Monday, October 24, 2011

A Lord of the Rings Marathon

My oldest daughter indulged in a Lord of the Rings (LOTR) marathon (and yes, she also read the books, but everyone in the family likes the aesthetics of the movies, and I have 2 editions of LOTR with  annotations, so shush about movie vs. book; we just enjoy).

The running comments were mostly about filmmaking. And then about whether it would have been possible to include some omitted elements of the books into the movies, and how, and whether the alternative/compromise was acceptable.

No, we didn't come to any final conclusion. What would be the fun in it? We reserve the right to continue the discussion.

But once again I had the thought that LOTR the movie is a variant of LOTR the story. And that in the end, Tolkien would have approved.

Because Tolkien wished to create an Anglo-Saxon mythology, a creation story similar to the Greek myths or the Mesopotamian epics. He would have enjoyed how readers absorbed his tale and started re-telling it in their own words (or images).

Anything that doesn't have ONE fixed AUTHOR and one FIXED, PUBLISHED, and CANONICAL text begets an infinity of variants -- and still somehow manages to remain the SAME STORY. Changes in words. Changes in emphasis on details. Changes in the length of scenes or chapters. Even to the omission of certain scenes or chapters, depending on the preference of the storyteller -- or of the audience. Or, in our case, of the medium. Peter Jackson didn't really make up anything. He merely borrowed from other stories of Tolkien's world to fill out his movie-space. Just like a storyteller of old would have borrowed from a tradition at large to expand a story for an eager audience -- and to earn himself a couple extra drinks.

It's something that students in my folklore courses always have some trouble grasping: the fluidity of folkloric texts. But it's also something that makes it possible for me to enjoy a movie based on a book -- assuming that the director managed to show what I saw in that story.

And it's a tall order.

LOTR the Book
and Jackson's movie are the Same Story -- but told by different storytellers. I can handle that -- after all, I spent months and months as a graduate student reading variants of the same songs as told by different singers and collected by different collectors.

Repetitive? Yes and no.

The differences emphasize what both storytellers and listeners (viewers, readers) considered important. The LOTR movie trilogy wouldn't have been so successful if it hadn't hit on the high points of Tolkien's mythology, on what resonated with today's audience.

The similarities between the different tellings reveal the bare skeleton, the pure core of the story. And that is what we want to hear, that is what we don't ever want to change. That is what echoes throughout all cultures and throughout the world.

Because that skeleton is elementally human. And that, in the end, is why we love Tolkien.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A review! A review!

Linda Black wrote a delightful children's book titled The Adventures of Boots: The Giant Snowball and I was asked to the the illustrations as one of the Willow Moon Publishing artists. And now it has received a glowing review.

I must say it was fun work. Which doesn't mean it was shake-a-finger-at-it-easy, that wouldn't have been interesting.

No, it really was fun. Before I started work on Linda's book, I hadn't done much in the way of toony images. I tended to lean toward the serious, realistic, and sometimes grave.

But with Boots, it had to be playful and childlike. And so I discovered and learned a lot of new skills and new ways of looking at things while I worked on Boots.

Thank you, Linda, for the opp

Now I have a whole new world to play in.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Savvy Authors - The Art of Storytelling by Masha Holl

I'm making an appearance at Savvy Authors today, talking abut story as always. And myths and legends and heroes of yore... My usual stuff.

Savvy Authors - The Art of Storytelling by Masha Holl

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Small Gesture

Nice things people do... and a blog post here reminded me of another unusual act by a random big-city person, that time in Paris (yes, indeed, France).

I must have been coming back from classes at University, else why would I have been trudging through the streets at rush hour, with a heavy book bag and dressed in nice clothes?

It was in my own neighborhood, so I tended to navigate by radar, and I stepped off the curb to cross a busy street... Out went an arm and blocked my way.

Just in time to prevent me from being run over by one of the ever-speeding Parisian drivers.

I don't remember who the fellow pedestrian was. A man, anonymous -- even in my own neighborhood I hardly knew anyone. There were just too many people, and too many people moving in and out, even stores changing owners much too often. A man who was paying attention and who cared enough to stop me from becoming just another casualty.

There were a lot of us waiting at the light to cross the street. A lot of people surrounding me, but only one noticed my absentmindedness. Whoever you were, you haven't been forgotten, and your kindness has been retold now and again as proof that people are essentially nice and caring.

It's not like I was a little girl, or a stunning beauty, or remarkable in any way. No, we just happened to be side-by-side. It was a small gesture on his part. He may not remember that day, but I do. Very much so.

And when I can, I try to pass it on. Because it was such a nice thing to do.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Folktales and Tradition

We don't grow up much on traditional tales anymore.

The old standbys, Goldilocks, Snow-White, Sleeping Beauty, we know them better from cartoons than from the actual, original stories. A lot is lost in the translation from Traditional Storytelling to modern rendition. The folklorist in me, who favors the old tales and ancient epics, laments the loss.

The folklorist in me also looks at the "new versions" and realizes that a new Tradition is being created for a new era, where reading, and especially reading for leisure, is taken for granted; where one doesn't need to travel miles and miles to see a show, but can call it up on one's TV at the press of a button.

It is bad or good? Better or worse? A folklorist doesn't pass judgment. It's for politicians and social activists. A folklorist observes: this is how it is. A folklorist may comment on the changes and the rise of new traditions, but a folklorist doesn't pass judgment.

How about the person who is also a folklorist? That person cannot be fully objective. Writers know that the emotional response will determine the choice of words, of rhythm, of other writing strategies that are mostly unconscious, even in non-fiction and in the spoken word.

Me, I prefer traditional tales. I teach about them, I share them whenever I can. It's my thing. However, I don't see the modernized versions as the product of evil manipulation. Like the old tales, the modern, televised, comic-ized, cartoonized tales based on old stories, are a Tradition in that is it shared by a group of people, and the sharing creates a bond of familiarity. It's not the village square anymore, where the Minstrel stops to sing about Saint George and the dragon.

It's TV, and then Social Media, and the function of the tale remains: to define a group, a community, those who are in the know and those who are not.

Consider this: an immigrant into the United States today will not feel truly at home in the larger American society until he becomes familiar with icons of pop culture. Not a fan, just familiar.

Everybody knows Bugs Bunny. And Disney. And if you're completely unaware of these two (as an example), then you will miss out on a lot of hints, references, and especially humor.

And that is Tradition: things that define a group and unifies it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It's not all fun and games in computer art

If you keep making corrections on a paper-and-pen drawing, you can end up with an eraser-rubbed hole. Or a mess of a dark smudge. Either way, you crumple up your paper and start over, because obviously, you weren't getting anywhere.

You'd think you'd be immune to this with computer art. Piece by piece, you can create the components of an image, like a collage (whichever way to go about creating these pieces, and that's not the point of today's post). And then you can put together the disparate elements, move here, tweak there, adjust elsewhere... Correct the angle of the light, and the reflection, and...

You'd think it gets easy once you have everything in place and all you have to do is a final render, and then take a look at the finished image in a "normal" format such as JPG or PNG or some other ordinary image format.

And you'd be wrong. You may not know it, but your computer is plotting against you. It's already damaged your "paper" and worn down your "pencil" so when you hit , what you get is a jumbled mess.

Can you control this? Oh yes. It's a skill, just like using a pencil that's sharpened enough, but not too much. Applying pressure, but without marking the paper until the next three sheets in the pad become unusable.

And the conclusion? Not much. My image got scrapped.

So I'm back to the cartoony illustrations of Russian tales. One in the pipeline and almost ready for publication, and a few more to go to make a dozen.

Take a sneak peak at the Tale of the Turnip.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Show&Tell Workshop Starts Friday

I've been having lots of fun doing workshops for Savvy Authors. Friday, I'm starting my next one, on Showing and Telling. As always, I try to make it both lecture-full and hands-on, so that every attendant can get something out of it.

And yes, when I say hands-on, I do mean I respond to all posts, and I do go over the assignments, and if you join in and wish to challenge me, I'm always game. I don't grade, I don't judge, and I don't assess. I do, however, suggest what I think could help you given my experience as writer, teacher, and literary scholar.

But mostly, I have FUN. I love workshops. I started them because I missed the in-class time I had with my college students. But at the same time, online and out of the formal university structure, I have the freedom to teach and share whatever I want -- you're the judges of whether it's good or not.

So if you're like me, and you've been puzzled by the advice to "show, don't tell," check out my workshop.

Because why do you think it started out to begin with?

I needed to put the information into order, and what better way than to attempt to explain it to someone else. If you can make sense of it (whatever it is) so that a third person can grasp the essence of the problem, then you know you understand it yourself.

Teaching is the best of learning. And I've taught this workshop more than once. But you know what? Teaching it is like taking a refresher. Knowing and understanding the ins and outs of Showing, Not Telling is not enough. You have to practice it constantly and consistently to truly master it.

... Now I have to remember ALL the OTHER details of writing a story. Like sentence structure. And avoiding pot... I mean, plot holes...