The Princess in Black

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An occasional series of brief posts on the 2015 AML Award nominees.

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princess in blackIf you haven’t been reading Shannon Hale raging about the artificial walls we put between boys and books with princesses, you’re missing out on an important discussion. Me, I got this book (written by Shannon Hale and her husband Dean) to read it to my boys, ages five to eleven.

I sat next to my five-year-old and started reading it. He was sufficiently interested, but when I got to the line

But then, most princesses do not live near an entrance to Monster Land.

the other two ran over to follow along.

Middle son was reading Tintin so he would come over and leave and come over again, but when I finished reading it, the eldest was the first to respond to my what-did-you-think question with an enthusiastic positive.

In short, she’s doing a good job making the girl-half of the world boy-friendly.

As for the book, it’s very funny and charming and, simply, fun. It’s like a longer form (and wackier) version of the Ladybug Girl picture books (which, like the Princess in Black, set up room for a male sidekick). It’s also literalized—Princess Magnolia is an actual costumed hero; she’s not merely paying pretend. And the stakes are high. Goats will get eaten without the Princess in Black! Monsters are entering the her kingdom with goats on their mind!

I’m also fond of how Princess Magnolia is an actual cute little girl, including what I suppose we could call a bit of chub left in her cheeks. Sure her day job involves frills and tiaras and lots of pinkpinkpink, but she also kicks monster butt. And the character design and execution by LeUyen Pham makes that believable on both counts.

The story itself is not that innovative (can our hero save the day without having her secret identity compromised?) but the telling is a lot of fun.

It’s got a sequel headed to press; it’s been optioned, it’s inspired cosplay.

Sounds like a winner.

A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous

This image from the Mormon Artist interview with Shannon Hale. Click on over..

Something I haven’t talked about in the main posts on this novel (question, answer) is the nature of the aliens invading Earth and just what makes them so dangerous that Earth needs saving.

Here are their physical details:

They’re pink (if you can see them—and only the person with the Thinker token can see them).

They are repelled by gravity.

They “inhabit . . . and move through solid substances, just as humans can move only through gaseous or liquid environments” (314).

So why are they here? Based on the evidence, Maisie hypothesizes that they

“. . . [take] over all the human body’s functions. After people are possessed by the aliens, it looks like they mostly spend their time eating and seeking out adrenaline rushes.”

“Seriously?” said Luther.

“They’re here to enjoy physical bodies,” said Wilder.

What’s so interesting when doing a Mormon reading of Dangerous? These aliens sound like someone we know. And where Maisie wants to send them also sounds familiar:

“I think if the ship isn’t nearby to suck them back in, the ghostmen would keep floating right out of Earth’s atmosphere into space’s vacuum, where they’d be helpless. That’s where we want them.” (324)

But sending that third to Outer Darkness isn’t just a fun Easter egg. Some more serious and immediate questions come out of it. For instance, when Maisie speaks with one of the ghosts through its human avatar, it poses an interesting—and brutally stated—question:

“So . . . you’re hijacking humans in order to eat apples.”

He shrugged.

“You’re destroying people, taking away lives.”

“Now, now, all we take is your shell.”

“But what if the flesh of our bodies is the extent of our matter? What if you take our bodies and there’s nothing left?”

He seemed to have never considered the possibility. “Why would such a creature matter at all?” (309)

This basic theo/philosophical question haunts Maisie through the rest of the novel. When she risks her death, she simply does not know if there will be anything left of her should she fail:

I was too conscious of my mortality, I guess. . . . Who knew if there was a part of me that never ended, like the ghostmen themselves? I’d . . . found [outer] space. Maybe there wasn’t anything else to find. (372)

Later, plummeting back to Earth and certain that she will die:

My stomach hurt . . . my head pained to cracking, my muscles so tense I wondered if my skin would split open. . . . All I knew was fear and panic.

. . . Even battling terror like being strangled in slow motion, I wanted to experience it. This was life, these few minutes were all that I had left. I didn’t want to die halfway down. I wanted every single second I had left. (379)

Maisie does not know if she will “be sucked up into a God-touched place . . . . Or . . . simply cease to be” and that feels like “a catastrophic hole in [her] education” (380), but she has decided that regardless, this moment of mortality matters and that every single second she has left is worthy of her full attention and shall give her experience—which shall be for her good—whether she lasts another ten seconds or the fulness of eternity.

Of course, Mormon cosmology posits that ETERNITY is the accurate description, but we are a practical people who feel that the temporal world is important and thus we should experience each ten seconds with the same vigor with which we imagine eventual rewards.

Something like Maisie Brown.

 

====Shannon Hales :: Dangerous====

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (intro)
///// August 13, 2014 \\

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (post)
///// August 14, 2014 \\

A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous
///// August 15, 2014 \\

 

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (part two)

This image from the Mormon Artist interview with Shannon Hale. Click on over..

Yesterday, I talked about Shannon Hale’s apparent attempt to make a mainstream success of a novel staring a character who was not “white, male, able-bodied, straight, not too young . . . and not too old“—you know, what we all expect a protagonist to be here in these United States. We discussed the basics of the plot and posed this question:

Does Dangerous succeed at making us identify with Maisie Danger Brown, its home-schooled, geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan female protagonist?

Sure. Of course it does. Humans are humans, whatever, no problem. Maisie is fine and we, excepting Klansmen, like her as much as we would a white male two-armed protagonist.

But what’s interesting is how much the novel hedges its bets on our openmindedness—it seems to be a little lacking in confidence that the audience will accept her. Continue reading “Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (part two)”

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale?

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NOTE: This is a work of cultural and literary criticism, and not a review. Please adjust your expectations accordingly.

This image from the Mormon Artist interview with Shannon Hale. Click on over..

From Shannon Hale’s website,

When I was in the rewrite stage of Dangerous several years ago, a Smart Person read the first 50 pages and immediately let me know her concerns. She said, “Your main character is unrelatable. You made her a home schooled, science geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan.” Until this person said all that I had never thought it. I mean, of course I knew knew those things about her, but I’d never strung together all those adjectives in my mind, maybe because the decisions about her character came about piece-by-piece while writing the story, not all at once. . .  Continue reading “Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale?”

Whitney Middle Grades Finalists 2012

And I’m trying it again! This year I’m starting with this year’s brand new category: middle grades.

Two warnings and an acknowledgment before we start. First, be prepared for spoilers, since I can’t talk about books without talking about story and theme. Second, these are only my own thoughts as a private and opinionated reader. I encourage everyone to share their thoughts, whether in agreement with mine or not. And my acknowledgment that in many cases (though only one of the books in this category, interestingly), books were provided in PDF format by the publishers, for review by Whitney Academy members — a courtesy for which I’m most grateful.

Continue reading “Whitney Middle Grades Finalists 2012”

Interview with Shannon Hale: The Actor and the Housewife, Pt. Two

Part One may be found here.

Both Austenland and A & H tackle romantic fantasies and the nature of romantic comedies, their “grotesque mimicry of actual love (A & H 304).”  And when Becky tries to decide whether or not she could actually love Felix romantically, she writes a screenplay with a movie ending.  But the novel’s conclusion isn’t a “Hollywood ending.”  Did you feel that writing it the way you did was risky?

Oh sure. I knew some readers would be angry, and I was sorry for that, because I knew absolutely that the ending was the right one for this story. I think it goes back to genre–those who expected a certain ending might not be willing to go with me where I wanted to take the story. And this story just might not be a good fit for their sensibilities. That’s okay. I knew (was told) that the book would sell better if I made the Hollywood ending work, but for me that would have made the story pointless and been sheer betrayal of the characters. I try to do right by the characters. Continue reading “Interview with Shannon Hale: The Actor and the Housewife, Pt. Two”

Interview with Shannon Hale: The Actor and the Housewife, Pt. One

Shannon Hale is the author of several young adult novels–including Enna Burning (reviewed here), the Newbery Award winner The Princess Academy, and, most recently, Forest Born.  She has also published two adult novels, Austenland and The Actor and the Housewife. The latter provoked strong responses among Shannon’s readers, and no wonder.  It’s a bold work likely to twang nerves, even for those who like it.  I reviewed it for AMV here. As part of my impulse to explore and enjoy The Actor and the Housewife until sated, I invited Shannon to an AMV interview.  She graciously–and prodigiously–answered several questions in this two-part interview.

What artistic works have inspired you?

That’s a big question. I was raised on fairy tales, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Joan Aiken, etc. High school and college was mostly the “classics,” then grad school was literary fiction (living authors do exist!). After selling The Goose Girl, I discovered YA lit, and that makes up 50% of my reading material now. And then there’s music, movies, plays, visual art…hard for me to dissect it, but it all gets into my brain. Continue reading “Interview with Shannon Hale: The Actor and the Housewife, Pt. One”