Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What storytellers should take away from Frozen, or, "Wait, did Disney just beat the original....?"

Yes. Yes it did.

As a person who had to listen to The Little Match Girl read aloud by her teacher year after year before Christmas, the name of Hans Christian Andersen to me is eternally bound to childhood emotional trauma. I have never cared for any of his stories (and I had all the picture books), and most of them just downright made me want to curl up in a ball and wail.

Okay, so I had my doubts when I heard that Disney was coming out with a Snow Queen movie.
Even after I heard that it has most of the creative team from Tangled.

I just watched the movie, braving throngs of excited children (ADORABLE) and pre-Thanksgiving-dinner stressed out mothers (LESS ADORABLE).
And as a traditional straight up "The Book is Always Better than the Movie" kinda Storyteller gal, I just have to suck it up and admit:
I am SOLD.

HERE BE SPOILERS I KID YOU NOT



Disney seems to have recognized two very important things:

1. Apart from their age-old princess image problem, the Disney princes, well, have always also kinda sucked. Especially the early ones. Girls need role models sure, but seriously, guys did not fare much better either. But Tangled and Frozen seem to have picked up something very important: Male characters also need character. And damn do they have one now.

2. Love alone does not a happy ending make. Princesses might be teenage girls of 16-18, but that doesn't mean that they will get married and live happily ever after.
Because what if the guy picks his nose?
All men do.
(Yes that was a reference)

And here is something else that I as a Storyteller need to suck up now:

As much as we like to wail on Disney, let's admit: That is exactly what the "fairy tale canon" tells the kids. There will be One person, One Love, AT FIRST SIGHT, and it will be magical and perfect and your braces won't get tangled and the guy won't be a jerk. You might stray and wander, but you will always come back to your Perfect Match in the end. Even if you have only known each other for a day.

I don't know about anyone else, but I am taking a second look at my repertoire as we speak.
(Snow White. Oops. Sleeping Beauty. Ouch. Cinderella. Yeeeah...)
I pride myself in telling folktales and fairy tales that are not well known at all, and it is still hard to find one where a person, especially a female hero, goes through (um) multiple men before finding the right one. It's no wonder, most of these stories were born in a different time.
Don't get me wrong. I have always cringed at the idea of "modernizing" folktales and fairy tales. I did not like the kind of "feminist" re-tellings where "Cinderella goes to college." I did not like them when I started storytelling, and I don't like them now.
But there are other kinds of tales out there. Many of them. about stories that end with achievements other than love and marriage. Stories that talk about sisterhood, and family, and adventure. Many of us are already telling many of them. We will just have to double down and make sure they are told often. Told well. And that they are heard.

Storytellers, seriously, do we want to let Disney beat us to a positive message?...

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Loki is not your Loki, and that's okay

Trickster has taken over the Internet, and is laughing out loud at all of us.
...
Of course I am talking about Loki. Geez, everyone's talking about Loki these days.

Thor: The Dark World is premiering worldwide, bringing along a renewed interest in Marvel comics, Norse mythology, and, most of all, a certain trickster so masterfully embodied by Tom Hiddleston that it gave birth to this gemstone of a meme:
I really tried not to go there, but as a storyteller a little voice (probably masculine with a Scandinavian accent) keeps needling the back of my mind: I liked Loki before it was cool.
My Loki is the Loki of Norse mythology. It's the Loki of the Lokasenna. It might not be Eric the Red's Loki, or Snorri's Loki, but it is the Loki I imagined as a kid when I first devoured my way through Norse mythology books like the Very Dorky Caterpillar. When I grew up to be a storyteller, the idea of Loki grew up with me. I have always had a thing for tricksters.

And then Thor came out followed by the Avengers and then Dark World, and now I hear people all over yelling at each other in text and in person, going "THAT IS NOT WHAT LOKI IS LIKE, YOU ARE TOTALLY WRONG."
In Corner A, you see Team Hipster Loki - People who, just like me, liked Loki long before it was cool. Straight from Norse mythology, or anyhow as close as you can get without reading Icelandic and living in the 10th century. They claim that Loki is a Trickster, a god, and an all-around complex character. They quote the prosaic and the poetic Edda, and make obscure clandestine jokes about horses and Mother's Day.
In Corner B, you find Team Marvel Loki - People who read comics and have been familiar with Loki Of The Cricket Helmet for a while now. They quote comics and comic authors, frown on Jane Foster, and hang up garlic to keep away the next group on the list, known as...
Corner C, or Team Loki Hiddleston - Here Be Fangirls. These are the people who have an interest in Loki as portrayed in the Marvel cinematic universe (Earth 199999, to be completely nerdy). This Loki is a villain and a fan favorite at the same time. Some people say he only needs a hug. Some people say he is an evil psychotic bastard but damn he is sexy. Some people say he is an unappreciated genius among spandex-sporting heroes. Some people don't say anything. They just squeal. It gets uncomfortable.

Now, here is the Law of All the Universes, people:

EVERYONE IS ENTITLED TO THEIR OWN LOKI.

Deal with it.

My Loki might only be my Loki, but as a storyteller, I know a few things about Tricksters. And one thing is sure: Whenever someone tries to define what a trickster is, things merrily meander off to hell in a neat little hand basket. The entire thing that is the Trickster thrives on breaking rules and definitions. And yet, people keep trying. I have heard and read arguments over whether or not Hiddleston Loki is a trickster or "just a villain." Seriously, if you have to question it, it is already decided.

One thing to note about Dark World: It has plot holes the size of Asgard, but they did Trickster right. If you don't believe that, refer to Cory O'Brien's handy Norse Crisis Flowchart on the left, summarizing the issue.

Trickster is an archetype. That means, everyone gets their own version of it, and that is just fine.
With that said, keep arguing. Keep talking about mythology, and tricksters, and stories. Most of all, keep fighting over Loki. I am sure he loves it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Universal declaration of children's rights to listen to stories

(This declaration in ten points has been circulating among Spanish and Latin-American storytellers for decades, and has been recently posted again by the Red Internacional de Cuentacuentos. I made an English translation so it can spread even further.)

1. Every child, regardless of race, language or religion, has the right to listen to the most beautiful stories of every nation, especially the ones that inspire their imagination and teach them critical thinking.

2. Children have every right to demand a story from their parents any hour of the day. Parents who refuse to tell stories to their children do not only commit a serious crime, but they also risk that the children will never ask for a story again.

3. Every child that for some reason does not have anyone to tell them stories has the right to ask any adult of their choice. The adult shall tell the stories with kindness and love, for that is how stories should be told.

4. Children have the right to listen to stories sitting on their grandparents' knees. The children who have four living grandparents can lend some of them to others who for some reason do not have any. Similarly, grandparents who do not have grandchildren have the freedom to go to schools, parks and other places with many children, and offer to tell as many stories as they want.

5. Every child has the right to know José Martí, Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Elena Fortún, Lewis Carroll, Carlo Collodi, Gloria Fuertes, María Elena Walsh, Frank Baum, J. M. Barrie, Dr. Seuss, and others.

(Every country gets to add their own authors and storytellers, so feel free to add to the list)

6. Every child has full rights to know all the myths, legends and folktales of their own country.

7. Every child has the right to invent and tell their own stories, or make their own versions of existing tales. In cases when children are primarily influenced by television, it is the adults' responsibility to lead them down the pathways of imagination and put good children's books into their hands.

8. Children have the right to demand new stories. Adults are obligated to continually provide these tales, their own or by others, with kings or without, long or short - all that matters is that they are beautiful and interesting.

9. The child always has the right to ask for one more story, or ask for the same story for the millionth time.

10. Last, every child has the right to grow up with Alice, Little Red and the wolf, Dorothy, Puss in Boots, Jack and the beanstalk, the 'happily ever after' and the 'Once upon a time', magic words that open up the gates of imagination, and fill childhood with the most amazing dreams.