courtin is not a complete narrative because the ending is left up to the reader. Or rather, the reader is invited to participate in the story to create a full narrative of our own. I believe the ending is left off because it would not be interesting.

HOW WILL LIFE BE DIFFERENT FROM NOW ON?

Either that, or Miss Mouse got killed and eaten by the cat. Maybe that’s why the ending was left out. Jon Klassen did a similar thing in This Is Not My Hat. We surmise the little thieving scoundrel fish was eaten up by the big fish.

Let’s not dwell on this sad ending. Let’s say Mr Frog and Mrs Frog-Mouse lived happily ever after? And had beautiful frog-mice babies between them?

SEE ALSO

Feodor Rojankovsky (1891-1970), who also signed Rojan, is a Russian illustrator who emigrated to the United States. Frog Went a Courtin, 1955

The Many Versions Of Frog Went A-Courtin from Mama Lisa

Lemon girl young adult novella

READ AT MY OTHER BLOG

Home » cumulative

The Gingerbread Man Story Structure and Analysis

The Gingerbread Man Little Golden Book

I recently looked into The Magic Porridge Pot (a.k.a. Sweet Porridge), part of a whole category of folk tales about pots of overflowing food. Related, there is another category of folk tales about food that runs away. In the West, the most famous of those would have to be The Gingerbread Man, but have you also heard of The Fleeing Pancake? Best name for a folk tale ever.

Ladybird’s version of ‘The Big Pancake’ (1972) art by Robert Lumley
Ladybird’s version of ‘The Big Pancake’ (1972) art by Robert Lumley

Also in this category we have:

  • The Bear Ate Them Up
  • The Bun
  • The Fate of Mr. Jack Sparrow
  • The Gingerbread Boy
  • Johnny-Cake
  • The Johnny Cake Boy
  • The Little Cake
  • The Pancake
  • The Runaway Pancake
  • The Thick, Fat Pancake
  • The Wee Bannock

As you can see, bread-like products are more likely to run off than, say, meat. I find this comforting. That said, the Hungarian version stars ‘head cheese’. I’m not sure what to think of that. Sometimes the gingerbread isn’t actually fashioned into the form of a toilet symbol, either — sometimes it’s just a ball of dough.

For comparison you might take Julia Donaldson’s Stick Man, which I have already analysed in detail. Donaldson is a master at remixing old stories into rhyming texts for a contemporary audience. Stick Man is a remix of The Gingerbread Man.

STORY STRUCTURE OF THE GINGERBREAD MAN

The Gingerbread Boy

WHO IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?

In stories this isn’t always obvious, but it is in this one. The main character is The Gingerbread Man! We see him the most, we want him to succeed in getting away and he is in every single scene.

Next question before moving on: What is The Gingerbread Man’s shortcoming?

Well, he’s a bit of a show off, isn’t he. He’s also a bit naive. Fresh out of the oven, he doesn’t realise that fairytale foxes are wily. If only he’d read a few fairytales he’d know what we already know about foxes in picture books!

WHAT DOES THE GINGERBREAD MAN WANT?

Freedom.

The Gingerbread Man, illustrated by Gerald Rose
illustrated by Gerald Rose

Or does he?

What he really wants is to prove how fast he is at running. Over and over again he says, “You can’t catch me!” His haughtiness eventually catches up with him. It’s like he’s taunting everyone to catch him. If he’d just run without all that singing, he wouldn’t have drawn attention to himself and he would’ve probably got away.

OPPONENT/MONSTER/BADDIE/ENEMY/FRENEMY

The Gingerbread Man is a classic example of mythical structure. This has nothing to do with being an actual myth. A myth is a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events. The Gingerbread Man is a pretty old tale, but it’s not a myth. I’m talking about how many more modern stories borrow the plot from those old myths.

I’ve written about mythic structure here. Basically, your main character goes on a journey, meets a bunch of characters — some helpful, some mean — ends up fighting a big big struggle then returns home again a changed character. Or if he can’t make it home, he finds a new home. That’s mythic structure. It’s still very popular. The Lion King, Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Long Haul and Beauty and the Beast all have mythic structure. Or you might have seen The Incredible Journey, or Where The Red Fern Grows. In all of these stories the main character goes on a journey.

In fact, any boardgame where you need to go from square to square to reach a goal is making use of mythic structure. Along your ‘route’ you’ll slide down snakes (opponents), be helped by ladders (mentors), go back three squares, go forward two squares and so on.

Gingerbread Man Game

The Gingerbread Man also goes on a journey, though he has no idea where he’s going. He’s just running. Everyone he meets wants to eat him (we assume), so everyone is his enemy. (It’s partly his own fault for being so delicious!) Usually in a mythic structure our main character encounters ‘helpers’ or ‘mentors’, but The Gingerbread is such an annoying character he doesn’t meet any of those.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

The Gingerbread Man, Illustrations by Bonnie & Bill Rutherford, 1963
Illustration by Bonnie & Bill Rutherford, 1963

Sometimes other characters have more plans than the main character. In this story, the old lady had a reasonably complicated plan to bake and decorate a gingerbread man, then to eat him.

But this is not about her.

The Gingerbread Man demonstrates that plans don’t have to be complicated. It’s true that in most stories plans are a BIT more complicated than JUST RUN REALLY FAST. It is also true that in most stories original plans don’t work and they need to be modified. This is a simple tale, known as a ‘cumulative’ story. Another example is There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly. Young kids love these stories and they are great for language development. The adult co-reader is left reading the same sentences over and over. That’s what happens here, too. Fortunately, it’s pretty fun to say, “Run, run as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m The Gingerbread Man!” If that wasn’t catchy this story wouldn’t have entered mainstream culture. So if you’re going to write a cumulative story like this one, make sure you’ve written something run to read aloud.

tl;dr: The Gingerbread Man plans to run. Until he is free, I suppose.

BIG STRUGGLE

The fox!

Notice the nice lead up? The Gingerbread Man sits first on the fox’s tail. The fox slowly coaxes him towards his nose and then SNAP!

WHAT DOES THE GINGERBREAD MAN LEARN?

Well, he’s dead so he doesn’t learn anything.

The Gingerbread Man is therefore a tragedy.

BUT! If he had lived another day, he would have learned not to hitch rides from foxes, and if he did hitch a ride from a fox, he’d know not to sit on the fox’s SNOUT.

Except that’s not really what the story’s about, right? That’s the most surface level of the messages.

Don’t be cocky. That’s what The Gingerbread Man would’ve learnt. And that is hopefully what we learn, as readers. We might think we’re the fastest runners in the whole world, but there’s always someone who can outwit us.

HOW WILL LIFE BE DIFFERENT FROM NOW ON?

Gingerbread Man card Found at Etsy
Found at Etsy

Well, he’s dead. The Gingerbread Man is sort of like a work of cosmic horror in that regard. (The main characters of cosmic horror also often end up dead.)

BUT NORMALLY characters aren’t dead at the end of the story. So we get to see our heroes sitting around the fire enjoying wolf stew (like in The Three Little Pigs) or reunited with their father (in Hansel and Gretel).

I haven’t yet seen a picture book version of The Gingerbread Man who has been pooped out. There he is, sitting like a Hersheys chocolate, propped up on a clump of grass.

I haven’t seen that, but I’d like to.

RESONANCE

Around the world there are many variations on the baked goods running away story, chased by a cumulative array of animals. The example below happens to be French.

The image of the Gingerbread Man is so well-known, you’ll see intratextual references to it elsewhere, for example in this British poster from World War Two.

World War 2 poster make do and mend gingerbread imagery

A Performance Tale

What makes ‘The Gingerbread Man’ such an enduring classic? This is a great example of a tale that’s satisfying to read aloud, or rather, to perform. First we have the arc phrase, repeated and easily remembered: Run, run, as fast as you can! This is even a phrase that can be used in other circumstances, like in a game of chase.

Then the teller has the chance to snap their arms like a crocodile at the climax. This is very similar to the way Little Red Riding Hood was originally designed to be performed, when the wolf gobbles up Little Red Riding Hood. Listeners enjoy the frisson of excitement, knowing that the death is imminent, able to enjoy the same tale over and over again. Another tale that works like this is The Little Red Hen, with much repetition and a climax that can be performed.

The Gingerbread Man is meant for performance but first made it into print in 1875, in a magazine.

Disneyfication Of The Ending

As a testament to just how far modern adults will go in protecting our children from bad endings, many versions of this tale avoid the original ending, the one in which the gingerbread is dismembered — first a quarter, then a half of him, then only his head is left… This despite him being… a food product. I suspect the amelioration of the ending happened once the gingerbread started looking more and more humanlike, aided by print, due to accompanying illustrations.

The Gingerbread Boy

Gingerbread People In Modern Stories

Jon Sciezka wrote The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales which was published in 1992 and is now a picturebook well-known for its postmodernism. The Stinky Cheese Man is a retelling of The Gingerbread Man but with a gross out factor. (The cheese man runs away from everyone fearing they will eat him, when really everyone just wants to get away from his smell.)

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is the ultimate exercise in metafiction to the point where it parodies metafiction itself.

Playing with Picturebooks: Postmodernism and the Postmodernesque by Cherie Allan

For a comparison between this book and one from the other king of postmodern picturebooks (yes, Anthony Browne), see Voices of the Stinky Cheese Man: A Comparison Study of Two Postmodern Picture Books  by Voicu Mihnea Simandan.

You may have also heard of an American author called Stephen King. King also wrote a riff on the Gingerbread tale called The Gingerbread Girl. It’s long enough to be considered a novella and was included in the short story collection Just After Sunset (2008). 

Gingerbread Men and Feminism

As you can see from this cover, another faceless woman whose body is the main grab, both for the baddie in the story but also for the reader.

In my middle age I have grown somewhat weary of stories with:

  1. Women who have child loss as a reason for psychological trauma (see also Gravity, Sandra Bullock’s character)
  2. Women in ‘fridges’ (or in the boots of cars)
  3. Exercise induced anorexia nervosa re-visioned as kickass strength.

Experienced readers know, surely, that this particular woman in this particular story is going to overpower the bad man. We forget about all the fictional, faceless, female victims who have come before and are encouraged to rejoice that evil has been overcome… until we read the exact same kind of story again, with a different baddie man and a different but equally good-looking young white woman. This tale has been done too many times to be making any sort of statement, but I predict a defence of this particular version would be that, in using ‘The Gingerbread Man’ folktale as an allusion, King is making deliberate use of the female as a food. But because faceless female victims are consumed so very regularly in fiction, I don’t buy any feminist ‘strong female character’ arguments.

In many versions of the original tale, the little old woman has actually created a live action version of a gingerbread boy to stand in as a surrogate child, as she cannot have her own. Because of course if a woman cannot have her own children she cannot possibly have a fulfilled existence in her own right.

The Gingerbread Man As A Crime Story

The Gingerbread Man has been a popular allusion in modern crime shows. (The folk tale is basically a crime story after all — it should not be legal for properly purchased food products to run off.) Gingerbread is a comfort food associated strongly with the home and hearth, and with family get-togethers. So by pairing these images with crime writers can create ironic juxtaposition. We may eventually get to the point, though, where gingerbread functions much like playgrounds,  ice cream vans and clowns for most viewers.

There’s a 1998 film called The Gingerbread Man. It’s a legal thriller but I don’t watch anything that gets less than 6.0 on IMDb so let’s not dwell on that. The Gingerdead Man, however, looks even better, at 3.4.

The Gingerbread Man is also recast as a mass murdering villain in Jasper Fforde’s The Fourth Bear.

Home » cumulative
Lemon girl young adult novella

READ AT MY OTHER BLOG

Chicken Little, Cassandra and Modern Horror

chicken little little golden book

Chicken Little (mostly America) is also known as Chicken Licken or Henny Penny (mostly Britain).

I hope the current generation of children don’t grow up thinking the 2005 animated movie version of Chicken Little has much to do with earlier versions of this story. The movie log line sounds okay on paper:

“After ruining his reputation with the town, a courageous chicken must come to the rescue of his fellow citizens when aliens start an invasion”

But tonally, this Disney production is loud, bright and frenetic. The natural ‘opponent’ of the acorn has been turned into the more interesting and formidable aliens in order to sustain a movie length story. Against that tone, the frenzy of Chicken Little himself is absorbed rather than emphasised. Further than that I can’t comment, as I find the movie entirely unwatchable.

Then again, am I really advocating for the continued teaching of the moral of Chicken Little? What does this fable teach us, really?

It’s funny — we all grow up on a diet of stories about the lone voice of reason trying to warn everyone about some imminent calamity, from Noah to Jor-El, and instinctively side with this hero and despite the ignorant ovine masses who jeer him or try to silence him. And yet whenever such a person appears in real life, our reflex is to join in with the mobs of scoffers and call them alarmists, hysterics, conspiracy freaks, and doomsayers.

Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing
Continue reading “Chicken Little, Cassandra and Modern Horror”

Thidwick The Big-Hearted Moose by Dr Seuss Analysis

Thidwick Big Hearted Moose

Theo Geisel had a thing for antlers.

In the mid-nineteen thirties, Theodor Geisel was a fledgling author and artist, operating as an illustrator for New York advertisement agencies. His father, superintendent of parks in Springfield, Mass., from time to time sent him antlers, expenditures and horns from deceased zoo animals. Geisel stored them in a box below his bed and used them to generate whimsical sculptures. Above, areplica of Flaming Herring.

Union Beatz

“Extra moose moss” for Helen, the dedication page reads, because Theodor and Helen were still married in 1948 when this was published.

I always like (dislike) to remember that Helen Palmer Geisel ended her own life in 1967 after some serious illnesses and also because her marriage with Ted (Dr Seuss) was falling apart. He had moved on to another woman.

I also like to remember the fact that Helen was a great first editor for Seuss, and encouraged him in his art.

STORY STRUCTURE OF THIDWICK THE BIG-HEARTED MOOSE

As is common in many picturebooks, the author starts in the iterative, telling us how life is. Then one day… (switches to the singular).

thidwick-iterative-singular

These moose are more personified than the moose in, say, This Moose Belongs To Me, which is about a very human boy and a very moose-like moose.

The story structure is partly of the There Was An Old Lady type, in which a small thing happens then the situation gets worse and worse. These are known as ‘cumulative tales’. This tale isn’t as repetitive as There Was An Old Lady, which is actually a song.

Cumulative tales are simple stories with repetitive phrases. There is not much plot involved, but the repetition and rhythmic structure of these tales is very appealing to children. Events follow each other logically in a pattern of cadence and repetition, sequentially repeating actions, characters, or speeches until a climax is reached. Examples of cumulative tales are “The House That Jack Built” and “There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” Picture book examples are The Napping House (1984), illustrated by Don Wood; Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain (1980) illustrated by Beatriz Vidal; The House That Jack Built (2000), illustrated by Jeanette Winter; The Gigantic Turnip (1999), illustrated by Niamh Sharkey; and There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (1997), illustrated by Simms Taback.

from A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books By Denise I. Matulka

SHORTCOMING

Thidwick the bull moose is a pushover, which is antithetical to our idea of a bull moose — huge, dangerous creatures who fight each other for their place in the moose hierarchy.

thidwickthebigheartedmoose_ipad2_screen1large-642x481

Even the name Thidwick sounds like the name of a loser — perhaps because characters with low social capital are quite often depicted with a lisp in pop culture. Actors with lisps will never be the leading man, though as Sean Connery proved, other kinds of speech differences can work to your advantage.

princessbride-actor-lisp

He needs to figure out a way to deal with others taking advantage of him.

DESIRE

He wants to go on doing moose things, which means leaving with the other moose when the moose moss runs out. The part of the story where the moose friends dump him is important to the desire line of the story.

thidwickguests-540x405

OPPONENT

All the little creatures who decide to move in and make his antlers their home.

Another more deadly form of opponents appear with the start of hunting season, and the men with their guns.

PLAN

Finally, looking down the barrel of a shotgun, Thidwick makes a plan.

He’ll ditch his antlers.

If you’d like to see footage of a bull moose losing an antler, see here.

BIG STRUGGLE

Although the animals in his antlers are annoying and not good for his social life, they are too comical to make a worthy opponent in and of themselves. It was a great choice to bring in the human hunters. In this picturebook we get a classic big struggle scene (with guns).

ANAGNORISIS

I’m not sure Thidwick really learned anything. If he had it wouldn’t have been pretty: “Your friends are quick to ditch you.”

In picture books the anagnorisis is often had on the part of the young reader, who realises what the moral is. Here we are invited to judge Thidwick for being a pushover. Perhaps the young reader takes the side of the friends, who walk off when Thidwick puts up with an infestation on his antlers.

The lesson is that there are limits to your kindness. This makes a nice change from all the picturebooks out there teaching children to be kind.

NEW SITUATION

Reminiscent of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, this moose is now happy eating the moose equivalent of grass with his own kind.

seuss-and-his-antlers
Lemon girl young adult novella

READ AT MY OTHER BLOG

Home » cumulative