cimorene: (yo)
  • The Mindy Project: [ profile] witchshaming has been posting stuff about this show for a few years and I kept meaning to get around to it. Noticed it was on HBO streaming recently and watched the first season. I like it a lot, although it does do some of those American Sitcom Genre things that I usually can't stand and it's not as politically righteous and emotionally healthy as Brooklyn 99, my previous sole exception. I do worry that if the 'ust' keeps up, it will get really old fast.

  • Westworld: Been over this with Dollhouse. You couldn't pay me to watch it. [personal profile] waxjism and her brother evinced interest though.

  • World Cup of Hockey: We watched most of it. I think we only skipped the games that were going to be too depressing, like Finland being crushed. A lot of knitting got done. I always cheer for the goalie - whichever goalie is onscreen at the time, so I'm incapable of actually not cheering for both teams in a match, ultimately. I'm surprised people aren't writing Auston Matthews/Connor McDavid yet, which seemed plausibly like the whole reason Team North America even existed. I'm also utterly charmed by Halak (THE HERO WE NEEDED) and Kopitar and angry that their regular teams are ugh. Halak, Price, and Bobrovsky were the real MVPs, obviously.

  • Inside Out: it was funny and enjoyable, but it was ruined for me because I just couldn't let the metaphor go, and the metaphor really doesn't make all that much sense. I kept shouting questions at the tv like "SO IF SHE'S SADNESS, IS SHE SAD OR HAPPY ABOUT THINGS BEING SAD???" and "Wait, the entire value structure of her personality was destroyed at age 8 by one unfortunate conversation????" and then Wax would be like "Stop asking questions!"

  • Finding Dory in the theater. Loved it. I cried at one point, which I haven't done in the theater since ROTK. Hilariously, it is actually set BEFORE my Finding Nemo slash fic, so it doesn't completely get jossed even, although it would need some tweaking to match up.

  • The recent remake of Total Recall. So bad that we had to pause it a few times because I was so loudly incensed. It's been a long time since I saw such an egregiously inadequate movie. Wow. Somewhat curious about the original now.

  • Wax decided to watch all the terrible movies (of the right kind of terrible) she could find so she watched a bunch of things with ghosts including the movie where Daniel Craig met Rachel Weisz, which was awful but no doubt fun to make, and one thing where Paul Bettany is some kind of rogue angel in the zombie apocalypse. And then she decided to watch all the ones she could find about the financial crisis, and one of those had Paul Bettany too.

  • Golden Age Detective Fiction: Continuing my project to explore the less-well-known contemporaries of Christie and Sayers. I already tried Patricia Wentworth (thumbs DOWN) and S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance (enjoyable but a bit airporty) and Margery Allingham's Campion (I got through 1½ books, then tried to start 3 other ones, including later and highly-rated ones, but I just couldn't keep going). Next up was Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn stuff: I read about five of them and found them very readable, but I got tripped up on the book where she introduces her detective's future wife. It's not that her writing is sexist or gender essentialist in the same way many of her contemporaries sometimes were, because the character is interesting and all... it's just I am really tired of heteronormativity and I would prefer it to not show up in the book at all. Maybe I'll be able to come back to it some day.

  • Early fantasy: I downloaded a bunch of public domain works by William Morris the textile artist, and also by early horror-fantasy writer William Hope Hodgson. Hodgson's The House on the Borderland was entertaining and amusing, a precursor to Lovecraft that wasn't quite so obsessed with race but was way way more terrified of pigs for some reason. I've started several of his others, but not really gotten into them yet. Same for Morris's - they're more Lord Dunsany than Lud-in-the-Mist, contrary to my preference.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (this is awkward)
I was recently introduced to the Philo Vance detective stories of S.S. Van Dine by an article about how T.S. Eliot (I think?) was a fan of detective fiction. I was surprised to learn that these stories, written pseudonymously by literary critic and NYC cultural avant-garde elite W.H. Wright, were all bestsellers at the time of publication, but have since faded so far from modern cultural awareness that I'd never heard of them in spite of having been close to several big-time golden age detective fiction fans. (If you read them, you'd probably also begin to feel you understand why they haven't stood the test of time as well as ACD, Christie, and Sayers, but I haven't quite applied myself to articulating my speculation yet.)

These novels feature a genius sleuth and a narrator-biographer sidekick, are set when they were written, in the 1920s-30s, and in some ways seem to bridge gaps between the above-mentioned writers, and to exist in conversation with them, in a fandomy, remixy way. (I also detect playful dialogue flourishes reminiscent of PG Wodehouse, although I have to note regretfully that the narrator is never Jeevesy.) But... gayer? I mean, of course, that foundation is unquestionably there in the rest of the genre, but here an overwhelming homosociality of the main cast combines with a definite coded gayness for the sleuth.

Sleuth Philo Vance, fundamentally a mixture made of largely Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey (maybe a dash of The Murders in the Rue Morgue, not least because of how his narrating biographer is handled), is coded gay in that early-20th-century asexual way. It's introduced with a pointed comment about a green carnation in the first scene with dialogue in the first novel, but never becomes actually relevant to the plot. He would read as asexual otherwise, but it isn't belabored or emphasized in contrast to anyone else, the way ACD did with Holmes, or Christie did with Poirot; it's just that sexuality would have been a complete non-issue if not for the green carnation remark and later, subtler hints. (Although spoiler ))

And though I don't discern any coding in their characters, his entire cast of regulars - or trio of backup singers, you might say - are also bachelors, evidently leading existences free of any assumptions of heterosexuality and heteronormativity. The author-narrator, S.S. Van Dine, referred to casually as "Van" by Vance, is his live-in man of business or secretary or personal assistant, a lawyer by trade whom he picked up when they were together at Princeton, but who is now devoted full-time to his correspondence, financial affairs, and art collections.

Their connection to the world of police is through district attorney Markham and homicide detective Sergeant Heath. Markham is typically present with the narrator and Vance, either at home or dining out, for what seems like one meal in three and a portion of every day, even when they are at leisure, and the readers are treated to the narrator waxing poetic about the dynamics of Markham and Vance's relationship, history, feelings for each other, and the nature of their banter, which he seems to find mysterious or ineffable at times.

Heath is a friendly and respectful subordinate of Markham's and shares with him the role of unimaginative policemen who want to pursue the wrong suspect or clue and have to have everything explained to them by the genius, but they're also both friendly with Vance. Heath doesn't hang around with them in his off-hours, but he's still what one might call a Bachelor's Bachelor.

The upshot is a highly homosocial cast that I think would make a great candidate for an update into a modern queer female foursome. (They wouldn't really need to be solving mysteries: as mysteries go these are not remotely realistic anyway.) (Yes, this was one of those shower thoughts that starts with "Wouldn't I like X better if all the characters were female?" I don't know why I have this conversation with myself so much, because the answer is always yes, but imagining it is always fun anyway I guess.)

Just picture this:

1. The sybaritic gastronome genius classical translator, art historian and collector, unarmed fighter and dog breeder, a sharp-dressing perfectionist diva who makes a point of delivering all her genius statements as if she couldn't care less, when in fact she feels a deep empathy for everyone that she covers up with coolness. A huge vocabulary, excitable tangents about art, history, and cool science stuff that sounds like it comes from an encyclopedia, a tendency to occasionally quote literature in a foreign language and then pretend not to hear when people try to ask her wtf she's talking about.

2. The narrator of the books is so transparent you often forget he's there, so it's hard to tease out a characterization. But that mystique could be played with interestingly, like maybe the character could be a long-distance bff who is in communication via texts and Skype.

3. The genius's older, tolerant friend who is serious to a fault and acts like putting up with the tangents and flights of fancy is a chore, but secretly finds them charming, and also will always melt at any direct request. Responsible, busy, on time, could be conquering the entire world one-handed off-screen. Is getting gray hairs. Always protests that she's busy, but then the genius is like "But this new restaurant has KILLER (esoteric dish) that I want to feed you," and she's like, "Okay." Says things like, "It sounds like you can handle things," and then goes along anyway just because the genius wanted an audience for her brilliance. Obediently provides the appropriate straight-man line whenever needed, and also instantly and commandingly takes charge of any situation and/or group of people with sheer force of charisma.

4. Brash, confident, likable lady who is presentable but insists on dressing comfortably and less formally. Has been doing her job competently a while and knows everybody in the field, and is friendly with them. Great at delegation. Stubborn, never afraid of an exhausting, difficult or tedious task, patient. Has a fairly optimistic outlook and is fond of one-liners and snarky asides. Prone to getting fired with frustrated righteous anger; yells about it until requested to please tone it down because her vigor is exhausting. Literally always falls for (practical) jokes: will fall for anything. Has probably been flicked on the nose after looking down when asked "What's that on your shirt" hundreds, if not thousands of times.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (Default)
Even though Agatha Christie's Poirot is perhaps my favorite tv show (in terms of rewatches, screencaps, etc), I am not actually a tremendous Christie fan. I've read quite a few Marples and Poirots after having seen them: sometimes well worth it (Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express, Five Little Pigs, Hickory Dickory Death, The Clocks, The Body in the Library, A Caribbean Mystery, At Bertram's Hotel), sometimes a letdown (I can't remember which these were offhand because I got bored and quit). However, after hearing they were going to make a movie of And Then There Were None (original title and second title both horrifically racist), I went and read it, and since then I've read two other non-Marple-Poirot (Maroit? Poirple?) books.

First I tried The Man in the Brown Suit (1924), a Colonel Race novel set mainly in South Africa and dealing extensively with diamond trade, so I was cringing to a greater or lesser degree most of the way through. Aside from this aspect, it's a spy novel instead of a mystery, with a distinctly lighter-hearted air and a strong humorous note. The heroine is a pretty great character, aside from being tainted with some of Agatha Christie's patented Old and Also Just Plain Gross Gender Issues.

Then last week I stumbled on The Secret of Chimneys (1925), a Superintendent Battle novel, which starts in South Africa but takes place mainly in Britain, but manages to be offensively monarchist and racist against four or five ethnic groups I could name in spite of all the characters being white, and particularly offensive about the Balkans. A really special flavor of offensive, all in all, and manages to also have a delightful rollicking air, a couple of great characters and a stellar heroine who actually explicitly debunks some sexism from dudes WHILE ALSO reinforcing more of Christie's Awkward, Weird Gender Issues.

I suppose perhaps whenever there's a Christie whose title I HAVEN'T heard a lot of, it's probably for one of these embarrassing sorts of reasons.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (srs bzns)
In this Golden Age detective novel (Latter End by Patricia Wentworth), when the mystery is solved and it's time for the pasted-on heteronormativity parade to conclude with a proposal of marriage, the dude decides to lead into his proposal...

... with one of those long joke rants about how women 'trick' men into 'slavery' with marriage. (!!!)

And then the woman gets angry and starts to tell him where to get off and... he... chastises her for it.

She shouldn't have interrupted his misogynist joke because he was just about to propose apparently???? In fact he says he was just about to go down on one knee. Can you even imagine feeling the need to make a misogynist joke about the institution of marriage as a DIRECT precursor to going on one knee and begging a woman to marry you?!
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (Default)
Last Tuesday's false alarm about getting sick aside - at least, I still THINK it was a false alarm - I now can't breathe through my nose. It started feeling mildly congested Friday morning and by dinnertime I had to take a Sudafed. I'm still inclined to consider Tuesday a false alarm though, because I've certainly never had a complete recovery from the sore throat phase of a cold/flu followed by two days of perfect, symptom-free good health and high energy before the onset of head congestion. Although I guess it's possible my immune system was winning at first but got overtaken.

I finished reading all Catriona McPherson's literary output and the series remained a favorite throughout (My mom and [personal profile] waxjism's mom are the only people in my immediate circle who read mysteries but I have talked mine into them already with my review, and will give one to my MIL as a gift at the next opportunity.)

I also read the whole Rivers of London series because three people on my Tumblr feed had simultaneously started posting about them and I happened to catch a couple of quotes that I liked. (Then I read some fanfiction about them - not all of it, but most of it - and I started trying to talk my family and [personal profile] waxjism into reading them but none of them have yet. My parents don't do ebooks, and they're both sitting on about a year-long to-read pile which in my dad's case is regularly augmented by free review copies, but they and my sister at least agreed, after being plied with quotes, that they were persuaded.)

I've also continued reading the output of British contemporary detective writer Ruth Dudley Edwards, and still like her wit, plots, and characters; however, contrary to expectation, the introduction of the apparently well-known Baroness "Jack" Troutbeck has put me off rather. You see, the first book she appears in has as its central topic Political Correctness Gone Mad Read more... ).

I also read the first 1½ Campion books by Margery Allingham, but I'm finding the second one pretty impossible and am on the verge of giving up. I know she started writing very young, so I wonder if there's anyone who can recommend one of the better ones to start with? Part of the problem is that they are tending a little more towards action-thriller than simple detective stories, which is not my preference, and on top of that they're flavored strongly with Gothic, and then on top of THAT they've been too tropey for my taste so far.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (crack)
After my previous disillusioned post, I had the idea of digging into the early history of Golden Age mysteries and ended up link-surfing from Wikipedia to this book's page on Goodreads.

The line that sold me on reading it was:
"This is the first of Ruth Dudley Edwards' witty, iconoclastic but warm-hearted satires about the British Establishment."

It wasn't as personally enchanting to me as the Dandy Gilver mysteries (male protagonists, no historical setting and fewer of my narrative kinks), but it was a funny satire, extremely vividly and skillfully written, with a light-ish tone of black humor. It was a contemporary novel in 1982 so I don't know who edited the writer into the Wikipedia list of Golden Age authors, as she is obviously well after it, though one can see the resemblance. Still, grateful that they did and all that. Will happily read the sequels.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (perfect)
I was looking at popular series and award-winning writers from a couple of websites that specialize in cozy mysteries, then looking for female protagonists and female writers. My main motivation in looking for cozies is a preference for a more Golden Age style versus modern bestsellerese (style), thrillers (genre), and law enforcement (subject matter). I'd be just as happy to read a modern locked mansion murder that was graphically bloody as long as the narration and storytelling were good and lacking clumsy clues, exposition dumps, and too many points of view.

One of the sites also had a thematic division of mysteries so I browsed through their description of the historical ones, but the few that I looked up samples from weren't at all what I was looking for. Read more... )

I also looked at short samples of a handful more modern American so-called cozies, but they had the same tweeness and unskilled writing, though in varying mixtures, as the aforementioned cookie shop mystery that irritated me so much.

So now I guess if I want to find more mysteries to read I should look at ones that are not considered cozy, perhaps? But I'm not sure I really feel up to it anymore yet. I've spent a week or so reading Catriona McPherson and have almost finished everything in her ouvre (I'm saving the last two because I am reluctant to run out), and after you discover a new writer that's rocketed up into your top ten list, almost everything else you try to read is going to be a bit of a let-down. Maybe I'll just reread some old favorites instead.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (crack)

Catriona McPherson’s After the Armistice Ball is the first in a series of mysteries starring 1920s Scottish gentlewoman Dandy Gilver and I give it and its sequel eight stars out of five. I simply can't recommend them highly enough. I'm a converted fan for life (knock on wood, unless she later says something racist on the internet...) and my immediate goal is to acquire lovely paper editions of everything she's ever written.Read more... )
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (godlike)

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke

This is first in a series of mysteries solved by the owner of a cookie catering business and seems to be strongly emblematic of the cozy mystery genre.Read more... )
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (working)

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen is the first in the series of the same name by a well-established award-winning British writer, starring an invented great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria who solves mysteries in 1930s Britain. Read more... )
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (inanimate things)
I was in a Miss Marple inspired mood and decided to go digging through a couple of big Cozy Mystery websites for series recommendations and found a few to try out.

Cloche and Dagger by Jenn McKinlay is the first in a series of thematic hat shop mysteries set in London with an American protagonist. Read more... )

I originally put this on Tumblr because I thought my mom, the only mystery reader with whom I regularly converse, was more likely to see it there; but actually she's not that predictable and might just as easily remember this blog exists and forget to check the other.
cimorene: (is this thing on?)
... Presented as an Illustration of My Emotions and Viewing Habits Regarding Evil and Dead Lesbians

  • The Sittaford Mystery ★ ★ ★ Neither evil nor dead, but arguably platonic Read more... )

  • The Body in the Library ★ ★ Evil (and being dragged to the gallows), which is annoying but doesn't stop me watching. Read more... )

  • A Murder Is Announced ★ Dead (not evil), which is where I draw the line. Now that I know, I won't watch. Read more... )

There's also Nemesis, but although I am fond of saying that ITV added incestuous dead lesbian nuns, it wouldn't make the above list because Read more... )

I will not boycott further rewatches of stories that happen to include evil or dead gay men in this manner, although there isn't a Christie adaptation that I can think of that includes the death of a gay man (there's off-screen, pre-episode gay partner death related to the plot in "The Moving Finger", but the character is never seen onscreen, he's just discreetly mourned by his surviving partner). But if it came up in passing in another crime show, for example, I wouldn't avoid the episode if I were otherwise inclined to rewatch.

In general, though, if I know in advance that the entire plot is about evil gay (or lesbian) people I will watch it, and if it's about dead gay men I will watch it, but if I know in advance that it is about dead lesbians I won't. Basically the line is anyone involved in a f/f relationship should survive.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (cuddle time)
When I was a teenager I had cassette tapes of filks based on Mercedes Lackey's books (the Vows & Honor ones, because I liked them the best since they had so few male characters - I never got around to buying any others) (aha!), many performed by Leslie Fish, who I understand sometimes wrote the music to Lackey's lyrics.

I was addicted to those books from age 9-13, but I already stopped being able to enjoy them the same way before high school... I think I miss the tapes even more though. I wonder what happened to them? Sometimes a random little snatch of lyric crooned (husked?) by Leslie Fish will pop into my head and I'll unexpectedly realize I remember half the lyrics.

When I discovered popslash at age 18 and told my mom about it, she said "Oh you mean like people used to write about Kirk and Spock?" I think my eyes went like *___* and a websearch led me to [personal profile] mecurtin's Foresmutters Project, specifically the historically significant K/S fic where Spock's penis is a flower. I recognized Leslie Fish's name at once from my obsessive filk-lyric memorization of a few years previous. I still remember thinking "It must be the same Leslie Fish. This Leslie Fish is even cooler than I realized and fandom is a wondrous place."

I felt moved to post this on Tumblr as well and that link is here
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (thattaway)
I got Dealing with Dragons, the source of my pseud, for my 7th birthday. It was an advance copy from a family friend who worked for the distributor and knew that my mom was a big fan of the series. Dealing is a prequel to the earlier Talking to Dragons, which my mom read aloud to me on an airplane flight when I was 3. (I have strong but fuzzy memories of the enchantment of my first encounter with this verse, and it's pretty mind-blowing to realize they originated at age 3.)

I had actually already heard an excerpt because Patricia C Wrede was a guest at a convention in Boston - I think my mom said Worldcon - which we attended when I was 5, and the manuscript was still in progress. My mom took me to a reading - it was the scene where Cimorene's ex-fiance appears at the dragons' cave to 'rescue' her while she is tidying the store rooms, resulting in the accidental discovery of the djinn. My mom says I laughed out loud a lot and after the reading, in response to her apology, Wrede told her it was flattering. (I remember the reading but not the conversation. I guess it was boring adult stuff to me.)

From then until MammothFail Dealing with Dragons was my favorite book. I reread it more frequently than any other for comfort right up until then, too. My original hardback copy is worn and the cloth part of the binding has splits and loose threads, but none of the pages have fallen out yet.1

I always wanted to be Cimorene. As a kid it was my favorite game. I was thinking about this because [personal profile] thefourthvine tweeted about the earthling demanding the book of The Princess Who Saved Herself, which reminded me of that one dad who repainted the pixels in some Nintendo game so his daughter could play as Princess Peach and rescue Mario. And that reminded me of the reason I didn't see Star Wars until I was about 18.

When I was a kid the younger boy down the street always wanted to play Star Wars, which he'd seen and I hadn't (well, mostly because whenever I caught bits in con movie rooms I made my dad leave with me because I thought they were boring, but I don't think I'd ever seen Leia).

He would be Luke and his baby brother would be Han, and I got to be Princess Leia by the Laws of Gender. But when I asked him what I was supposed to do as we were running around the yard - mostly he was shouting at his brother and the imaginary storm troopers - he told me he guessed just scream sometimes (inaccurately, as I didn't learn for another 8 years or so). I made a complaint about the unexcitingness of this role at the next pause in the action - in retrospect I guess we must have been in an imaginary garbage compactor - and he explained that there just weren't any other girls. And thus began a long period of hating Star Wars and refusing to watch it.

There aren't that many things in pop culture that I can think of that could even be described as 'the princess who saved herself'. Obviously. As a kid the story that struck me as most similar to Cimorene's was the Buddha's, so... yeah.

1. I don't think the book itself is racist - maybe because the djinn is the only time it even tangentially comes up - but I haven't managed to [re]read anything by Wrede or Bujold since without getting uncomfortable. (Or McKinley, since the 'Obama isn't black because he looks like a white guy with a tan' remark, or Moon, since that classism-not-racism fiasco: giant bummer, having three of my top 6 or so childhood favorites spoiled in such a short time like that. Fortunately I know no ill of DWJ's public conduct).
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (thattaway)
For my birthday I requested an English translation of a lavishly-illustrated children's retelling of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic which influenced Tolkien in the writing of LOTR. The book is beautiful! And hardbound and coffee table sized, but as long as you have the leisure to sit still in one place for long enough to read it that's okay.

I had bought an academic's modern literary translation a few years ago, but I just couldn't get through it. The translation doesn't seem to work. It's frequently the case with everything from advertising slogans and aphorisms to simple ordinary sentences that things sound cooler in Finnish - it's like it was designed for wordplay, and wordplays never translate well. (My Finnish is not up to tackling it in Finnish yet, however. I need a few more years' vocabulary at least, I think.) Anyway, the translator kept very close to the meaning of the text, and he labored mightily to render it in the same sort of register and to give it some meter, which I can see he did quite a good job of. But it doesn't change the fact that the Finnish is smooth and flowing, sharp and sprightly and light, and the English is clumsy, clunky, flat, and oafish in comparison. (I don't say that English has to be clumsy and clunky, just that that translation is.)

Anyway, I was able to see in a quick glance-through at the bookshop that this prose retelling is much more readable. The writer, Kirsti Mäkinen, did an excellent job, and the translator, Kaarina Brooks, was obviously very skillful as well; although, like every other English translation I've picked up that was published in Finland, this one didn't come out error-free. At least there were no line-editing errors, but there were definitely a couple of semantic problems (of the 'I see what you mean but that word doesn't exactly mean that in English, and if you're going to be Humpty-Dumptying it up you need to go enough over the top to make it clear that it was on purpose' type) which I would have gotten into it with her for, had I been employed at her publishers in an editorial capacity.

I entertained my wife and her Finnish friends on Twitter over the several days when I was reading bits of it. Living in Finland and being acquainted with artworks and everything-names (buildings, streets, cities, icecreams, people, construction equipment) named after the Kalevala, I sort of felt that I knew most of the main people already. Reading the actual stories was a bit shocking, then. It wasn't quite what I expected! Seeing the echoes of Gandalf in Väinämöinen and Aragorn in Ilmarinen is rendered surreal by the fact that Tolkien worked hard to render his characters with a dignity and solemnity that makes the Kalevala look like a comedy in comparison. The folk legends of the Kalevala don't have comic relief characters; everybody is made to look ridiculous in turn, and sometimes simultaneously with their moments of greatest coolness. And also there's the fact that almost everybody in it is an asshole1, but especially Joukahainen and Lemminkainen. The two of them could give lessons in How to be a Turd to Prince Joffrey. I kept looking up to shout "X is a COMPLETE DICK!"

The Kalevala almost reminds me more of a collection of individual folktales than of the Odyssey or the Edda. (Which isn't a complaint: I like both forms.) Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it was collected/compiled/written so much more recently.

One of the things I noticed most keenly while reading was how extremely clumsily Christianity had been pastede on yey. I mean, the original basic stuff of the Kalevala is obviously an actual pantheic mythology. It literally starts with the creation of the world, including plants, animals, and people, and explicit reference is made to many different gods who are actually referred to as gods. But then every now and then, usually after the resolution (by god or magic) of some problem, somebody has just tacked on a couple of sentences that are like "but of course, while this was awesome, it wasn't NEARLY as awesome as the magic that the supreme creator God could've done. If he was there," or, "After all these several pages of spells calling on tons of different nature dieties by name, still nothing worked, and Väinämöinen was like 'Oh shit, no magic is even possible without God, even though earlier in this epic tale it was! God, I've gotta give you props, now would you please help a man out', so God fixed him up." Also there's a thinly-veiled Jesus allegory tacked on as the last chapter of the whole thing, with a weirdish explanation about how a holy infant is even more powerful than Väinämöinen and has thus rendered him obsolete, which is why he fucks off in a magical copper boat.

Another thing that made it a little surreal was having first read Finnish celebrity historian Matti Klinge's seminal Ancient Powers of the Baltic Sea a year or so ago. I kept trying to think back to it and wondering about the historical context without really remembering the details. (That book kept me on the edge of my seat. Maybe I should just get my own copy.)

And unrelatedly to any of my other reactions, there's a myth about Väinämöinen's descent to the Underworld, where he goes to demand the secret creation runes of the oak tree from Tuoni, the god of death, because he has a whim to go sailing but is too lazy to build a boat the old-fashioned way, and wants to sing it into being but lacks only three magic words. The mistress of the Underworld captures and nearly kills him, but he escapes by turning himself into a snake, and instead goes to the millenia-old gravesite of the world's greatest giant-wizard of yore, and annoys him into waking up and disgorging the words in question. (Shades of Odin and his giant head in the basement, right?) It's definitely the most absolutely charming descent myth I've ever read. My second favorite episode is the one where he kills the leviathan and makes an enchanted lute from its jawbone, a musical instrument so powerful as to render him practically omnipotent. But then he drops it into the ocean, the end. XD

1. EXCEPTIONS: a) Ilmatar the sky goddess who appears only to give birth to Väinämöinen; b) Aino the maiden who gets sold into slavery by her asshole brother Joukahainen to save his own hide, then raped, then drowns herself; c) Lemminkäinen's mother, who doesn't merit a name; d) Ilmarinen the heavenly smith, who eventually wins the heart and hand of the maiden he courted, but then gets his heart broken when she's murdered shortly thereafter, and who then tries to build a robot wife (it doesn't work); e) Ilmarinen's sister Annikki, who in this edition appears just once, in the introduction to the story of his courtship, but who gets some really great lines.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (modern girl)
My mind was wandering as I watched the musical introduction to an old episode of Morse early this week, and I suddenly realized that the number one gap in my television and reading diet is Austenesque murder mysteries - or, to put it another way, pre-Victorian cozy mysteries a la Miss Marple. I suppose Victorian could work - you can get a glimpse of the appropriate settings in the stories where Sherlock Holmes travels to the countryside (and the corresponding episodes of Granada); but only a short one, because the structure and mood of a cozy mystery is so different from a Sherlockian one.

Christie, Sayers, and Georgette Heyer all set their mysteries in the between wars period, which is also a lot of fun of course, and is my other favorite historical period. That's probably why my thoughts tend to jump back to the Regency from there.

Of course, we all (or most) know about Patricia C. Wrede* and Caroline Stevermer's Sorcery and Cecilia, which might be the book that initially planted the idea in my mind. That book and its sequels aren't quite my idea though:

  1. They're epistolary (although if I'm remembering right the sequels, which I didn't enjoy nearly as much, might waver from that a bit).

  2. They incorporate magic in basically the same way as Wrede's Mairelon the Magician series (and are in fact, I believe, set in the same universe), a bit like the magic in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

  3. They're Heyerian, not Austenian, Regencies. That means that they deal with the richest, most fashionable and highly ranked people in society, most often in an urban setting, like a historical Gossip Girl, where Austen wrote about the middle class and her setting was always cozy. (Heyer, of course, also has some books set in the countryside, and some impoverished heroines, but she almost never wrote characters who were just Mr. or The Honorable anything - at least, not male characters.)

The premise I thought of was collapsing the genres together based on the similarity between (a) the Austen-typical setting of small-town British life in the Regency period and (b) the Cozy Mystery-archetypical setting of small-town British life in the between-wars period, maintaining the same focus on a tightly-knit social circle. Like if Miss Marple took place between 1800 and 1840, and she was put in place of Emma's Miss Bates, or P&P's Charlotte Lucas, or Persuasion's Anne.

Then I thought, well, even if it's not quite Miss Marple, surely somebody must have thought of that before. Both genres have been popular for a long time now. So I Googled a bit, and my conclusion is that nobody has done quite this, at least not recently (obviously, if they did it closer to the 19th century their efforts might not be so readily Googlable). I did find a few results of possible interest:

  • Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries is a series where Jane herself is the sleuth. There is also in existence a series where Chaucer is the sleuth, which I read part of and was disappointed in. Maybe this is a trend, which, I think, would be great! Worth checking out, I think. Does anyone know anything about it?

  • Ashley Gardner's Captain Lacey Mysteries have a male hero, and appear to be more Heyerian than Austenian, but could still be enjoyable. However, the style of the website, and the books' covers, make me suspect that they belong to the lower, less historically accurate class of Regency, which I tend to fail out of after one or two mistakes, gnashing my teeth and ranting about badfic (I enjoy a lot of badfic, but I don't enjoy the kind where the problem is lack of knowledge about the period/setting as opposed to lack of writing skills. Do your fucking research or write something else. I'm looking at you, basically almost every Regency AU I've ever read in a not-already-historical fandom). But authors don't pick their own covers of course, so with luck maybe it's more Peter Wimseyish.

  • Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd is a Mansfield Park pro fanfiction, turning it into a mystery. This review is positive and intriguing, although it also doesn't quite butter the particular muffin I wanted.

So. Muffin unbuttered, unless by a happy accident I missed one and someone who knows about it happens to read this post. But I can always hold out hope for the future, either that I'll acquire the inspiration and plotting skills needed to write a mystery myself, or that somebody else will have the same idea.

* Wrede, of course, was the originator of MammothFail, one of the significant episodes of Racefail '09, which is something everyone should know about when deciding whether to read or purchase her books. She wrote the book my pseud comes from, but I do still have a bit of trouble getting into a reread these days.


12 Mar 2011 01:15 pm
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (Default)
I signed up for goodreads (here) because I read this news item last night that got me all WHEE LIVING IN THE FUTURE!:

Goodreads Has Acquired Discovereads

On Thursday, Goodreads will announce that it has acquired another start-up, It uses machine learning algorithms to analyze which books people might like, based on books they’ve liked in the past and books that people with similar tastes have liked.

I had a vague idea that Goodreads was more like... I guess Librarything? Which I see people mentioning. It seems to be intended as a sort of book queue/book rec/book review blog, as opposed to cataloging one's library. For example, when you enter a book it asks what exact date you finished it. Obviously you don't remember what day you finished every book in your library unless your memory is eidetic or you don't own any books.

But the thing is, if you want this algorithm software to be able to do its thing, the more data it has the better, so it's certainly in the interest of Science to enter everything you've read and rate it as best you can. I suppose I'll just ignore the date field from now on unless I'm writing a review or something, but it's irritating to my slight OCD tendencies. (Although, speaking of those, it's probably good that it doesn't have a complete set of ID3 tags and a library-catalog setup or I might fall into a compulsive vortex and wake up hours and shelves later, suddenly realizing I'd forgotten to eat.)
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (summer)
I dreamt I had the ability to send myself or other people short distances back in time, either in the same place or back along their personal timelines to the place they'd been then, but sending them too far gave me a migraine. In the dream five minutes was easy, a few seconds was effortless, but six hours was near-impossible. Still, that'd be a pretty awesome super power.

For the past several weeks I've been rereading Roger Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October, which is one of the most fun books I've got around (I've got to get my own copy of Bring Me The Head of Prince Charming). That's why I've been savoring it and also why I like to leave quite a few years between rereads, so I don't remember every detail. No one could forget the dog protagonist and his canine/feline romance, or Jack the Ripper as hero, or the Elder Gods, but I'd forgotten that the villain is a rural vicar and that it contains a fairly awesome Sherlock Holmes appearance.


cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (Default)


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