Sunday, June 24, 2007

Amantha the Tiger

Have you seen the website for the upcoming movie adaptation of The Golden Compass? It's both shameless and charming - beautiful Flash artwork with a host of features introducing viewers to Lyra's world -- explaining the basics for those who haven't read the books, while also flirting with old fans. For instance, you can take a personality quiz - no different than the thousands of others to be found on the Net, really - and discover what daemon you would have, had you been born in Lyra's world. (A daemon is the external soul, the physical manifestation of a person's soul in the form of a companion or familiar animal. One of our villains, for those who might be new to Philip Pullman, has a golden monkey for a soul.) The beauty of it is that at the end of the quiz you meet your companion, who leaps onto the screen in lifelike photographic verisimilitude, breathtakingly beautiful - along with code that you can embed in another site in order to import your daemon to a blog or online profile. I am deeply flattered to find myself paired with a tiger. I think I actually have more in common with a tree kangaroo, but a tiger is wonderful. Anyway, take the quiz - it's a million times more charming than most such quizzes - and peek around the website. The site itself is dazzling, the trailer is impressive (though very shameless - you will see why), and this certainly has me looking forward to the first film at Christmas. That, and - Tom Stoppard is writing the screenplay. Or I may just be praising the site because I'm flattered at the tiger. Still: this looks to be an exciting film.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Man with lobster claws - Denver Water

I will be away for the weekend for my brother's graduation, so I will leave a quick post before I go - driving through Denver recently, I have been noticing the billboards Denver Water has been coming up with, to illustrate that they "really know water." See the sample here. Isn't this brilliant? It definitely catches the consumer's eye, and of course in my own case it sparks long reflections and entire mini-narratives about what types of lives a mechanic with lobster claws or a water tester with tentacles might find and pursue. Perhaps some enterprising young writer ought to call Denver Water up and get the rights to start an anthology/contest of stories on that theme, so as to find out. I would, if I had more time. For now, we have this blog. Look at that advertisement - the keen focus of the man on his work, the immensity of the lobster claws balanced with their careful, almost delicate precision: this monstrosity has been gifted with the grace of a dancer. It's beautiful.

Corporate America is well aware of the power of wonder to draw a listener, delight, or shock someone into a wakeful attentiveness. Remember Microsoft's ad where the MSN butterfly weighs down one end of the seesaw, lifting the rhino on the other end into the air?


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Frog Prince

Bill Willingham's Fables series of comics may be old news to many of this blog's readers, but we've only just stumbled into it - by picking up a copy of 1001 Nights of Snowfall, a collection of fairy tale retellings and extensions - at times humorous, whimsical, tragic, nightmarish. The story "A Frog's-Eye View," for instance, begins with the princess' marriage to the frog prince. She and her prince find, however, that whenever the prince is excited or fearful, he pops back into his old froggish shape - as when he is told of his new wife's pregnancy:

"Good news, darling, I'm with child."
"Oh, joyous day! I-- ribbit"
"Oh dear, here we go again."

The story quickly takes a darker turn, however, which I will not spoil here for those readers for whom Willingham's Fables may be a surprise.

It is a worthwhile surprise. Told with remarkable wit and storytelling flair, the Fables address their fairy tales in the best of fairy tale tradition - using them to surprise, delight, and to confront the issues that bristle beneath our daily lives: the dysfunctionality of family, coping (or not coping) with trauma, and our knack for spinning tales to make meaning of our losses. I was especially delighted at Willingham's Snow.

Take a look at these extremely recent fairy tales, if you haven't already. And if you have, drop a quick comment here to let other readers know what you thought. We look forward to reading more of the series.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Northern Lights

Again by accident - through greeting cards - I have discovered an artist worth watching: Monte Dolack. Finding the elk with the candles made me step back: and oddly, it made me think of the (very) dark forests behind my parents' little country home when I was a child. I remembered how when the wind rushed through the trees it sounded like the world was being torn up by the roots and taken away, and I remembered the dead quiet in the hours before morning, with neither electric lights nor any hum and adrenaline of cars, heaters, air conditioners, PCs - only the silence and the beautiful violence of winter stars against the sky broken only by the occasional rustle of the attic or creak of the old house's timber. I kept myself wrapped tightly in afghans my mother made, and kept the windows a crack open during the cold February so that I could listen for when the goats would begin birthing out in the pasture. I don't know why the elk with the candles brought that back in a rush, but they did: at any rate I think it is the most beautiful painting I have seen this week, and the fact that I saw it on a greeting card (until recently, looking for greeting cards was always a haste and a hassle) is still a wonder to me. I will keep exploring to see in what unexpected venues one might find fantastical and revitalizing images, or a source of myth.

Fairy tales on greeting cards

I was recently lucky enough to stumble on a greeting card display that was dedicated to Tree Free's "mystical fantasy" series of greeting cards. I hope some of you have seen these too: the art is enchanting and the cards are blank - no trite messages scrawled inside. I had never thought to look for greeting cards as a medium for fairy tales, but take a look!

The image to the left is "Dreamkeeper" by Sheila Wolk, which startled me when I saw it on the shelf, for I had never seen a baby mermaid before, or even thought that such a thing might be. Yet how else do you populate an ocean with merpeople? And it is a very beautiful baby.

Or look at Maxine Gadd's "Pot O' Gold" with its unusually charming leprechaun; most of the artists whose work appears on the Tree Free cards provide surprising and wonderful work. Browsing these cards inspired me to start searching the Net for other greeting cards that depict or transform fairy tales.

I've found Francis Tyrell's site (, where the images have a storybook charm - here, for instance, are "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" and "The Princess and the Pea" -

Help me find more of these - post comments to tell where you have run into or know of other greeting cards that work through fairy tale or mythic images. I have a habit of buying greeting cards that I like and then never sending them; they sit propped open on my bookshelves as little reminders of wonder.