Sometimes we go a bit outside genre, and it’s not always politics 😉 This occasion, however, definitely merits this little jaunt beyond our usual hunting grounds.
Piotrek: Well, it is election day in Poland, and the stakes are high, but it’s against the law here to discuss politics on election weekend. Lets just say, I’m depressed and did not prepare any champagne for the evening. Looks like four more years of catho-national populism.
Good things do happen, though, and last Thursday a very distinguished Polish writer got a Nobel for 2018. Who is she? A dreadlocked feminist winner the Nobel needed, claims Guardian, and I very much agree. I’m not always happy with Swedish Academy’s choices, but this time I am, and not because she’s Polish (who cares) and only partially because of her political views (which tend to be pretty close mine, the regime hates her 😉 ). I see her books as both insightful, very up to date – but rooted in the troubled history of our region – and extremely readable.
In celebration of Tove Jansson’s 105 birthday on 9th August, we decided to join Paula Bardell-Hedley in her quest to revisit Tove Jansson’s books and art. Jansson was an accomplished writer and a professional artist, but her main legacy, which captured the hearts of young and old alike – remains within the covers of books describing the wonderful world of Moomins. While initially classified as children literature, the Moomin books and comics hold an everlasting appeal for readers of all ages.
This blog post, in a shorter and slightly altered version, previously appeared on Re-Enchantment on 31 March 2016.
I was enchanted by the Moomins a long, long time ago, and the enchantment still holds, even when I read the books in question aloud, infecting the curious minds of a next generation with these wise, infectiously joyful and nostalgic tales. We’re talking about books here, mind you – not that dreadful Japanese-European animated series, nor the gloomy Polish puppet animated show (although I still remember the Groke from this show – with a memory of lingering terrified fascination).
Tove Jansson wanted to be a painter; she studied art in Sweden, Finland and France, and she painted intermittently throughout her life, both commissioned and private works. The images of the Moomins and the whole Moomin world were also created by her – apparently the prototype for Moomin was Jansson’s caricature of Immanuel Kant. She drew “the ugliest creature imaginable” on the toilet wall and named it Kant after she lost a discussion about the philosopher with her brother. Fortunately, the final image of the Moomin is much more friendly and blobby, with a big, round nose, a big, round belly, short, fat arms and legs, and a thin, slightly incongruous tail. Tove Jansson’s illustrations form the world of Moomins as much as the text – and they are in perfect harmony with each other.
Piotrek: The fifth one, huh? Well, this time we have a real treasure. We debated for a while, if it can be counted as one of the Nostalgia Posts, and decided that yes, why not? After all, we’ve been reading Pratchett most of our lives, and we feel pretty nostalgic about both the author and his works. Well, one difference between that and all the others – there isn’t a large gap between our first childhood encounters with Sir Terry and recent re-reads. Me, at least, I would read a Discworld novel or two at least every once in a few years.
The unstoppable force behind Marvel, the person responsible for putting the “hero” into “superhero”, transforming the erstwhile walking cardboards with ten commandments written on them into human (or godly) beings, full of foibles, insecurities and vices, but at the same time always striving to become better and to do better.
Lee as few others understood the human need for telling stories, for heroes, and for heroic journeys. He was the \co-creator of Spider-Man, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Black Panther, and Ant-Man – as well as many other superhero characters. He was also a tireless advocate of introducing comic superheroes to the wider public, and his efforts brought us the wonderful recent Marvel superhero movie onslaught, irrevocably changing the comics’ place and magnifying their significance in pop-culture.
Piotrek: I’ve re-watched the first Captain America today with my Dad and the usual Stan Lee cameo made me smile. How many more did they manage to prepare? Probably just Captain Marvel and the second Infinity War movie…
Ola: Apparently all 2019 Marvel movies will have Stan Lee cameo. It’s become such a feature of the Marvel movies that it’s difficult to imagine a movie without his appearance 😉 As John Romita put it in one of his interviews,
He’s a con man, but he did deliver.
He was one of the rare giants that transform their chosen field irrevocably – a facilitator, a face, an moving force behind the scenes, an impresario. He led a full, adventurous life that brought us much joy and inspiration.
Ola: One of the best fantasy and science fiction writers ever, although she didn’t like that label and preferred to be called a novelist and a poet. A daughter of the famous cultural anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber, who documented the vanishing lifestyles of West Coast Native Americans, Le Guin always put the focus of her novels on people and their varied ways of living.
The “hard”–science fiction writers dismiss everything except, well, physics, astronomy, and maybe chemistry. Biology, sociology, anthropology—that’s not science to them, that’s soft stuff. They’re not that interested in what human beings do, really. But I am. I draw on the social sciences a great deal. I get a lot of ideas from them, particularly from anthropology. When I create another planet, another world, with a society on it, I try to hint at the complexity of the society I’m creating, instead of just referring to an empire or something like that.
Piotrek: She was the social scientist’s fantasy writer, just as Tolkien was an heir to the rich tradition of philology and traditional study of myths. Politically not neutral, never shying away from important issues of race, feminism and other forms of inequality. Full of passion, but also smart and well-read in theory. Wise and compassionate.
In literary disputes, she was a staunch defender of what we call genre fiction. I’ve mentioned it before, but let me quote from her Guardian interview from 2016:
Realism is a genre – a very rich one, that gave us and continue to give us lots of great fiction. But by making that one genre the standard of quality, by limiting literature to it, we were leaving too much serious writing out of serious consideration
She wrote reviews for Guardian, including one of Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and she was harsher than Ola!
This is yesterday’s news, but I just wanted to say I’m very happy about it. Japanese-born British author is not really a genre writer, but his latest novel, The Buried Giant, gave me the pretext to devote one review to him. Book Ola liked even more than I did, a rare occurrence 😉
It is a very literary fantasy novel, and he also published dystopian kind-of s/f Never Let Me Go. In the genre world he is, nevertheless, an outsider, possibly a newcomer, albeit a very friendly one. I heartily recommend an excellent interview conducted by David Barr Kirtley on Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, after a very interesting talk Ishiguro asks Kirtley for genre recommendations. So, you know, if the Swedish Academy is too dumb to give the prize to Le Guin, Ishiguro is also a very good choice 🙂 A writer, who
in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world
Ola: Sir John Hurt – who hadn’t seen him? Unforgettable Elephant Man, Ollivander from Harry Potter franchise, the dictator Adam Sutler from V for Vendetta and Winston Smith from 1984, Kane from Alien – and from Spaceballs – Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm from Hellboy, Controller from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Gilliam from Snowpiercer and, for one-hour special episode (and a little bit more, to be precise), War Doctor from Doctor Who. And many more, of course. He was the rare actor who with equal dedication and equanimity accepted roles in contemporary dramas, costume movies, horrors and science fiction flicks. And his presence was always felt.