Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fairy Tale Statues, Part II

In one of my earliest posts on this blog, I said that I was undertaking to collect a list of fairy tale/mythic/fantastic statues around the world. Here is another for the list - from the Forbidden City. Isn't it startling! A dragon in a turtle shell: I have not seen an image of the Asian lung portrayed so before, though, admittedly, I have also not been to the Far East, and it may be that this creature is more common than I would guess. To my western myopia, this dragon is majestic; the sculpture suggests both the sacred and the otherworldly, and there is also a tremendous vitality in the arching of the dragon's neck and the poise of its toes: this statue does seem very much as though it might start breathing and walking, without warning: moving with surprisingly swiftness across the courtyard, like a komodo across an open field. It is like the stone-turned people in the Witch's Castle in Narnia - a puff of breath, and they swing into motion. Now that I have shamefully exoticized this particular figure, I bow my head. I hope my astonishment gives no offense. I long to know more about the context for this sculpture: comment if you know. Certainly dragons carry tremendous and ancestral importance in China, but what is the particular and unique story behind this one?

I am fascinated by that shell....

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A fresh poem on the dragon

A few lines from "Beknighted" by Jennifer Jerome, published this summer by Goblin Fruit:

I wait for you. Your bright foil

flames in the sun. Ancient scales
glitter in this dark cave; I hold
fire in my belly, long tail
coiled around my body to keep
the heat until you come....

Please visit the journal Goblin Fruit for the full poem - it is sweetly brief, and the last two lines are profound, which is something one says these days more often of speeches or of Academy Award-nominated films than of poems. Not since Beowulf have I felt so freshly introduced to a dragon. The slow pondering watchfulness (yet eagerness!) of the dragon on its hoard, as the fire builds in its body; the sun burning on the armor of the approaching knight.... Not that we haven't heard tales before from the dragon's perspective, but there is something vital and very true about this one. Sung from the wyrm to the knight, the poem is almost a love song, or almost a hunger song: perhaps those two are not always different. I love the first line: I wait for you.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fresh Gleanings from Deviantart

Have I mentioned how much I love Deviantart? It has thrown open so many doors for the sharing of wild, unprisoned, sometimes young imaginations. I find myself addicted to browsing there for mythical images and outbursts of ideas in color and pencil and photo. Here are a few that have recently caught my eye, and that I wanted to share - if you like them, please take a look at the artists' other work.

The first (above) is by the artist known on Deviantart as xlagartixax, and depicts the "selkelions," the artist's inspired tinkering with the selkies of Irish folklore. One of the fans on Deviantart quite rightly commented in admiration that this looks like an illustration in a children's book. It does! It makes me think of the wild beasts I concocted when I was eight. I miss those creatures! The winged tarns that would hunt my brother and I as we ducked between trees in the woods behind the pasture, or the otter-dolphin creature, the binen that would dash underwater down the creek faster than sound or sight. I love what this picture captures.

The other two here are from tavari's work, one an Artemis and the other an Emerging Deva. It was easy for me to say what I liked about the sea cats: they remind me of the buoyant inventiveness of childhood and the always nearness of wonder. It is more difficult for me to describe in words what I love about tavari: I am no art critic. But I post these here because I think them very worth sharing. This Artemis is not the sweating, racing through dark trees under moon, bowstring taut, vengeful and furious-at-Actaeon Artemis that I would imagine, yet in her calm and in the lightest halo about her outline, there is something indeed goddess-like, and the picture calms the soul. In Emerging Deva there is light, apotheosis, and maybe the same breathlessness Botticelli had in painting The Birth of Venus, and oh, the glorious color of those wings! Presumptuous, I have asked God many times in my prayers if it was not a terrible oversight that we homo sapiens were not created with wings. He has not seen fit to gift me with any yet. But I look at this painting and I am at once filled with mindshaking awe at its light and its glow and its poise, and at the same instant with an envy that runs deep. Tavari is worth watching.

Friday, August 10, 2007

So what did you think of Stardust?

(Spoilers included) (photo copyright Paramount Pictures)

Several of our editors saw Stardust tonight, and I doubt that we will all be in accord. For my own part, I began the movie skeptical - much of the charm of the book was lost, such as the beautiful transformations and witty enlivenings of old rhymes ("How many miles to Babylon?" or "The lion and the unicorn"). I began skeptical, but the movie won me over before long - with its wit, its swashbuckling flair, its wild balancing act between outrageous humor and poignancy. The half hour aboard ship that was added entirely out of nowhere - certainly not out of the book - is a perfect example: the poignancy of the star dancing on deck, shining gloriously with the heat of love in her heart, and the wild humor of Robert DeNiro as Captain Shakespeare, dancing in a frilly dress. DeNiro looked as though he was loving the part. There were so many wonderful scene-stealing moments, witty lines, and dashes of imagination. The lightning-ship spreading its net-wings is an image I will not soon forget. I can forgive the film for leaving out the dwarf, the rhymes, and for adding an extended battle in the witches' house and take the film for what it is: a different rendition of the fairy tale than the book was: extravagant, dashing, humorous, fun. Perhaps not as profound as the book - but the movie had me slapping my knee and laughing so hard and had my adrenaline rushing fast enough at other moments, that I didn't really mind. All that really irritated me was the voiceover at the start: that was a bit much. It takes a rare director to pull off a successful voiceover. This one didn't.

Some of my fellow editors at Dante's Heart will probably loathe the film (I already know what one in particular will say). I don't. I was too touched by the way the star began to glow and burn as she danced with her love on the deck of a ship sailing thousands of feet over the earth in a moonlit sky. It may be that I have given in, lowered my expectations of Hollywood, and traded (at least for this one evening) a priceless diamond for a gaudier gem, but ah! how that gem shines in the candlelight! The Stardust film has seduced me, and though the flaws of the film are glaring and pretty atrocious, and though I am sure some of the critics, at least, will slaughter the movie with their pens, I have to admit without embarrassment that I have not had this much fun at the cinema in a long time. This fairy tale, Stardust: go see it.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Fairy Tale Art of MBoulad

I wanted to quickly introduce our readers to the artist known as Mboulad, an Australian digital painter who has been exhibiting her work on deviantart for some time. There is a vibrant inventiveness and delight in her paintings - such as we find in the best old illustrations in books of fairy tales - but there is nothing childish in the paintings. The one to the right is based on the tale of Thumbelina, and the one below bears the wonderful title, Answer: They Grow Underground. In her commentary on the piece, Mboulad posted: "Question: Where do baby fairies come from?"

This, from the artist who said of one of her earlier works: "When I started digtal painting I swore I wouldn't paint any fantasy type stuff. Oops. It just sorta happened."

Definitely take a look at her gallery at deviantart: aren't these paintings delightful? They make me think of the best things about all the stories that were read to me when I was little. And if there is something disturbing about Thumbelina's troubled expression or the frog's fascination, well, there was definitely something disturbing in the Grimm story as well. In the hands of another artist, these pictures might be cute. In the hands of Mboulad, they are delightful and somehow full of insight, though one must glance twice to catch it.

These fairies, by the way, remind me of the legend of the barometz, or vegetable lamb - does anyone remember it? I think the vegetable lamb appeared in Topsell's Natural History in the early seventeenth century: a plant that instead of bearing a blossom, bore a bleating lamb instead. I saw a wonderful picture of one in a book when I was a child, and was so enchanted that I told a whole series of stories about a town of pixies high in the mountain valleys; they raised crops of vegetable lambs up there.

Raising my glass to Mboulad....

Unnerved by the Toadstool Farm

I rarely write negative reviews, and I don't mean this to be one - only a question. Occasionally I will google "fairy" just to see what comes up (it's like tossing a crabpot out into the fjord). Today, "My Fairy Baby" came up. It is one of the services/products offered by the Toadstool Farm: they will photograph (or paint) your baby with attached fairy wings, gauze, etc. I have to ask: is anyone else as disturbed by this as I am? This isn't celebrating an aspect of the baby, it's using the baby - like dressing a cat as Little Bo Peep. Except this isn't a cat.

Today I simply cannot put my finger on what is unnerving to me about this. And it may be that My Fairy Baby is actually cute and adorable, and I am missing the point somewhere. Interestingly, I find myself not unnerved by the advertised pictures of twelve-year old children with wings, but for some reason the baby troubles me. I thought I would ask for comments so that I can question this particular application of fairy tale in our culture, and gather the perspectives of others.

Connie Toebe's Boxes

Take a look, when you have the chance, at Connie Toebe's boxes, which reveal but barely contain fascinating and haunting dreamscapes. The pictures here are of the boxes called "Scheherezade," exterior and interior of "13 Days of Stolen Secrets," and "The Passenger." Her website includes galleries of 40 boxes. My own favorite, though I have not shown an image of it here, is "Night Visitors to the House of Solitude."

To me there is an eldritch quality to these boxes, a sense that the spectators both within and without the boxes are not quite safe from a beautiful or chilling eruption of wonder into their orderly rooms. Branches and strange objects twine about unstrange furniture. There is no true containment, no true boxing of our lives. Yet on second glance we realize that the images we see depict the uncanny vegetation of our own mind and psyche; as we are drawn to these images with both gasps of wonder and unease, we are driven to reflect on our own habitats, our own boxes, filled with what we consider ordinary enough furniture, filled also with the weavings and windings of bizarre and sometimes nightmarish growths that we ourselves have seeded there and tended, yet which we try to ignore. Toebe's boxes are fourth-dimensional, for we see images of spaces that erupt into the three-dimensional boxes from elsewhere, as well as images that are terribly suggestive of the uneven pressures and gaps of time. "13 Days of Stolen Secrets," from the outside, looks homey and houselike enough, if a little brooding - but on the inside, it stands revealed as no tamed, 3D space. Of which of our homes and boxes is this not the case?

Take a closer look at these unsettling boxes. I feel that I have given only a most imperfect suggestion here of what Connie Toebe has made.

Cobweb Forest

I confess I have come to Through the Cobweb Forest belatedly, but in case a few of our gathering readers are in the same position, I thought I would add a post about it here, as Cobweb is certainly not to be missed: to me, this is one of the most exciting artworks currently in progress, of those touching on the realms of faerie. In the form of a Flash multimedia presentation, comprising music, letters that scroll, video, and images both static and kinetic - I need to stop there and start the sentence again, as it sounds a little as though I am describing someone beautiful by telling that she comprises liver, kidney, pancreas, or rather, that she comprises hat, purple coat, shoes. I try again. Cobweb Forest is a beautiful poem/artpiece, very Victorian, very fantastical, and as a compelling tale it chronicles Helena's jumping offship while en route to her husband and her journey deep into the Cobweb Forest. Fragments of journal entry and letters to her still distant husband tell of her trials, her dreams by day and by night, and her awakenings. The project is a collaboration between the already well-established artists Connie Toebe, whose "boxes" are at once gothic, enchanting, and sometimes horrific, and Lisa Stock, who has developed some haunting independent films. To say nothing of the musician.

I will not include any quotes here from Cobweb, for reason that Cobweb is a journey of discovery as few other works are, tempting you with each click or scroll to pull another branch or fern from across your vision and take another step. But I did want to draw attention to the project, and suggest that it would be a terrible negligence not to go lose yourself in the forest for many hours. Since reading about the orchard of glass in the first letter, I have been hooked. This is a tale told with delicacy, wild creativity, and high spirit.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Like tears in rain

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

From the last death scene in Bladerunner. I just saw that again, first time in years.

Post a comment and share the quote that means the most to you, most recently, from a work of fantasy or fairytale. Let's make a collection together, a wunderkammern of curiosities and moments. We must keep passing such passages on, lest they be lost in time. Such poetry is our defense against the dark.