Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fairy tale Art by Stephanie Holmes

It is hard to choose another artist every time, when there are so many wonderful artists out there. I can watch for hours at my lists with names and change my mind a hundred times before actually picking one of them.

After going through this little 'ritual' I finally made up my mind and decided I would like to show you the work of a very young and talented artist named Stephanie Holmes. I think most of you would adore her work, as her style is very similar to those wonderful, old fairy tale book illustrations. Yet, her work is a bit more modern, the colours she uses are brighter, and there is a very loose and dreamy feel to it.

In the picture shown below the artist has given her version of the tale 'Golden Bird' by the brothers Grimm. For those who are not familiar with this fairy tale you can read the complete story here.

I always enjoy to look at how artists translate fairy tales and myths into artwork. Though I must say that I am always surprised to see how the fairy tales of Grimm are most of the time painted and drawn so lightly, happy and carefree, while these stories have a very dark undertone and can even be sinister at times. Also Germany itself, with its dark almost haunted woods and its rough landscape, is hard to compare with these sweet interpretations given to us by these artists.

That being said, I do love these kind of works. And Stephanie Holmes has managed to create a world in which most of us would gladly wander around, something we can not say about most of the original stories collected by the brothers Grimm.

Art is a wonderful way to pass on these stories and I hope there will always be artists like Stephanie Holmes to keep re-telling them and to amuse us with their wonderful art, giving us a glimpse of long forgotten times.

You can find more of her works here and here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Terri Windling's "Feline Folklore"

Happy Thanksgiving to our readers in the U.S.! Just before the holiday, I thought I would give everyone a link to a wonderful, brief article I have found on Feline Folklore. The article is by Terri Windling, author of The Wood Wife and co-editor of the former Journal of Mythic Arts, which we miss. The article is a wonderful tracing of cat lore across cultures and centuries, from the early associations of the cat with the mother goddess to recent retellings of fairy tales by such luminaries as Jane Yolen and others. Someone had asked on Sur La Lune if anyone knew of a fairy tale in which a human princess gives birth to kittens, and that set me on the track.

I offer the first paragraph of Windling's essay here, and I hope you will read the whole article:

A friend of mine once dreamed that she was in the throes of giving birth — not an unusual dream for a woman to have, but in this case instead of a human child, she gave birth to a litter of kittens. "Were you frightened?" I asked. "Not at all," she replied. "In fact, strange as it sounds, it was quite a lovely experience." I thought of my friend when I read Laurie Kutchin's poem "Birthdream," published in The New Yorker: "This time I had given birth to a child with a remarkable tail. Part animal, part girl. . . . I held her briefly in my arms, stroked her tail before we parted, her eyes nursing the dark moons. . . ."

Also, if you know of other tales in which a human mother gives birth to kittens, please visit Sur La Lune and add your knowledge to their message board. The only other tale I have been able to find is an Indian folktale, Roshni's Feast, in which a child is exchanged for a kitten in the cradle.

If you don't know of Sur La Lune already, it is a wonderful site that includes both a thriving message board devoted to fairy tales, and an online encyclopedia of fairy tales. So very worth checking out.

The painting above is Gertrude Jekyll's nineteenth-century Puss in Boots.

Editor, Dante's Heart

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Teen Vampires, a story told over and over

Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives by Ellen Schreiber and illustrated by REM is a manga sequel to Schreiber’s Vampire Kisses book series. It is as predictable as the genre demands. A goth high school student in a small town with a vampire fetish falls in love with a cheer, but night loving guy. Miracle of Miracles, he’s a vampire, all creaming on the inside and brooding on the outside. He’s Angel from Buffy, and Edward for Twilight, this time named Alexander from the vampire capital Romania. A nice twist is that Alexander, a night loving blood sucking guy ages. So as the main character, Raven, ages he does too. If you want fluff with little originality, and adequate images the story is okay.

The plot is typical too; bad vampires from Alexander’s past come and threaten Raven’s fairytale happiness. There is the stereotypical best friend and her boyfriend subplot. But other than that nothing really goes on.

I give it a 1.5 out of 5.

Looking for a good vampire tale,
J.R. The Raccoon

Friday, November 21, 2008

Time to Create a Mammoth?

According to an issue of The New York Times from this week, geneticists have now decoded the genome for an extinct mammoth, and if given a $10 million grant, they now have the ability to recreate a mammoth:

There are talks on how to modify the DNA in an elephant’s egg so that after each round of changes it would progressively resemble the DNA in a mammoth egg. The final-stage egg could then be brought to term in an elephant mother, and mammoths might once again roam the Siberian steppes.

I post this here because this is wondrous, fascinating, and certainly shouldn't be ignored. The mammoth has long held a special place in the Western imagination. Larger than any living elephant, with tusks arcing toward an ice age sky, and reeking of pine and spruce.... The thought of these animals lumbering across a winterland brings to mind all of our past century's hero myths about the cave man triumphing over adverse nature in a world without city lights or roads.

But what would it mean, to engineer things so that an elephant mother birthed a mammoth infant? Would this be a beautiful thing? A horrific thing? Playing God? A gift to the earth, bringing back something it had lost? A means of restitution for our extermination of so many species, a potential key to turning back the clock on the demise of biodiversity? An ecological absurdity? A triumph? What are your thoughts?

Additional food for thought: according to The New York Times, the same genetic procedure is theoretically possible -- indeed imminently possible -- with the Neanderthal. As the Times columnist remarks dryly:

...but there would be several ethical issues in modifying modern human DNA to that of another human species.

No kidding.

That said, what would it mean, to be able to bring back another human species out of extinction? They are gone. Completely. Never did we or anyone we can remember have the chance to converse with one of them.

Suppose geneticists did bring back the Neanderthals. What kind of world would they have, to live in? What would it be like for a human mother to raise a neanderthal child?

This boggles the mind. My own thought is that it is far, far too big for us, and that some things -- such as extinctions -- cannot ever be truly undone, without causing greater wreck. But I may be entirely wrong. The thought of where genetics could take us in the 21st century is indeed too big for my mind to grasp. Someone else here must unriddle this mystery.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Beautiful Art Dolls by Alba Garcia

Today I would like to share with you the work of a very talented doll-maker named, Alba Garcia.
I absolutely adore dolls and puppets and thus keep a close eye at doll artists all over the world. So, I am a bit a shamed to admit that I have only recently discovered the work of Alba Garcia.
When I first stumbled upon her work I was completely overwhelmed by all those little details captured in the faces of these dolls. The expression in their eyes and the attitude of the bodies are so lively and elegant.

Below you can see a picture of one of her dolls, a troll-like creature. To give you a good idea on how detailed these dolls are I have also added a close-up of it's face, so you can see for yourself
how stunning these dolls really are.

I think you would very much enjoy visiting her gallery, as her dolls are a real treat for people who love mythical and fairy-like creatures.

You can visit her website here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Arnold Schwarzenegger does Hamlet

While surfing YouTube recently I found a beautiful "tribute to Shakespeare in film" that I wanted to share:

The music, if a bit oddly chosen, is Patrick Doyle's setting of Non Nobis from Kenneth Branagh's film, Henry V. What I like about this tribute: its nostalgia, its passion, its equal-opportunity drawing upon scenes from Shakespearean adaptations in cinema from many decades of the past century. The only thing missing is perhaps Orson Welles' quirky grin in his portrayal of Falstaff in Chimes at Midnight. But ah, so many moments! The setting of the wild hat on the king's head in Ran, the Japanese Lear...that in particular made me sit up straight. What a remarkable century it has been, for both Shakespeare and cinema! And this YouTube clip is a moving testament to the enduring cultural power of the myth of the Bard.

And then, browsing the "related links," I happened to find this, something I had seen before with some glee. It is a scene from an otherwise unremarkable film, The Last Action Hero, in which a middle school child watching Olivier's Hamlet in class grows impatient with Hamlet's hesitation in the carrying out of his revenge, and begins to imagine what Hamlet would be like if only his own favorite actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, were given the title role. What follows is a fantastically over-the-top parody. I enjoy Douglas Lanier's analysis of the scene in his book, Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture. Lanier points out that it is not entirely clear what is being parodied. Is this a parody of Hamlet? Or is it a parody of Shakespearean adaptations in film, of the studios' idea of an "action-packed" Hamlet? Or is the joke on us, the viewing audience, and the expectations that we bring to drama and cinema? In any case, as the voiceover starts to intone, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark...and Hamlet is taking out the trash!" it is great and horrible fun. Enjoy!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Mary Rose and the Woolly Rhino

Although they may appear to share nothing in common, other than appearing on the BBC News, today's stories about Henry VIII's stalwart warship, the Mary Rose, and the ancient woolly rhino do both inhabit that niche of history captured by imagination and legend. In a very modern reading, it has been determined that the great warship's demise was "spun" by the monarchically-influenced news pathways of its day from a rather demoralizing end to something more palatable (if, indeed, the "Navy's supremacy" was more fully assured by its harboring of "an incompetent crew" rather than its destruction by the French):

Henry VIII's flagship Mary Rose was sunk by a French cannonball and this was covered up by political spin, according to a new academic study.

Until now it was believed a combination of wind and tide pressed Mary Rose over, causing her gun ports to flood in a 16th Century battle in the Solent.

But University of Portsmouth geographer Dominic Fontana said the truth was withheld to maintain the Navy's image.

Mary Rose sank with the loss of more than 400 lives on 19 July 1545.

By claiming the ship was toppled by wind and an incompetent crew, the Navy's supremacy was maintained, Henry VIII's pride remained intact and the French were unable to claim victory, said Dr Fontana.

Dr Fontana's research will be featured in What Really Sunk the Mary Rose on The History Channel on 24 November.

It just shows that today's spin may become tomorrow's "what really happened" tell-all.

Today's story of the woolly rhino discloses the amazing fact that

The 460,000-year-old skull of a woolly rhino, reconstructed from 53 fragments, is the oldest example of these mighty, ice age beasts ever found in Europe.

In addition, the wonder of this find is that the fragments, uncovered in Germany in 1900, survived not only the natural and man-made forces standing against them but the catastrophic 20th-century wars, to be reconstructed now. Surely, this ancient giant resides in our imagined menagerie of legendary creatures!

Images of Beowulf: Part 1

I have decided to do a mini series on Beowulf. I’d almost like to think of it as a thank you to Daniel, the Editor in Chief, but then again maybe not. He was the first and only person to ever read me Beowulf in its’ original old English. The Beowulf to be the focus of this article is a story by Stefan Petrucha, illustrated by Kody Chamberlain. In this case, I will spend less on the story, which is a translation and comic-fication (I totally made that word up... oh well if Shakespeare can do it), and more on the illustrations.

Beowulf, “the world’s first—and greatest—hero,” boasts the cover of the comic book. Of course this is incorrect, since Beowulf is neither the first nor in my opinion the greatest hero in the World. Gilgamesh and Inanna (a heroine, so she may not count as evidence) are much older than Beowulf. The many heroes in the bible predate Beowulf, as the Beowulf story directly references Cain, son of Adam. Personally, I hate Beowulf, so “greatest” in my opinion is really debatable. I’d argue he is not even close to the greatest. However, Beowulf is one of the earliest English stories. It is a reflection of culture and a by-product of oral tradition. All of that I respect, if not personally enjoy. Petrucha and Chamberlain take Beowulf one-step farther and translate it into images.

The basic story is kept close to other translations. The new and unique component is the images, and the life to the story that each panel brings. The depictions of Grendel are predictable; green and slimy. Grendel’s Mother is no different really, just larger and more grotesque. There are no features on Grendel’s Mother that would make her appear feminine. An interesting choice, considering the tale has clearly given her a gender. Why would the artist choose to ignore her femininity? Do monsters lose gender? Of course, I am of the belief that Grendel’s Mother is not a monster, but a woman grieving over a lost child. The story allowed for a grieving mother, but the images do not.

Beowulf himself reminds me of the 2000’s animated “Justice League Unlimited.” He is built of the same artistic style as a few years earlier, and could have easily been the Green Arrow, Oliver Queen. Since the comic is copy-righted 2007, it surprises me. Styles do not stay the same very long. He is the only character with a lot of detail in the face. No other character of the human variety gets as much attention. Since it is his tale, it was a good choice.

Finally, Scott A. Keating, in charge of color, brilliantly adds tones of orange and brown. Green is expertly used to show the monsters and their home. The waters and swamps vary in shade, but are always green, dark and murky. They are ideally representing the unknown. The land around the humans is orange and yellow, desolate in a way. The terrorized people are painted in a lifeless shade. The sun is permanently setting it seems, leaving the story in a luminal place (though the story takes us into night, the images never really do).

While there are artist choices I disagree with, the overall comic is beautiful. And if you enjoy the story, I suggest reading this comic.

Overall rating 4 out of 5.

Keep Reading,
J.R West the Raccoon

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Is this thought Sequitur?

I often use Non Sequitur to brighten my day, but on one day, the ninth of November, I found this lovely tidbit. The magic turtle appears here and there throughout many myths. The turtle is old and wise. That fact is less myth considering the lifespan of sea turtles and even the Galapagos Turtles. Turtles are steady, turtles win the race. They are islands, and in Siam the world rests of the back of a turtle.

However Non Sequitur raises an interesting point. In stories where magical creatures need help, why do they need help? If a creature can grant wishes how do they get into such a predicament? How do magic fish get caught? All the legends tell us if we catch magical creatures we get wishes, but do we want the weakest of the magical group to grant wishes that could go haywire? Just a though.

By the way notice I leave the last panel alone. I’m not touching that with a ten foot pole on a blog. I know better than that.

Find Comic Here:

That's all for now,
J.R. West the Raccoon

Monday, November 10, 2008

Basia Konczarek

Today I will feature the work of a 25 year old Polish artist named Basia Konczarek. I am secretly admirering her work from a distance for quite some time now. So I thought it would be nice to introduce you all to her wonderful art. It must have been a couple of months ago when I first saw her work on Deviant Art, an online community for artists of all kind. I was immediately caught by the deep and intense colors and by the mystery which seemed to surround all of her work.

Below you can see one of her works, one of my own favorites, called; Amanita Muscaria.

Looking at her gallery you will get the feeling you are entering another world where fairy tales are no longer a story but become reality to the viewer. I'm quite sure that many of you will fall in love with her work. Most of her works are richly detailed, depicting enchanting scenes which really suggest a story to the mind.

And if you lose your heart, like I did, it might be nice knowing that she also takes commissions. Hopefully someday I will be the proud owner of one of her works as well....

You can pay a visit at her gallery here

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Good-bye my dear Doctor

David Tennant was the tenth Doctor on the British television show Doctor Who. The show is the longest running television show ever, with the immortal character of the Doctor. He lives forever by regenerating into a new incarnation with each death. The Doctor is a modern (alien) phoenix. Instead of rising from ashes and flame, he uses cosmic energy to regenerate. The tenth doctor (the doctor for the last three series) has announced that he is leaving the show, leaving a gap for the eleventh doctor.

Now while Doctor Who is often considered Sci-fi, the tenth doctor has also delved into the land of fantasy and myth. In his second episode as the Doctor ("Tooth and Claw"), he and his companion encounter werewolves in the Victorian age. In "The Impossible Planet and Satan Pit," the origins of the Devil mythos are explained and expanded. During his second season in "Shakespeare's Code," witches are explained with a scientific twist using Shakespeare's never written (or lost) play, "Love's Labors Won." In the third year of this Doctor, Agatha Christy's work is brought into play in "Unicorn and the Wasp."

The tenth Doctor also referenced Harry Potter, stating once that he cried while reading the seventh book (this was before the seventh book was out). He takes myth seriously and often finds in his time travels that it is mixed with truth. All three of his companions have viewed the world as we would see it. They marveled at myth made factual through history and science.

The Tenth Doctor was lighthearted and entertaining. He was my favorite doctor, and will be my true Doctor (as the fifth Doctor was David Tennant's, as he stated in the episode "Time Crash"). He will be missed, but hopefully the eleventh Doctor will live up to the title, and bring something new to the table.

Forever a Who fan,
J.R West The Raccoon

Friday, November 7, 2008

Classic Fairy Tale Illustrations at Your Fingertips!

Often lauded as a publisher of some of the least expensive classics around, Dover Publications has long been a friend to the mythology and folklore community. Now featuring a "Dover Sampler" where you can sign up for notifications about new books, Dover is again celebrating the great fairy tale illustrators of the golden age of children's book illustration. Its recent publication, Once Upon a Time...: A Treasury of Classic Fairy Tale Illustrations, features, among many, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Walter Crane, and Kay Nielsen, whose ethereal scenes and characters stamped a new look on the genre. I am always amazed at Dover's varied interests and the fine quality of these, by any standard, reasonably-priced gems. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Crimson Tide in McCain's Concession Speech

First, my apologies in advance to any of our readers who may be allergic to politics. But this post is less about politics than about storytelling and mythmaking. I was fascinated by the choices of music for each candidate in the U.S. presidential election last night during the acceptance and concession speeches - particularly by McCain's. Each choice of music appeared chosen to reinforce the story of that candidate. President-elect Barack Obama's choice was fairly straightforward: he ended his speech to the theme from The Patriot. The theme is from a film scene that reaches its crescendo when an American steps into a crisis moment and lifts the flag and starts running toward victory, by his sheer energy and patriotism convincing many others to do so, changing the tide of events in a moment.

McCain's choice was more complicated. He stepped down from the podium to the battle hymn from Crimson Tide. On the one hand, the choice is obvious enough: McCain's campaign has been telling the story of an old, grizzled war hero returning for one last time of service to his country. In the same way, one of the protagonists from Crimson Tide is an old-school submarine captain (Gene Hackman) on his last tour of service who stops at nothing in the defense of his country. But here's where the choice gets complicated. Because Crimson Tide has 2 protagonists. One is the old, grizzled war hero (who happens to be white). The other is a younger officer on the submarine (who happens to be black, and is played by Denzel Washington), who lacks the years of experience of the old captain but has a clear head and the ability to cut through a difficult crisis to identify what needs to be done. In the film, these two confront a major crisis of national security and arrive at two very different responses. At the end after a bitterly fought battle between the two, the old white captain concedes to the young black officer, You were right, I was wrong, and they part on peaceable terms. Both are commended by the Navy for having pulled out all stops in their service to their country, in the finest tradition of American patriots.

So why music from Crimson Tide at McCain's concession speech? It seems almost to fit better with the story of the Obama campaign than with the story of the McCain campaign. Was this an honorable, bipartisan gesture? Or did someone on the campaign not think through the implications of the music they chose as a final salute to their candidate? What do you think?

One reason that this fascinates me is because I believe that elections are won or lost on the strength of the stories the candidates tell. This time around, Obama's story -- of change achieved together through clear reasoning and an understanding of history -- proved compelling to more voters than McCain's story of a man grown old in his country's service returning for one last stint. The skill with which each campaign told that story contributed to their victory or loss in the election -- and this disparity is visible in the critical choice of patriotic themes for the music of the acceptance and concession speeches.

Before anyone gets infuriated at this post, let me note that though I did not give him my vote, I have the highest respect for Senator John McCain. I agree with the president elect in commending this man who has sacrificed for his country in ways that "most of us cannot even imagine." Nor can I even begin to express the respect I have for a man who, when interred in a POW torture camp, refused to be released prior to soldiers who had been there longer.

So I invite thoughtful responses to this post and the questions it poises about the stories campaigns tell and how skillfully they tell them ... but if you are tempted to flame in the comments, please remember that many brave men and women have laid down their lives so that you and I would each have the right to vote based on our own conscience and our own assessment of who would be right for the job. This post is meant to invite comment not on political views but on the way that we tell the stories of our national leaders.

Editor, Dante's Heart

Monday, November 3, 2008

Dante's Heart Poetry Contest: Dec 5

Dear readers,

In the interest of gathering a larger pool of submissions (though we have received some exciting initial submissions), we are extending our deadline for the Dante's Heart Poetry Contest to Friday, Dec 5.

Please spread the word to any poets you may know - and we look forward to the final decision on the contest winners, which will now be announced at the New Year. You can read more about the contest rules, the judge, and the theme here.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Robin McKinley's Dragonhaven

To my great joy, Robin McKinley's new novel Dragonhaven is in paperback and affordable; McKinley, author of Beauty, Spindle's End, and Sunshine, is one of the most skilled and crafty writers of fantasy on the market...and one of our finest retellers of fairy tales. If I were at home and had a copy of her Spindle's End handy, I would type in the first paragraph from it and you could see what I mean. I will have to do so later. In this post, though, I am celebrating my chance to read Dragonhaven, with the promise of a review when I have finished. Here is a bit of the back cover copy:

Jake lives with his scientist father at the Makepeace Institute of Integrated Dragon Studies in Smokehill National Park--home to about two hundred of the remaining Draco australiensis, which is extinct in the wild. But dragon conservation is controversial. Detractors say dragons are much too dangerous and should be destroyed. Supporters say there is no record of them doing anything more threatening than eating sheep and they must be protected.

Just when I thought it would be a while yet before another Anne McCaffrey or Elizabeth Kerner appeared on the scene to give us an altogether fresh take on the dragon, here is this book with its marvelous premise. Bless the finders of new ideas, of new directions for old tales. Whether this novel turns out to be ecological fable or epic tale or both or something different entirely, I am delighted to pluck it from the shelf and turn to the first page.

If you have read McKinley's novel (I am coming a bit late to it after all) and have a thought or two, post a comment here....

Winona Cookie, Steampunk at its Best

A little while ago I came across this wonderful artwork called, 'Lady Godiva'. If the artwork itself would not have drawn my attention the title would have for sure. For those who don't know the story of Lady Godiva here's a small introduction.

"Lady Godiva was a noblewoman, married to Leofric Earl of Mercia. According to the legend she rode naked through the streets of Coventry in order to gain a remission of the taxations imposed by her husband on his tenants. Lady Godiva had asked her husband several times to have mercy on them, but without success. Tired of his wife's beggings, eventually he said to her that if she would ride naked through the streets he would grant her wishes. Of course he did not expect her to do just that, as she was a noblewoman, but he was wrong.....and so he reduced the taxation." source: Wikipedia

The lady Godiva was riding on a horse, which we know from the old paintings -- which is nothing like this steampunk lady made by Ramona Szczerba, also known as Winona Cookie, a very talented Californian artist and illustrator.

Her mixed media artworks are strongly influenced by the Victorian era. Combined with some industrial elements and a style that reminds you somewhat of old advertisements, she is one of the best steampunk artists I know.

Now, I have seen many versions of this legend but I have never seen anything like this, which is exactly why this artwork drew my attention. It is a true delight to see how old legends survive in new artforms, especially when they are so wonderfully made as the work of Winona Cookie. Her work is definitely worth taking a look and I think you will find it very intriguing to see how every artwork tells it's own fantastical story and keep you wondering for many hours.

You can view her illustrations as well as some mixed media artwork at her own website or visit her at Etsy, where you can find most of her mixed media artwork.

Also if you are not familiar with Steampunk and would like to know more about it please visit Wikipedia here.

A Small Introduction

Hello everyone, I am Isabella. Normally a full-time artist/shadow puppeteer, but for now your new guest columnist! I don't know if this makes you happy as well, but I am thrilled to have my own spot here on the Dante's Heart blog.

Once a week I will write a post in which I highlight emerging artists whose work relates to myth, fairy tale, folklore and fantasy. In my future posts you can expect to see many artists from around the world...featuring the work of impressive papercut artists, illustrators who preserve the old myths and legends, painters who will drag you into surrealistic wonderlands, fantastic stopmotion animators, doll artists whose work might cause you nightmares, and surprising new art forms.

No, it won't be boring at all and, as Peter Pan would say "that would be a great adventure!"

I hope you will all enjoy reading my posts as much as I enjoy writing them and for those who are interested in the girl behind the writings, please visit the Land of Dreamers in the links on your right.

Yours truly,

Ps: English is not my first language, so please forgive any lapses in grammar.