Monthly Archives: September 2012

But Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t do that!


I spent too much time during the episode thinking exactly that to myself.

All right, in the original series, Watson, a doctor, does keep an eye on Holmes’ drug intake (Holmes takes drugs because his amazing, superhuman brain is bored. When he’s on cases, he’s fine). But Watson is now Holmes’ babysitter.


Her being played by Lucy Liu isn’t an automatic problem for me—I could live with a female Watson, who is supposed to be the “normal, relatable” character who helps us understand the mad genius. On House, Wilson is so terribly nice that he doesn’t totally work as the modern Watson of the story, though his role as the genius’s soundboard certainly works. Wilson is just as foreign to us as House is, and it’s his team who become the relatable figures of the story. This Watson is the classic fish out of water—a normal character dealing with Holmes’ abnormal behavior. She has demons in her past, but so does Doyle’s original Watson, surly and depressed from his war wound and the horrors of Afganistan. The Show Sherlock has a sinmilarly wounded Watson, who blogs about Holmes’ adventures as a kind of therapy. SO far we’re all right, by Liu has suggested in interviews that Holmes and Watson have a chemistry and they make hook up soon. This is NOT the original story, or any possible permutation of it (Though several movies and the show Sherlock have observers believing they’re gay, this is the tale of two true friends, more like House and Wilson than a couple.)


While BBC’s Sherlock does an amazing job of modernizing the story, much of its charm is in how directly it updates the adventures—Sherlock texts constantly as a form of distancing, since his old favorite the telegram is passé. He uses a network of homeless instead of street urchins. Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, breaks into the Tower of London and wears the Royal Jewels. It all fits. Even more delightful for fans are all the clever references and teases—“The Speckled Blonde,” not “The Speckled Band,” as case, the many reversals of “A Study in Pink” and the book it’s based on. Experienced fans are delighted by the allusions and the surprising updates alike, as the footprints “of a giant hound” are more than quote, but a secret clue buried in the odd phrasing.


Elementary isn’t quite so cunning. The first episode’s mystery has sensational, violent murders, and clever clues to unravel the pieces. Watson dives into the world of mysteries, delighted and intrigued by Holmes’ deductions even as she helps him reach a solution. But there are plot holes. A saferoom the husband had no knowledge of, built for no particular purpose? Worse yet, Holmes has an actual temper tantrum, destroying property through rage rather than a ruse. It felt wrong. Will the characters become another valid Holmes/Watson pairing in truth, or will the show vanish along with all the unsuccessful crime dramas? It remains to be seen. But this pair will have to work harder if they want to convince me they’re THE Holmes and Watson.

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Thoughts on Casual Vacancy


Potter fans aren’t gonna like this one…

Not to say it’s badly written—far from it. It’s a series of character sketches done from many individual viewpoints, done in a thoughtful, convincing fashion. But it’s dark. More to the point, it’s everything Potter wasn’t—serious, contemporary, adult, depressing.

Harry Potter is the seven-book adventure of a boy wizard—a large epic that even at its darkest moments of the final book remains whimsical. Fred and George crack wise in the heat of battle, Harry interrupts Ron and Hermione’s kiss with a protest at their timing. Readers became truly invested in the characters, so much so that Dobby’s final moments and Luna’s poignant goodbye produced actual tears.

This single volume cannot provoke the same level of emotion. True, it’s the story of how everyone in a small town reacts to the passing of one man, emphasizing everyone’s interconnectedness. Each character appears in the lives of others, offering clashing perspectives that are especially true to life as each conceals secrets and woes from the others, even their closest friends. Characters are selfish, fallible, frail, and all too human. But we can’t become quite as invested as before. Not only do we lack the seven books of discovery, but these characters lack the childlike wonder, love, and pureheartedness that made readers fall for tormented Snape, conflicted Draco, woefully clumsy Neville. The casual Vacancy’s characters feel relatable, but edgier—humanity’s petty, abusive, neglectful, worst characters rather than its best…In a book of Dursleys, whom would we love?

Rowling has thrown herself into adult literary fiction wholeheartedly, with the mild satire and heavy misery and dissatisfaction with modern life that characterizes so much of the genre. Teens tormenting one another on Facebook underscores how modern this fictional space is—no more gothic locale where cellphones and computers won’t function. If Harry Potter, as many think, is a nostalgic gateway to similar times, this is the stark, unadorned present. In Harry Potter, even the cruelly-meant teasing coasted under a lighthearted layer—“Mudblood” was a made-up racial epithet only used by awful Slytherins, and Hermione shrinks her buckteeth before the dance. But this book offers racial epithets blurted by even the more sympathetic characters, and a teenage girl tormented daily with Facebook postings of circus freaks to emphasize her embarrassing facial hair. Abuse of several kinds permeates the story, from bullying to harmful and neglectful parents ridden by anger and drug abuse.  Unlike in Harry Potter, characters’ hands are tied and there’s no clear right answer–There’s no Hagrid to swoop Harry off to wizard school here. Harry Potter teaches that the darkest of evil can be defeated with a pure heart, that those who love us never leave us. Casual Vacancy suggests the opposite—that in our troubled world no heroes will step forward to defend us, that we are merely a conglomeration of conflicting personalities that damage one another and rub other people raw. It’s a world without Harry the Hero…or perhaps he died on the first page.

Is it a good read for fans of literary fiction? Probably. But as shown through the above review, Potter comparisons are inevitable, and this book will suffer by comparison. We want heroics, not reality.

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Thoughts on Snow White and the Huntsman

The beginning of the movie begins with all the innocent of the kingdom sacrificing themselves to save Snow White–the maiden the queen drains, the white horse, the scarred women and girls in their village. Not only is the same scene played out over and over, but the number of innocents dying because of Snow White herself was getting disturbingly high.

The forest in most fairytales is the dark, shadowy frightening place, enemy of civilization. However, since civilization, power, and authority are the queen’s domain, Snow White must channel the wild, foreboding power of the forest. In fact, if the civilized world of law and order is the masculine sphere (as it is traditionally), Snow White is connecting with the wild, mysterious, unexplored feminine sphere of nature and its wild magic. When she meets the forest troll, who submits to her and departs, it’s clear that Snow White has power over the forest.


Like Voldemort, the queen snatchers the magic of people’s blood, trying to capture the love, innocence, and life their youth and beauty offers, but without understanding. The devourer of life, slayer of the innocent is the classic villainess on the heroine’s journey, like the Wicked Witch of the West or ice queen of Narnia. Her minions are lifeless monsters, reflections on her inhuman self. Snow White connects with the innocent, as we see her playing with a child and her doll, or speaking with the seven dwarves. Like Harry Potter, Snow White has power from her birthright and the blood of her parent. the ancient theme of the true ruler healing and renewing the land, which suffers under the tyrant comes into play here.

The fairy sanctuary represents the beautiful magical feminine–Snow White can reach it but the queen cannot. There Snow White, like Harry Potter (in the final book) meets the magical white stag, conferrer of spirituality. Following this, Harry descends into the pool and emerges with the Sword of Gryffindor. Snow White sinks into sleep and awakes stronger than before. Both rise and lead an attack on their ultimate enemies. Ending the story with no wedding to either prince or huntsman feels odd for the fairytale and odd for a story of reviving the realm through life and fertility (contrasting this tale with, say Aragorn’s wedding at the end of Lord of the Rings, another story of the rightful king reviving the land). But there is a reason for this ambiguous ending, found in a recent movie with a similar series of events:


There are some interesting parallels with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland—both heroines travel through the frightening woods to reach the sheltering fairy garden of femininity, growing in feminine perception and strength all the while. However, after this, both don concealing, featureless armor and ride to battle, switching from the heroine’s journey of perception and saving the innocent to the hero’s journey of conquest and battle. Both heroines end the tale winning power in the male world of power and rationality, but little feminine understanding, demonstrated most strongly by the fact that neither weds. Before they can commit to another person, both must discover who they are as women, something not to be found under their smooth armor.

The classic warrior woman’s quest involves winning this armored battle and conquering the male realm, and then setting out once more to understand femininity, as Eowyn does in the House of Healing, or Buffy does in the later seasons (discussed in my book Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey). Without this, the warrior woman has indeed closed herself off in armor, becoming a conquering hero but not a balanced woman.

In a world of “strong women” like those in The Hunger Games and Brave, it’s important not to show only the one path to power—strong women fight and don’t want a man and all others are weak victims is a problematic message appearing in increasingly more of the movie industry. The scarred victimized women with their little girls and the young woman drained by the queen are sad sacrifices, with their courage downplayed in the movie. Snow Whtie is a fighter—she lives, the others, like her own sweet mother, die. Buffy, with a warrior woman and her friends who are witches, researchers, and vengeance demons shows alternate paths to power, as do many great fantasy novels. Here’s hoping the movies can catch up.

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Filed under Fairytales, Heroine's Journey, Pop Culture