Wolf Children Japanese Anime

オオカミ子供の雪と雨

The Japanese anime Wolf Children is my seven-year-old daughter’s favourite film of all time. When she first watched it, several years ago, she decided that she herself must be half wolf. She has since developed an almost monomanical interest in wolves, and she’s not the only kid I’ve heard of to be affected thusly after watching this film: Wolf Children is an inspiring and engaging film for miniature nature lovers. I have recommended this film to people completely forgetting that it is basically a very sad story though, so consider yourself warned!

I wonder if the author of Wolf Children was inspired by the story of Amala and Kamala, two “feral girls” from Bengal who are alleged to have been raised by wolves.

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What’s The Difference Between Allegory and Symbolism?

Here’s the problem with symbols: people expect them to mean something. Not just any something, but one something in particular…It doesn’t work like that. Oh, sure, there are some symbols that work straightforwardly: a white flag means, I give up, don’t shoot. Or it means, We come in peace. See? Even in a fairly clear-cut case we can’t pin down a single meaning, although they’re pretty close. So some symbols do have a relatively limited range of meanings, but in general a symbol can’t be reduced to standing for only one thing.

If they can, it’s not symbolism, it’s allegory. Here’s how allegory works: things stand for other things on a one-for-one basis.

[…]

[With symbols, however,] the thing referred to is likely not reducible to a single statement but will more probably involve a range of possible meanings and interpretations. [A symbol requires] of us…to bring something of ourselves to the encounter [in order to get its meaning].

How To Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster

What Does Allegory Mean?

Allegorical means, among many other things, that the characters, worlds, actions and objects are, of necessity, highly metaphorical. That doesn’t mean they aren’t unique or created by the writer. It means the symbols have references that echo against previous symbols, often deep in the audience’s mind.

Allegorical also means ‘applicable to our modern world and time’.

Good stories have elements that are founded on the thematic line and oppositions. This especially applies to allegory. For example, for Tolkien, Christian thematic structure emphasises good versus evil.

— John Truby, Anatomy of Story

Features Of Allegory

SUBTEXT

Like a theme story, allegory has a subtext, a pattern of meaning beyond what’s evident on the surface. Just more so.

LOTS OF SYMBOLISM

Allegory involves creating a fairly thoroughgoing pattern of symbolism in which all major events and characters in a story have a meaning beyond themselves and those meanings can be put together to make some sort of overall sense.

This kind of structural symbolism lends itself to social satire, political polemics, fantasy, and religious fiction. There are innumerable examples of each. Some are plotted; some derive their energy from the tension between symbol and reality, the character and what the character stands for, the gradual revelation of larger meanings.

Allegory = Extreme Metaphor

To see how metonymic and metaphoric devices interact in a mixed, that is, both realistic and romantic, fiction, it is perhaps best to begin with the extreme form of the metaphoric or romance pole, the allegory. In an allegory, the only way to approach the characters is by reference to their position in a preexistent code. An analysis of the metonymic context leads nowhere. […] if we were to meet an allegorical character in real life, we would think the person driven by some central obsession. The obsessive-like behaviour of the character is, of course, a result of his or her actions being totally determined by the position he or she holds in the preexistent code. The difference between an allegorical character and a character in a romance is that the romance figure not only acts as if obsessed because of his or her position in the story but also seems obsessed in reference to the similitude of real life created in the work itself.

This combination seems most effectively achieved when a psychologically real character’s obsession is so extreme that he or she projects the obsession on someone or something outside the self and then, ignoring that the source of the obsession is within, acts as if it were without. Thus, although the obsessive action takes place within a similitude of a realistic world, once the character has projected an inner state outward and then has reacted to the projection as if it were outside, this very reaction transforms the character into a parabolic rather than a realistic figure.

The most obvious early examples are those stories by Poe that focus on “the perverse”, that obsessive-like behaviour that compels someone to act in a way that may go against reason, common sense, even the best interests of the survival of the physical self. In many of Poe’s most important stories, the obsession occurs as behaviour that can be manifested only in elliptical or symbolic ways. For example, in “The Tell-tale Heart” the narrator’s desire to kill the old man because of his eye can be understood only when we realize that “eye” must be heard, not seen, as the first-person pronoun “I”.

— Charles E. May, The Art of Brevity

Ponyo by Miyazaki Symbolism and Structure

Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo is a feature-length anime which makes heavy use of  myth and symbolism but is aimed squarely at a young child audience.

崖の上のポニョ Ponyo Film Poster
Gake no ue no Ponyo. A Japanese promotional poster. In some Japanese films the English title is extended (Totoro becomes ‘My Neighbour Totoro’) but in this case, ‘Ponyo On Top Of The Cliff’ has rather a clunky sound to it, and this time is shortened to just ‘Ponyo’.

 

I love the kanji for cliff because it actually looks like what it is.

がけ

Dani Cavallaro, in Magic as Metaphor in Anime: A Critical Study describes Ponyo as ‘an intimate bildungsroman’ and writes:

Sousuke’s developmental journey begins with his rescue of a plucky little goldfish that has run away from her underwater home and is desperately keen on becoming human (presumably unaware that such a status is by no means unproblematically advantageous), whom the boy calls Ponyo, vowing to protect her at any price. At the same time, the anime’s intimate mood is reinforced by its close focus on domestic life and the little boy’s relationship by its close focus on domestic life and the little boy’s relationship with his mother Lisa. The bildungsroman dramatized in Ponyo concentrates concurrently on two interrelated journeys. One of these addresses the human protagonist’s emotional and intellectual development as he negotiates the various complications attendant on his relationships not only with the heroine and the marine domain she comes from but also his caring mother and often absent father. The other focuses on Ponyo’s evolution from the moment she decides to abandon her father’s protected abode and explore the outside world with all its unforeseeable wonders and perils.

STORYWORLD

Food

Food usually has its own starring role in the setting of Miyazaki movies.

  • The feast that turns the parents into pigs in Spirited Away, then the steamed red bean buns and the sponge cake scene
  • The bacon and eggs in Howl’s Moving Castle
  • Herring pot pie and rice porridge (おかゆ) as well as all the fresh bread products from Kiki’s Delivery Service
  • More rice porridge in Princess Mononoke
  • Bento boxes from My Neighbour Totoro
  • The fried egg in bread (目玉焼きパン) and the winter vegetable stew (煮物) from Laputa
  • Fried horse mackerel (アジフライ) from Up On Poppy Hill (nothing to do with horses — it’s a different kind of mackerel)

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Planes Trains and Automobiles

I’m not usually a fan of movies in which Steve Martin appears, but Planes, Trains & Automobiles is one exception, partly because of the wonderful John Candy who co-stars. In this story, Steve Martin plays the straight guy, who gets infrequent opportunities to play slapstick, which he is very good at.

Planes Trains Automobiles Steve Martin angry

Planes Trains Automobiles Movie Poster
Written and directed by John Hughes

[Hughes] is not often cited for greatness, although some of his titles, like “The Breakfast Club,” “Weird Science,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Home Alone,” have fervent admirers. What can be said for him is that he usually produces a real story about people he has clear ideas about; his many teenage comedies, for example, are miles more inventive than [more] recent sex-and-prom sagas.

— Roger Ebert

Like John Candy, John Hughes also died young of a heart attack.
Like John Candy, John Hughes also died young of a heart attack.

 

This is a very much a movie of the 80s, and the reuniting scene at the end with the tearful wife is a bit eye-rolly to me, but the comedy is still relevant today: If anything, more of us are travelling more often and can relate well to travel delays with annoying co-passengers.

Good stories don’t need to be complex. E.T. is another example of a film which has a simple story line but which was very popular in the 1980s.

The movies that last, the ones we return to, don’t always have lofty themes or Byzantine complexities. Sometimes they last because they are arrows straight to the heart.

— Roger Ebert

This film is a good example of a holiday movie that works. It probably works because the holiday itself is not the main action. Instead, we see a man who learns the ‘true meaning of Thanksgiving’. The holiday itself is simply the ticking-clock.

Ticking clocks are often used in other genres such as thrillers and action movies, but the device is also used (less commonly) in comedy journey stories. As Truby writes, any journey story is inherently fragmented and meandering. A comic journey makes the story even more fragmented because the forward narrative drive stops every time you do some comic business. Jokes and gags almost always take the story sideways; the story waits while a character is dropped or diminished in some way. By telling the audience up front that there is a specific time endpoint to the story, you give them a forward line they can hang on to through all the meandering. Instead of getting impatient to know what comes next, they relax and enjoy the comic moments along the way. Other examples of this can be found in The Blues Brothers and Jacques Tati’s Traffic.

‘TRAPPED!’

Public transport is the ideal setting for a narrative because when you’ve got a hero and a main opponent, you have to find a way, as writer, to force them together into the same space. Howard Suber, in The Power of Film, wrote that almost every popular film could be justifiably called Trapped, and this film is no exception. Here we have a well-off white guy, who is basically living The American Dream, trapped first in his workplace as his boss hems and haws in a board meeting, then we see him trapped in a variety of locations as his transportation continues to let him down.

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What Is Meant By ‘Mythic Structure’?

Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.
— Unknown

I’ve always wanted to get as far as possible from the place where I was born. Far both geographically and spiritually […] I feel that life is very short and the world is there to see […] and one should know as much of it as possible. One belongs to the whole world, not just one part of it.
— Paul Bowles, American expatriate composer, author, and translator

Myth can be considered a genre. It is the oldest genre and to this day is the most popular.

Myth is not a part of every story. Even Joseph Campbell himself said that there was no mythic structure to be found in 25% of stories.

Mythic form is enjoyed by audiences across cultures.

Raison D’être

Myths are born of the sticky dark. That’s why the truest have survived thousands of years. They present fictional answers to primal questions: Why do tragic things happen? Which is stronger, love or death? What if death is just the beginning?

Marcus Sakey, Publishers Weekly

THE INFLUENCE OF GREEK MYTHOLOGY

Originally, the Greeks invented myths which are now the foundation of Western thought. Even back then these were considered allegorical and metaphorical. In Greek myths, there were always at least two levels of beings: Gods and humans. The gods represented the aspect of man which was able to gain enlightenment/excellence. The gods did not necessarily rule the humans.

Consider the Greek gods ‘psychological models’ which represent character traits.

THE SYMBOLISM OF MYTH

Myths use a clearly prescribed set of symbolic objects. Original audiences always knew that these objects stood for something else. These objects also represent something within the hero. Even today, audiences will recognise these:

  • Journey = life path
  • Tree = tree of life
  • Underground = unexplored region of the self
  • and so on.

Take The Pilgrim’s Progress as a fairly modern story making use of mythic symbols:

Although The Pilgram’s Progress is allegorical, it is impossible even for an adult to read about Christian’s journey to the Celestial City in any other way than as a story. The passages through the Slough of Despond and the Valley of Humiliation, the fight with the monster Apollyon, the loss of Christian’s comrade Faithful in Vanity Fair, the crossing of the River of Death: these are actual and vivid events, as real in their own way as the mass of detail with which Defoe built up Robinson Crusoe. It may be noted that the themes of all these three books — the dangerous journey, as in The Pilgrim’s Progress, the desert island, as in Robinson Crusoe: and the miniature or other imaginary world, as in Gulliver — have served for innumerable later books, both children’s and adult, and are by no means worn out.

– – Written for Children by John Rowe Townsend

For more on this see The Three Main Types Of Modern Mythic Structure, in which I have added an extra.

Pilgram's Progress

EXAMPLES OF STRONGLY MYTHIC  MODERN FILMS

  • Lord of the Rings
  • Superman/Spiderman/Batman etc – comic book stories are modern myth forms.
  • Close Encounters
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • Dances With Wolves
  • The Lion King
  • Groundhog Day
  • Avatar – science fiction stories often use the myth form, not only because myth is about the journey but also because myth is the story form that explores the most fundamental  human distinctions (human/robot etc.)
  • Thelma and Louise – a female buddy movie. Buddy movies tend to make use of mythic structure.
  • Casablanca
  • The African Queen – classic example of river as setting in a mythic story, along with Heart of Darkness
  • La Strada
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • The Piano – myth blended with romance
  • Bringing Up Baby
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands
  • Annie Hall
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • True Grit – basically a crime story, blended with mythic structure
  • Harry Potter – mixture of myth, fairytale and coming-of-age in a school story. Typically for heroes of myth stories, Harry is a foundling, abandoned by his parents and brought up by horrible people.
  • Le Week-end – a film written by Hanif Kureishi in which the journey takes the form of a romantic weekend away with the purpose of rekindling a failing marriage
  • Locke – a road trip with one on-screen character played by Tom Hardy. Extraordinarily well scripted, we really only see Tom Hardy sitting in his car. The opponents he meets on his journey come only in form of voices through his car phone. By the end of the journey he is in a different place both physically and spiritually.
  • I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore – an indie-film which provides an excellent example of modern use of mythic symbolism such as the labyrinth and the river. The backdrop is American suburbia. The main hero is a woman, though she is joined by a man. Interesting for its gender inversions.
  • Wildlike – a 14 year old girl is sent to stay with her uncle in Alaska one summer as her mother is receiving treatment for an illness. She is soon faced with the task of running away from the uncle and making her way back to Seattle. She meets various helpers and opponents along the way, and contributes to a grieving man’s character arc as he grieves for his own wife’s recent death.
  • Jolene – a 2008 film based on a story by E.L. Doctorow. A young orphan marries but in a Cinderella-like tragedy things don’t go well and she ends up on the road, meeting all sorts of people along the way, mostly horrible.
  • Hunt For The Wilderpeople — a New Zealand comedy drama about the relationship between a cranky man and a boy, who go bush, pursued by the police for suspected child abuse.

Then there are computer games, such as Halo and Red Dead Redemption.

 

Continue reading “What Is Meant By ‘Mythic Structure’?”

Picturebook Study: Grey

Gray, the color we attach to characterless people, often suggests bleakness, lack of intensity, a cool detachment. The oppressively predominating gray of the stone walls surrounding Snow White’s mother in Burkert’s picture of her demands our detachment from her but also contrasts with the vibrantly colored patterns we see surrounding her as we look through her window into her room; perhaps as a foreshadowing of her daughter’s fate, she is a small spot of lively beauty in an otherwise bleak and forbidding world. In Inter-city, the wordless story of a train trip, Charles Keeping creates a similar relationship between what can be seen around a window and what can be seen through it. The feeling of boring detachment in the predominantly brownish grey pictures of passengers on a train contrasts with the vibrant colors of the world outside the train’s windows, which the passengers ignore. The contrast between the monochrome of the passenger pictures and the rich colours of the window pictures supports the central theme of the book: we see the passengers as they themselves see the world, and we see the richness of the world they miss because they do not bother to look at it.

Words About Pictures, Perry Nodelman

Inter-City Charles Keeping

and below is an interior image from Inter-City.

from Inter-City

Most of these greys have a hue to them. Yellow greys, orange greys… Then there is completely desaturated grey.

Daniel Miyares
Daniel Miyares

The Boy and the Airplane

Forest green makes an interesting accent colour against grey — it’s more often something bright like yellow.

girl-and-the-bicycle-9781442483194_hr

 

the farmer and the clown

 

Gaston

 

The Invisible Boy

 

Oliver

 

morris

 

Little Elliot Big City

Critics love Maurice Sendak. For a lot of academic stuff about Where The Wild Things Are see here.

Where_The_Wild_Things_Are_(book)_cover

 

Frederick-754x1024

 

wombatdiary

For a post on The Picturebooks of Chris Van Allsburgh see here.

Jumanji

For a full analysis of Blackdog see here.

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold, book jacket

 

 

Related

Do you know the word eigengrau?

The Evolution Of Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood Well Loved Tales

“Little Red Riding Hood” is one of the best-known fairy tales. Depending on who tells it, this is a feminist story, or a patriarchal one. Little Red Riding Hood is told to children, but probably features often as a sexual fantasy. Elle avait vu le loup – “She’d seen the wolf” in French means she’s lost her virginity. There are also links to ‘true crime’, with certain historical crimes reminding us of this story of a girl in the woods.

A HISTORY IN A NUTSHELL

The history of Little Red Riding Hood is summed up neatly by Angela Slatter:

It’s been an interesting journey for Little Red Riding Hood. She started life in a tribal tale about a girl who outsmarts a wolf – all on her own, no outside help. A few centuries later, she gets a red cap, loses about twenty IQ points and gets eaten by a transvestite wolf. Add another hundred or so years, the cap becomes a hood, she loses a few more brain credits, gets molested, and then eaten by the same cross-dressing wolf but is rescued by a big, strong man and learns never to disobey the rules again. Adding insult to injury, in the 40s Tex Avery turned her into a stripper. Bruno Bettelheim* looked at Gustave Dore’s 1867 Little Red Riding Hood illustrations and saw dirty pictures – Little Red in bed with the wolf, giving him the eye. A red leather-jacketed Reese Witherspoon (oh, puhleeez!) played her in an Eighties film version, Freeway, in which a friendly neighbourhood serial killer fulfils the role of the wolf. Just when you thought it was all over, Angela Carter came along, reclaimed her and set her free.

*Bettelheim was an asshole who set psychology back a couple of decades. Look up his theories on the causes of autism. (tl;dr: Refrigerator Mothers)

 

In From The Beast to the Blonde, Marina Warner traces fairytales back to much older stories, oftentimes Greek and Roman legend.

Verumnus, god of autumn fruitfulness, fell in love with Pomona, goddess of summer fruitfulness, of orchards and gardens, but found that she was very zealous to keep her chastity; so he disguised himself as an old woman. In this masquerade, as the first wolf in granny’s clothing, the god of autumn softens Pomona; when he changes back into his ‘undimmed manly radiance’, she puts up no further resistance.

— Marina Warner, From The Beast to the Blonde

THE ENDURING APPEAL OF LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD

Why does “Little Red Riding Hood” continue to be so popular? Perry Nodelman uses Little Red Cap as an example to explain that it’s the repetitiousness of fairytales rather than the suspense that brings readers back for more:

If we explore ‘authentic’ versions of fairy tales, particularly those in the collection of the Grimm brothers, we discover that they tend to place particular emphasis on those central episodes that form the spine of the tale and to describe them in more detail. In the story called “Little Red Cap,” we hear a lot about the little girl’s conversation with the wolf but only a quick summary of her flower picking. Further attention is drawn to the spinal episodes because so many of them repeat each other…Red Riding Hood asks the wolf about a number of his physical characteristics. Furthermore, there often tend to be curious parallels and contrasts that relate even those spinal episodes that are not directly repetitive with each other and that focus our attention on them. In the Grimms’ “Little Red Cap,” for instance, the central moments are all conversations, and most of them involve somebody theoretically wiser telling Little Red Cap what to do–first her mother, then the wolf, then the wolf disguised.

As we read or hear a fairy tale, these patterns result in a rhythmic intensifying and lessening of interest as we move from central episode to less central episode and then back again; the effect is different from the gradual intensifying toward a climax that we get in other sorts of stories. And for those of us who already know the popular fairy tales we hear–and that surely is most of us at some point early in our childhoods–our pleasure in them must derive from repetition of that rhythmic pattern rather than from the suspense we usually enjoy in story; if we already know the story, there can be no suspense in it for us.

Words About Pictures by Perry Nodelman

The following are notes from:

  • The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood by Jack Zipes
  • Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked by Catherine Orenstein
  • Deconstructing The Hero by Marjery Hourihan

Various Versions and Intended Audience

WHEN I was a child, I had recurring nightmares about wolves — beasts the size of skyscrapers that walked on their hind legs around New York City blocks, chasing and eventually devouring me. My mother says she made the mistake of bringing me to see a live performance of “Little Red Riding Hood” when I was a toddler, and that the man dressed as the wolf terrified me. I started having the dreams almost immediately after I saw the play, and they lasted into high school; I don’t remember when they stopped.

It was just a play, just a scary man, yet my young brain was indelibly affected by that one moment.

What Does A Lifetime Of Leers Do To Us? from Jessica Valenti

LRRH wasn’t always a children’s story. It’s a truth seldom acknowledged that fairy tales used to be for everyone. It’s anachronistic to even speak of ‘the child’ before a certain point in history, because the concept did not exist. There were babies, then there were people, sent out to work at the earliest opportunity.

Continue reading “The Evolution Of Little Red Riding Hood”

The Seasons Of Storytelling

In stories for children, as in stories for adults, emphasis on the seasons and the circular nature of time gives a story a feminine feel. Each season carries its own symbolism, but it’s not a clear delineation.

gilmore-girls-a-year-in-the-life

With the recent Gilmore girls revival we now have agents/editors asking for similar story structures.

gilmore-girls-story-structure-agent-wishlist

What would that mean, exactly, to write a story with a similar structure to Gilmore girls?

One aspect which provides structure to Gilmore girls is the seasons. Rory’s life (like any diligent high school student’s) is determined by the school terms, in turn different according to season. Stars Hollow holds regular annual events which are also connected to seasons, be it Halloween pumpkins, picnic hampers or Christmas festivities.

In television miniseries, the seasonal structure isn’t new. Take for instance the Disney adaptation of Little House On The Prairie. Each of the three episodes has distinctly different seasons.

little-house-on-the-prairie-disney

The fact is, this story structure is very old, especially in stories for and about girls.

The straight (non-reversed, un-ironic) version looks like this:

SUMMER

Characters exist in:

  1. a troubled, vulnerable state or
  2. in a world of freedom susceptible to attack

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year — the days when summer is changing into fall — the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

— Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

AUTUMN/FALL

Characters begin their decline.

Alternatively, or as well as this decline, autumn lends a cosy feel which takes us back to childhood especially — this is a Northern Hemisphere thing, and works well for American audiences, who have Thanksgiving, Halloween and football matches in the fall.

The late scenes of Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman and Marlena by Julie Buntin both occur in a damp, shadowy, late-autumn woods haunted by literal death that signals the end of girlhood.

Movies in which autumn features heavily:

  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Autumn in New York is a movie in its own right, but…
  • …another film which features autumn in New York is You’ve Got Mail! You’ve Got Mail spans the entire year through the seasons, but the fall scenes are thought to be the best.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (think of Hagrid’s hut with all the pumpkins)
  • Stepmom — fall in Connecticut
  • Hocus Pocus and other Halloween movies like Practical Magic — because for North Americans, fall is synonymous with Halloween
  • Dead Poet’s Society — for its back-to-school feel. (Australian students return to school while it’s still well and truly summer, so this is a Northern Hemisphere thing.)
  • Remember The Titans and Rudy — because fall is football season
  • Pieces of April — because fall is Thanksgiving season
  • Little Women — because a lot of the story takes place in the fall

WINTER

Characters reach their lowest point.

Middle grade novel Skellig by David Almond is a story which makes use of seasonal symbolism. When Michael discovers Skellig, his luck begins to change. “Winter was ending.” The season of death and dormancy (especially for Michael and Skellig) is about to give way to the rebirth of spring-a kind of second innocence.

However, there’s winter and then there’s winter. A winter blizzard is dangerous, but a landscape covered in snow has the opposite effect, evoking hygge, or as Jerry Griswold puts it, evoking snugness. 

There are, of course, certain times of year and day that are more conducive to evocations of snugness. Winter, especially after snow has fallen, and Christmastime are special in this regard; consider, for example, the tableau of the family in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, all gathered together around the fire when father returns at Christmas; or Clement Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas” when “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, / While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.” And as for time of day, the moment for nesting is when sleep comes; here the great tableau may be in Johanna Spyri’s Heidi when grandfather, both when Heidi first arrives and when she returns from Frankfurt, steals up the ladder to look at the slumbering child in the nest she has made for herself from hay in the attic. To be brief: a snug place is a place where one can sleep peacefully.

Jerry Griswold

SPRING

In the spring, characters overcome their problem and rise.

This short film, called Spring, follows a girl’s trip out of the dark forest, which gradually blooms into a more welcoming arena.

A story might start in springtime. In Beverly Cleary’s Emily’s Runaway Imagination, the story begins with spring and a feeling of welcome change. Almost exhilaration:

The things that happened to Emily Bartlett that year!

It seemed to Emily that it all began one bright spring day, a day meant for adventure. The weather was so warm Mama had let her take off her long stockings and put on her half socks for the first time since last fall. Breezes on her knees after a winter of stockings always made Emily feel as frisky as a spring lamb. The field that Emily could see from the kitchen window had turned blue with wild forget-me-nots and down in the pasture the trees, black silhouettes trimmed with abandoned bird nests throughout the soggy winter, were suddenly turning green.

Everywhere sap was rising, and Emily felt as if it was rising in her, too.

— Beverly Cleary

SUBVERSION OF SEASONAL SYMBOLISM

However, a writer may choose to avoid the cliche by turning it around. So the character declines in spring and is rejuvenated in the winter. This not only short-circuits the audience’s expectations but also asserts that humans, though of the natural world, are not enslaved by its patterns.

What about the seasons and writing for children?

If writing for children is different from writing for adults, surely it’s because our main audience has not seen enough of the world  or of literature to have noticed cliche, which becomes more noticeable the older/better read you become.

Maria Nikolajeva, academic of children’s literature has made the following observations about:

THE TREATMENT OF TIME IN BOOKS FOR GIRLS AND BOOKS FOR BOYS

This is a fascinating concept, and something I’d not noticed until it was pointed out, by Maria Nikolajeva in Children’s Literature Comes Of Age. Earlier in the book she defines books for boys (often adventure) and books for girls (horse stories etc, and those starring girls) which these days tend to have pink somewhere on the cover. In an ideal world there’d be no such thing as sex differentiation in books. Because gender is not genre. But I’m quite radical like that.

One Swedish essay on narrative differences in books for boys and books for girls stipulated that male time is linear, while female time is circular…. Time in books for girls and in books for boys is closely connected with place. Not only is male time linear, but male space is open, as books for boys take place outdoors, sometimes far away from home in the wide world. Male narrative time is structured as a series of stations where an adventure is experienced, a task is performed, a trial is passed. Time between these stations practically does not exist. The text can say something like “after many days full of hardships they reached their destination…” The male chronotope is thus corpuscular, discontinuous, a chain of different separate time-spaces (“quants”) which are held together by a final goal. These separate chronotopes may also correspond to chapters in adventure boos: each chapter is self-contained, even if some threads can run from one chapter to another. It is easily observable in classic stories such as Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer (1876) or Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price (1943).

The chronotope in books for girls is completely different. The space is closed and confined. The action mostly takes place indoors, at home (alternatively at school). Time is cyclically closed and marked by recurrent time indications: (“It was spring again,” “It was Christmas again”). Three classical girls’ books, Little Women (1868), Anne Of Green Gables (1908) and Little House In The Big Woods (1932), are very good illustrations. Any gaps in time can be easily filled by the reader, who knows that it takes time for plants to grow or for snow to thaw, that the school year is full of homework, that housework is the same year in and year out. Female narrative time is often extended to several years with certain recurrent points. The chronotope is continuous both in time and space. Spatial movement in girls’ books means merely a change from one confined space to another likewise confined one — for instance, from the parents’ home to a boarding school, from the heroine’s childhood home to her husband’s home, to “the doll house,” an image often used by contemporary writers trying to break this pattern; one example is Maud Reutersward’s A Way From Home (1979), the Swedish title of which is “The Girl and the Doll House.”

The female narrative chronotope is also based on our conceptions of male and female nature…Female time is circular, follows the cycle of the moon, and consists of recurrent, regular events of death and resurrection, seasonal changes and so on. … Linear male time is a product of enlightenment and is the spirit of action and progress.

…there are many deviations… As in all other areas, in chronotope structures of children’s books of the past ten to twenty years there is also a merging of male and female, a disintegration of the epic chronotope, and some bold innovations.

Nikolajeva’s book was published in 1996, so another 10 or 20 years have passed even since then. I’d be interested to know what has happened. Are stories for girls still mostly set inside? Do books for girls run by the moon?

EXAMPLES OF SEASONAL SYMBOLISM IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

Sometimes, winter is a metaphor for depression. As an example, see Blackdog by Levi Pinfold.

In the similarly named, earlier title by Pamela Allen, Black Dog, more is made of the significance of the seasons with inclusion of the following double spread:
Black Dog Pamela Allen seasons01Black Dog Pamela Allen seasons02_600x620

Axel Scheffler

In Stick Man, illustrator Axel Scheffler demonstrates the passing of time with the following montage:

Stick Man Julia Donaldson seasons_600x810

In the Australian picture book Tanglewood, too, we have a page of thumbnail illustrations depicting the passage of time via the seasons.

Tanglewood seasons by Margaret Wild

Beatrix Potter

Handy quotes Lewis on his own memory of reading the Beatrix Potter book “Squirrel Nutkin” when he was young: It “troubled me with what I can only describe as the Idea of Autumn.” The subject of childhood, even more than old age, seems always to be about its ending. My favorite chapter was the last one — about death in children’s literature, but also about endings generally.

NYT review of Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult By Bruce Handy

The examples above are all picture books, but stories which emphasis cycles are common in stories for (or about) older girl readers. Julie of the Wolves is an excellent example. This novel is a Robinsonnade earlier feminist novel with explicitly ecological themes.

Miyax (Julie) must kill to remain alive herself, but her killing is always shown to be part of the ongoing life cycle that must continue if life is to be sustained on the tundra. […] The ideology […] is explicitly ecological, but it contains an implicitly feminist message as well, for this ecological veneration of life cycles inherently praises the interconnectedness of life cycles that feminist texts so often embrace. Rather than unfolding with the linear plot-line that is common in children’s realism, Julie of the Wolves contains an embedded narrative structure that parallels the text’s consciousness of cycles. […] Nothing in Miyax’s life happens in isolation, and nothing occurs in a straight line. Instead, she moves forward, makes mistakes, and moves forward again. Thus, the narrative structure parallels the nonlinear nature of Miyax’s life and the cyclical nature of the novel’s setting.
As for the cycles of the female body, the text openly addresses how a teenager living in isolation deals wtih menstruation by clearly stating that she has not yet reached menarche. 

Roberta Seelinger Trites, Waking Sleeping Beauty

Obviously, the association of cycles and femininity are to do with menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth. The female body goes through clear cycles of birth and rebirth, while men just get older and die.

Airships And Hot Air Balloons

Flight is highly symbolic in children’s literature. The airship, dirigible or hot air balloon is another means by which writers can take their characters into the sky, varying the topography and the view.

The title of the new Disney/Pixar movie “Up,” as well as its signature image of a house floating beneath thousands of tethered balloons, reminds us how frequently the theme of Lightness appears in children’s literature. From Mary Poppins to Peter Pan, from Tarzan swinging on vines to Harry Potter scooting on his broomstick, children’s stories seem to feature the quick, the lithe and the aerial. Maybe that’s not surprising. While adults seem earthbound, youngsters zoom by on skateboards or jump from heights as caped incarnations of Superman.

Jerry Griswold, Literary Antecedents To The Movie Up

  1. What do you know about airships?
  2. Have you seen airships before, in the sky or in certain types of stories?
  3. What does the presence of an airship add to the feel/mood/setting of a story?

What is an airship?

Airships are also called ‘blimps’ and are seen quite often at sporting events as advertising vessels. Airships are also called ‘dirigibles’.

In fiction, airships are a common sight in alternative superhero depictions of New York. You may recognise the airship from DC’s Batman series.

GCPD_Blimp_far
The GCPD Blimp from Batman

Hayao Miyazaki, Japan’s most internationally renowned animator of children’s films such as Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro seems to enjoy animating airships in his un-Japanese, European-esque worlds of films such as Castle In The Sky. Steampunk fiction is also a fan of the dirigible.

An airship crashes in Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service
An airship crashes in Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service

Airships were once a fairly common sight in Northern skies.

the boy who went magic

The Legacy Of The Hindenburg

The most famous real-life airship is The Hindenburg, which caught alight during an electrical storm while trying to land on May 3, 1937. Due to a limited supply of helium (mainly in America), hydrogen was used to give airships lift. Hydrogen is lighter than air but is highly flammable.

The Hindenburg was a massive airship — perhaps the airship equivalent of The Titanic — affordable only to the super rich, because a one-way ticket from Europe to America cost the equivalent of a car. Flight was brand new to humans, and it’s easy to forget that the passengers had never seen the world from a bird’s eye view before.

“Everybody looks up and they see this graceful, slow moving, big object, and that seems to be something people are just fascinated with.”

– Mark Kynett (Senior pilot, Goodyear Blimp) speaks on the documentary When Weather Changed History: The Hindenburg Disaster.

The fact that documentaries are still being made about this disaster shows that we are still fascinated by airships.

If the Hindenburg disaster had never happened, history would have played out differently. We would be living in a slightly different world as a result. No doubt a Hindenburg-type disaster would have happened at one point or another, but it’s fascinating to consider how the history might be slightly different. Airships are often used in fictional worlds which are basically real, but are slightly off-kilter. The presence of an airship helps to create such a setting.

The Airships In Hilda Bewildered

The Hindenburg was thought to be infallible. The vessel was referred to as “Queen Of The Skies”. This connection to royalty is fascinating because the airship as metaphor for royalty and celebrity is a good one. When common people see celebrity it’s easy to forget that these are human beings who are really not infallible at all. Often, celebrities die younger than they should, in ‘fiery’ events which captures the media’s attention.

The metaphor of height differential and flight is common in fiction. Altitude is also reflected in English idioms. We say ‘rise to the occasion’ or ‘look up to’ someone. In this story, a Princess is aware of the world that surrounds her. She can’t understand why she has been born into royalty when the role could just as easily have been given to some other girl. This doesn’t exactly fill her with confidence, as she prepares to deliver her first significant speech as a princess who has recently come of age. In an attempt to elevate herself in her own mind, she imagines herself on an airship, looking down on the world. Common wisdom about calming nerves before a presentation or speech often includes metaphors of lightness and flying: We are often advised to fill our lungs with air by taking deep breaths. We attempt to ‘rise above it’, to ‘glide’ into a room. We may feel ‘light-headed’. All of this relates to the metaphor of the airship. Princess Hilda’s freckles, which she considers proof of her ordinariness (despite being covered in makeup for the cameras), are now lights on the landscape; freckles make the landscape beautiful and therefore she must be beautiful. Or so she tells herself. By looking down on the landscape from high above, she is also trying to regain perspective on her own place in the world; a speech to open winter (a season which will happen with or without her blessing)seems less significant when she looks down on the world from high above, and realises she is not the center of the universe. There is a whole world besides, and not everyone is listening.

This includes the commuters who dash home to their own houses after a working week. These people are not royalists. They are busy with their own lives, and pay her little heed. It helps the Princess to remember these people. To them, she is invisible.

Because Hilda starts her imaginary journey in an airship, this allows for a dramatic and obvious change in altitude  over the course of the story. After emerging from the underground, Hilda instructs the taxi driver to ‘take the low road’ into the woods, prompting further descent. The imaginary airship sequence is thereby complemented with the alternative trick of spiriting her mind away to a dark basement in an abandoned hotel at the bottom of the deep, dark woods. All the while, Princess Hilda imagines she is not a princess at all — she is just an ordinary girl — an ordinary girl with ‘real problems’ — no loving mother, not enough to eat, no warm clothes, who is on the run from the police, to boot.

The Long-Lost Home

In number six (and final) of the Incorrigible Children Of Ashton Place series, the main character is stuck in a Russian village but must make her way home to England. I’m guessing it involves a hot air balloon. Publication due end of 2017.

A miniature air balloon is also used in this episode of  Wallace and Gromit.

Color Symbolism in Hilda Bewildered

THE COLOUR OF SKY/ENVIRONS

How does the colour of the sky throughout Hilda Bewildered give clues about the time of day, the plot sequence and the difference between Princess Hilda’s reality versus the imagined scenes?

Highlight below for some answers.

Golden — The story opens with a wintry dusk.

As nightfall comes, the sky looks green through the dining hall window.

The blue sky from Hilda’s imaginary airship is a cerulean, unlikely sort of blue. This is also the blue of the screens which appear throughout the story — the detectives’ computer screen, the view through the security cameras. Events behind a screen are not real for the viewer (even though real for the characters depicted), just as Hilda’s imaginary world of unnaturally blue sky is also one-removed from reality.

The sky of the grimy city is a browny yellow, to contrast with the golden colour surrounding the palace — an oasis of riches.

As the taxi moves into the forest the sky turns blacker and blacker as Hilda finds her way into her mental cave (and eventually to a basement in an abandoned hotel in the middle of a dark forest).

But on the final page the sky is back to dusky yellow, because The Other Hilda is wholly imagined: It is still sunset and Hilda has yet to make her speech. As she makes the speech she imagines she is talking to tussock rather than to a daunting crowd of people. From the stage, though, she sees nothing but bright lights.

 

GREEN

Death green, Life green
Death green, Life green

Pre-reading

Brainstorm some ideas/themes which are commonly symbolised by the colour green in storytelling and in pop-culture.

There are many different shades of green. Do different shades of green suggest different meanings?

Do a Google image search for green movie posters (by going to advanced search and setting the colour to green). After looking at a large number of green movie posters, what kinds of stories are associated with green?

Post-reading

Princess Hilda’s ring is emerald green. What does the colour green symbolise in Hilda Bewildered?

Highlight the text below for some answers.

THE FOREST: This is common in myths/legends/fairytales. This is connected to the female principle/The Great Mother. Vegetable life thrives in a forest, free from any control or cultivation. Princess Hilda’s life is so regimented she craves freedom. Foliage excludes sunlight, so the forest is considered in opposition to the sun’s power. The forest symbolises the unconscious. Jung said that the sylvan terrors that figure so prominently in children’s tales symbolise the perilous aspects of the unconscious. Houses and cultivated lands are safe areas but the forest harbours all sorts of dangers and demons, enemies and diseases. (Zimmer). The forest in this tale contrasts with the manicured garden at the Royal Palace: subdued, ordered, selected, enclosed.

LIFE AND DEATH: Green is the colour of life; it is also the colour of death (of gangrenous corpses). Death is represented by black through the greenish shades up to a typically bright green colour, after which it symbolises life. Giving a speech in front of many people feels like a life and death situation for the princess. Life and death are opposites, as are the princess and her alter ego. A forest is full of life, but for an ill-equipped girl, it also means danger and death.

THE MIDDLE PLACE: Green takes the middle place in the everyday scale of colours. Green is an intermediate, transitional colour spanning between the two groups of ‘advancing’ colours and ‘retreating colours’.  (This is because it is mixed from blue, a retreating colour, and yellow, an advancing one.) The Other Hilda lives in the shadows of society (a retreating character) but she would like to advance socially – she just has no idea how to go about it. This is impossible for a girl in her position with her plain looks.

Green can also be associated with the ghostly/uncanny, with peace, growth, branching out, turning over a new leaf, imagination.