The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

The Books I Read: July – August 2020

bookshelf books
Part of Your World: A Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell

So there’s this “Twisted Tale” series from Disney books that’s essentially all about screwing the heroines out of their happy ending and making the story “what if” instead. I don’t know why Disney’s trying to do this. To reach a mature audience you have to make everything grimdark and miserable? The first series was villain-focused with works like “The Beast Within” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and then a YA adventure of Disneyland crossed with “they only come out at night”. I hated all of them passionately.

I did not hate this.

In fact, I kind of like it. It’s like a Twilight Zone sequel to “The Little Mermaid” — what if Ariel lost? The writing feels more gothic and less modern, more ornate and unnecessarily lengthy (probably because someone’s trying to make a word count). But the story stays moving.

It lacks the sense of Disney whimsy that makes the first one magical. Sebastian’s now an old fuddy-duddy, not a wise-cracking crab. Scuttle is senile and has a grand-daughter. Ariel is world-weary and jaded by her experience. But maybe that’s plausible, given these characters didn’t get a “Happily Ever After”. It’s made for adults, but lacks the Disney joy. Like Disney’s characters continued by Hans Christian Andersen.

A big flaw is that the world-building cribs the Disney movie and the fairy tale. The author picks and chooses from both (like turning into sea foam or immortal souls, but ignoring the “walking on knives” or the prince treats her like a pet), and sometimes that canon comes into conflict. It retcons some plot points and isn’t explicit about where the cut-off for the timeline is.

Basically, the key moment is that Scuttle doesn’t fly by the window where Ursula/Vanessa is singing and see that she’s really the sea witch. However, Ariel still somehow gets to the boat to confront Ursula. But I guess she’s too late? Then there’s a big Ursula vs. Triton battle (not in the book) and she wins, polyp-ifies Triton, and becomes Eric’s wife. But she wipes everyone’s memories so they don’t remember mermaids, and everything’s back to status quo. And now Ursula is starting to invade human lands.

Except…

Ursula never wanted to rule the human world. She wanted to rule the sea. She doesn’t give a flying fish about humans. Why would she? There’s more power in the oceans than one tiny human kingdom. She wants that trident and that crown. Eric is just a big dumb meathead means to an end. Ariel is a pawn for greater rewards (i.e. a contract that ropes Triton into sacrificing his crown for his daughter) and revenge for… something (the movie doesn’t say).

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. She’s a Faustian villain, a vehicle for Ariel to make a deal with the devil to learn the hard lesson that she shouldn’t let her desires lead her into reckless decisions.

But this is Ariel’s story. It’s an adventure and a redemption arc and it paints Ariel with an empowering brush. Ariel has had years to learn the consequences of her actions, to deal with the loss of her father, her role as Princess of the Sea, leaving the one she loved behind. It means Ariel and Eric take time to establish a relationship as they figure out what to do about Ursula. It was a satisfying follow-up to the original movie and I want to read more from the Twisted Tale series.

In reality, if Ariel did lose to Ursula, the sequel should be about her getting a lawyer and learning contract law.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This did not have enticing beginning. It starts with a prologue and poetry and description and other shit. Not something happening or an intriguing event. It didn’t pull me in.

But I kept reading and I’m glad I did. This is a story about a woman raising herself in nature. (And almost by nature.) She’s one of those white trash families in the bayou: alcoholic father, living in a shack in a swamp, hillbilly, thick accent, tobacco-chawin’ types that has too many kids, like “Cletus” in The Simpsons. But this one’s played straight. Very straight. Basically her whole family abandons her by the age of ten and somehow she manages to survive.

At its core, it’s a coming-of-age book set in the deep south with the climax being a court trial. (Why do I keep finding these “To Kill a Mockingbird” remixes?) It takes place in two time periods. About 75% of the content is a survival story (a little reminiscent of “Island of the Blue Dolphins”) about how she managed to live alone in the swamp as a ten-year-old and not go crazy or starve to death. (Along with life and love and bullies and other things that come with growing up in 1952.) The other quarter is a murder-mystery trial taking place in the present (which for them is 1969).

Two big things stood out to me. One was the poetic descriptions. You really get a feel for how Kya embraces nature. She lives in it, soaks in it, it becomes her and she becomes it. She lives there so long she is symbiotic to nature. Very focused on the beauty and power of nature. If you like poetry, you’ll like this part.

But when it comes to any plot elements that involve anyone other than Kya and the marsh, it drops into cliches. There’s the teenage bully, the truant officer, the football quarterback. Classism, racism, and sexist asshole redneck archetypes. Anyone other than Kya sounds like a video I watched in health class.

It’s not my favorite book, but it’s a great book. It’s not for everyone, but this thing’s been on the NYT Bestseller list for years now. It’s got nearly a million ratings on GoodReads. So go read the reviews by people who can write them better than me.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

I thought it was a better read than the first book. It’s slow to start, but then really gets exciting.

The first act is a combination of “aftermath from the first book” and “setup for this second book”. And there are times the narrative starts to wax poetic about fame and power and metahumanism that it starts to sound like one of the vlogbrothers videos (though these are tough questions and deserve attention). But then the plot busts open and you get invested in what’s happening.

I guess part of that is that there was time set aside to build up the characters. Each one is distinct and likable in their own way. I think it’s improved by having multiple characters’ POV instead of just the one (who got a little millennial-obnoxious after a while).

Once again, we’re talking sequel so if you read the first book, you know if you want to read the second. But take comfort that the second improves on the first. I think Hank Green took what he learned, applied it, and the effects are palpable.

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

So it’s hard to write a review of this book without being biased. I’ve been watching her since she was a pig-tailed nostalgia chucker and stayed following through Disney film criticism, Transformers film theory, obsession with musicals, and Hugo nominations. She doesn’t release material often, but she’s never disappointed. So as I read it, I tried to be objective in my evaluation–if you’d never heard of Lindsay Ellis, what would you think of this book?

Ellis has described Axiom’s End as “Stranger Things” meets “Arrival” (the good one with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, not “The Arrival“). Personally, I think it’s more like “E.T.” meets “Independence Day” with an infusion of “Beauty and the Beast”/”Phantom of the Opera”-style plot (you know, those stories where an emotionally unavailable anti-villain and a warm-hearted girl fall in love even though it’s wrong and would never work). The external story is about xenophobia and protecting a group of refugee aliens from bounty hunters with technology way beyond our own. The internal story is about the relationship between the main woman and her alien companion.

The beginning is good at “show, don’t tell” and that’s tough for a beginning, because you want to get backstory out there without being infodumpy, but you’ve got to do it expediently or the plot can’t start. Then it gets complex. Way more complex than I expected from someone whose most popular video is about Disney’s Aladdin. (but I guess this went through 26 drafts, so it makes sense. In software development, we call that “feature creep”.) Good, hard science about time dilation, political machinations, and Dyson spheres. One of the major motifs in the book is language (par for the course when dealing with aliens), and that gets tricky when you’re trying to remember who’s who in the alien world–what is a “similar”? Is Esperas a name or a term? How is Cefo related to everyone again?

And here’s what I didn’t expect: it’s a love story that’s not a romance. Like a “hurt/comfort” fic? For all those “comp titles” I mentioned before, the real root of the plot is basically 2007’s “Transformers” by way of Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov. An aimless young adult makes contact with an alien soldier from a space war galaxies away. And that war’s coming to Earth. It’s evocative of a fan fiction that got blessed by the blue fairy and turned into a real boy for being so good.

A lot of the reviews describe it as “fun”, but I don’t know if I’d call it that. The complexity turned me off, because that reeks of hard science fiction, which I’m not a fan of (too much research, not enough characters). But I would like to see the sequel, because I want to see where the girl and the alien’s relationship goes.

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
(unfinished)

It’s a collection of essays (I think they’re gleaned from her blog) about regular life stuff. You know: dating, work, money, The Bachelorette, eating ice cream in bed. The first thing I thought was “Damn, that’s witty. I wish I could write like this.”

The second thing was “I don’t think this is for me.”

The writer is a single woman. She wants to get married… except she shaves her head, is overweight, is thirty-six years old (but looks older — her admission), has to wear adult undergarments, only graduated high school, works as a receptionist at a vet clinic, can’t have children (I don’t mean infertile, I mean she can’t physically run around a yard after a toddler), and is lazy (see aforementioned eating-ice-cream-in-bed, plus her own admittance that “marriage is hard”). So… what exactly is it you bring to the table?

Yes, you have obstacles in your life that make for an interesting memoir… but I’m wondering if some of these problems aren’t brought on by your own decisions (or lack thereof). She was in poverty, but now her spending habits are ridiculous (to make up for lost time, she says). She hates cats, but takes home a kitten that no one wants and clearly hates her. And she ends up taking care of it. And it still hates her.

But I also wonder if I’m not in the right place for this, mentally, with everything going on (i.e. waves hand to everything).

The story of shitting herself from bad Burger King on the side of the road in front of friends from bad Burger King with the story of how her father died. Her alcoholic absent father with dementia. While also dealing with her mother, both of whom had to be put in a home by her when she was eighteen because she was born late. I can’t deal with that right now.

Or I’m not the target audience at all. This might be for the “loves-The-Kardashians-non-ironically” types. Those who embrace Lizzo. Trying to convince Facebook you’re living a luxurious life. But lacking ambition or drive to achieve something. To leave the world a little better than when you found it.

The Women In the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
(unfinished)

Historical fiction about a set of German women friends living through the war in Nazi Deutschland. It’s evocative of “The Sound of Music” because it starts with fancy rich people enjoying their privileged lives and then it all goes to shit when the invasions begin. Some of them try to do something about it, some are just trying to survive, but everyone suffers.

And that’s the problem: I’ve seen this story before, dozens of times. The horrors of war. Yes, I get it. Nazis are bad. Everyone’s son or husband dies. And this volume offers nothing new. Maus, War Horse, The Book Thief, Schindler’s List, The Diary of Anne Frank, Inglorious Basterds, Slaughterhouse Five, Number the Stars. I get it, World War II was bad. You are bringing nothing new to the table. It’s a by-the-numbers “suffering in war” story.

And the time-jumping, I just don’t see the point of it. The book shifts around multiple perspectives, multiple places (all German places I’ve never heard of), multiple time points. And there’s no reason for it that I can see, neither style nor substance. Why confuse us? What does the story gain that it couldn’t from a straight start-to-finish narrative. You’ve already told me who survives so what “message” does your “medium” present?

It just wasn’t flipping my cookie, so I moved on.

Straight on Till Morning: A Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell

It maintains some of the similarities of the other “Twisted Tale” I read. There’s a definite strong slant on morphing these “damsels in distress” into “strong female characters”. The fortunate thing is that they keep their personalities (relatively) while doing this. Wendy is still a proper Englishwoman who overthinks things and talks a lot.

It plays fast and loose with the canon, cherry-picking from the book and movie (like Wendy’s house is here, but the jerk-mermaids are also here). It takes a while to actually get to Neverland, and when you do, it’s not as imaginative as I thought it could be.

It gets real sludgy in the middle. Clearly the author is trying to make a word count, and when you’ve got a basic quest plot, there isn’t a whole lot that happens to change the character or affect them personally. Hook is also a letdown, as he’s portrayed as sad-crazy, not funny-crazy.

It’s not disappointing, but it’s not blow your socks off. Take it this way–even the best of the direct-to-video Disney sequels were only middlin’, with thin plots and uninventive story paths.

And it cops out on the Indians.

More What Ifs from The Little Mermaid

ariel the little mermaid glow

What if Ursula never gave Ariel a vagina? What if she didn’t know what one looked like, since she’s been under the sea for so long and has no interest in humans. So she just left her blank down there, like a Barbie doll, because she didn’t know there was supposed to be something else. That would explains Ariel’s lack of reaction to the new features between her legs (in that there wasn’t anything to react to).

Boy, wouldn’t that be a surprise for dear old Princey.

Reprise: A Disney Princess Adventure

reprise cover ariel elsa rapunzel princesses disney

So today is the premiere of what I was working on writing-wise for the past year/year-and-a-half.

Behold!

Reprise

by Eric J. Juneau

A Frozen/Tangled/The Little Mermaid crossover

Three princesses. Three curses. One adventure.

Rapunzel’s magic hair spontaneously grows back, Ariel regains her mermaid tail, and winter returns to Arendelle. One year after their most meaningful trials and triumphs, something has taken away what they worked so hard to gain. As they leave the safety of their own kingdoms, fate is about to drive these strangers together across oceans, over mountains, into the depths of the sea, and even through the river of time itself. But will their differences stop them before the curse can?

Pick your poison:

So you know that fan theory that Tangled, Frozen, and The Little Mermaid take place in the same world? Well, I ran with it.

The plot proper came to me when I was watching Frozen for the fifth time with my daughter. All of the sudden, the ideas came fast and furious. The problem? It’s fan fiction, and I need to be writing something publishable. But in the end, I thought “writing should be fun. It would be fun to write this. If it’s not fun, what’s the point?”

I intended to let it just be something I tinkered with between downtimes at work (like Gatecrash) but suddenly I was dedicating my lunch hour to it. Why? I guess after finishing “Defender” and trying so hard to make it publish-worthy, I needed something where I didn’t have to care what the world thought of it. I could just write like I wanted and not have to worry about rejection-resistance. Plus I wasn’t jonesing about any of my other novel ideas at the time.

The first draft was 200,000 words, so in the interest of time, I only did two drafts. I usually do four, with critiques in the middle (even when it’s fan fiction). As a result, it’s not as polished as it would usually be (see above comment about keeping it fun). I can’t name any off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are plot holes and continuity errors left in there. And that ending I was struggling with to the very end. It’s not 100% cohesive or ironclad, but it’s a serial. It’s more about the journey than the destination, n’est pas? (I don’t know what that phrase means, but it sounded right.)

So now what? Onto regular stuff. Publishable stuff, I mean. (At least writing with the intent to be published). It was nice not to have to think about “the Industry” for a while. And like I said, I’ve been in a slump lately. But I’m hoping that slump was burnout from this beast. Now that it’s in the world, let’s see what happens.

In Which I Condemn Ariel to Misery

simpsons homer ned flanders

Okay, so I am not a lawyer. But there’s this post by Shon Faye (@shonfaye) that’s gone viral. And I thought it’d be a fun experiment to see if I could argue the other side of it. So, yes, I’d be defending Ursula.

unfrozen caveman lawyer phil hartman snl
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury — I’m just an octopus. Your world confuses and frightens me.

1. Ariel being a minor is subjective, and I disagree this makes the contract any more nullable. I would assume that there are no clearly established laws of consent in this medieval world, either on land or sea. But let’s say there are. Ariel’s still old enough to get married and be emancipated from her father. I would argue that if she’s old enough for that to be socially accepted, she’s no minor.*

2. The contract is not for Ariel’s soul. Verbatim, Ursula says “You turn back into a mermaid and… you belong… to me.” This has nothing to do with a soul. It’s more like eternal servitude or slavery. Now this is all a gambit to gain control of Triton, but that’s beside the point. Ursula has no intention, nay the ability, to do anything with Ariel’s soul.

Also, do we know the extent of the magic Ursula used? The three days may not be arbitrary. It may be an attribute of the spell. In the same vein, perhaps these are ingredients that will never be seen again. Perhaps they exacted an extremely large price. When you pay for medication, you’re not just paying the cost to manufacture some pills. You’re paying for all the research, the trials, the failed experiments, the doctors, the logistics that came together to make that pill. Ursula had to learn her magic. Plus she is the only one in the sea who can perform these acts, which means in a free-market, she’s able to charge whatever she wants.

Now I put it to you — the cost of doing the spell in itself is one voice. If Ariel fails to fulfill her side of the bargain, her free will is forfeit. Is that reasonable? That’s a matter of opinion, and it depends on what Ursula had to spend in order to make it happen. Ariel deemed it a fair exchange of services, and I believe she was old enough to make that judgment. Even if she was emotionally distressed, things you do under that influence are still things you’re responsible for. Otherwise, we’d never have “Girls Gone Wild”.

3. Has Ursula attempted to sabotage Ariel’s end of the contract? In one instance she sends her employees to prevent an incident that might fulfill her contract. In another, she disguises herself and places Eric under a hypnosis spell that blockades Ariel from fulfilling her contract. But even Shon Faye acquiesces that either party may not have a duty to act in good faith. In this case, I would argue character flaw. Ariel KNOWS that this is the sea witch. She KNOWS her past history, her, do we dare say, selfish and evil ways. Yet, she still proceeds forward. Therefore I argue that she knew that Ursula may attempt to interfere at anytime, and still took the risk.

According to Wikipedia, the “implied covenant of good faith” is just that — implied. It wasn’t adopted into law until the Uniform Commercial Code of 1950. And it’s pretty obvious The Little Mermaid takes place before 1950.

The problem with the term “good faith” is that it’s an unwritten rule based on community standards of ethics and morals. These definitions vary from community to community, and thus, are hard to enforce. This is a world that deals with thieving crocodiles and lobster mobsters. How can any of us judge them by our standards?

And honestly I don’t know what any of her argument means after “she and Triton would be liable only in damages”. I’m not being sarcastic. I really don’t know what it means. I’m not a lawyer.

4. Given that the sea is an absolute monarchy, with King Triton given all executive and judicial power, he should be able to declare the contract void. Sure, that’s a valid argument, except that HE TRIED THAT. And it DIDN’T WORK.

As demonstrated in both this movie, there are forces at work behind these contracts stronger than human judgment. Triton’s trident, which can destroy a multi-thousand pound concrete statue cannot make a dent in this piece of paper. Conversely, when Hades fails to protect Megara from harm, the contract automagically becomes void and Hercules strength is instantly restored. Since at no time during the time the contract was signed and Ursula’s death did the contract lose its power, we can assume whatever powers that enhance this contract did not declare it

Quod errata demonstratum. Cogito ergo sum. Et cetera habeus corpus vis a vis ex fina boda. C’est magnifique.

little mermaid signing contract ariel
Go ahead and sign that scroll, dollface. You got nothing to lose.

*If you absolutely have to have a country’s system of laws to go by, you should be using Denmark’s, which, as certain clues have suggested, is the location of The Little Mermaid. The age of majority there is 18, same as America.

The Books I Read: July – August 2016

bookshelf books
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Fans of Neil Gaiman will love this book. The closest I can call it is a modern fairy tale, but that word gets thrown around so much it’s become meaningless. I’ve never used it until now (I think). It felt like a combination of Stardust and Holes. Jacob Grimm has become a ghost and, after traveling the ethereal plane, attaches to the only boy who can hear him. A lonely boy struggling with a single Dad with a failing business.

The thing keeping this good book from being a great book is that nothing happens until about 66% through. The first fifteen percent, the exposition phase, is good then the rest is filler. It’s kids hanging out, a plot thread about a trivia game that never comes back, and other junk. It’s a wide boring lawn where the author drops Easter eggs for the third act. Character motivation is lacking too. Why does the girl take any sort of interest in the main boy? Why is she at all interested in him? It reduces her to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, like Bridge to Terabithia.

Also, I don’t know where or when it’s set, and that bothers me. It’s a small town, apparently in America, but you have to strain to decipher that because the people and setting is so weird. One of the people uses “zounds” and not in an ironic way. The bakery is the teen hangout spot, where his special cakes are the thing to get, like ramen in Japan. They’re still in school but walk (not drive) places. No one has a smart phone. It has the feel of a book that was translated (maybe that was the intention, since Jacob Grimm is the narrator). And the dad’s sole source of income is a bookstore that sells one book. How does that kind of business stay open past two weeks?

So the line between fantasy and reality gets a little blurry. But if you can get past some of that minor stuff, it’s a recommended book.

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
(unfinished)

I have never read a Star Wars book before, so keep in mind I’m coming in fresh. I don’t believe in any homosexual agenda. I have no opinion of Chuck Wendig and never read one of his stories.

I didn’t like this and didn’t finish it. I’m not sure how much of the content was dictated by Disney or Wendig’s own, but there were some fundamental problems with the narrative I couldn’t get past. It read like Stephen King’s “The Stand” — tons of characters and storylines — none of which tie in to anything between Episode Six and Seven. It’s just floating out there. I don’t know anyone’s back story. Every character is a pastiche of an existing one — the bounty hunter (Boba Fett), the smuggler (Han Solo), the young hero (Luke Skywalker), etc. And it’s all action. No one thinks or reflects. At one-third of the way through, the story was still introducing new characters, preparing for a long haul.

Maybe these books are for diehard fans — I had to keep looking up terms in the Wookiepedia. Maybe it was the foreign names and races, but I couldn’t keep track of anything. The text has no problem with style or tense, at least not for me. The “cute points” were the best. At one point a character plays Star Wars Settlers of Catan with a droid (instead of something cliche like chess or that holographic game Chewie and Threepio play.

Other than that, I was bored. I didn’t know the characters and there was never anything to make me care or sympathize. They were shallow action figures doing things that translate better in film.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I read one-quarter of it in a day.

The title and B&W cover make it look like it’s a bit snooty and removed from reality, like A.A. Milne or Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton edition). But it in fact, it reads just like any YA novel and takes place in a firm, explained setting with a flawed protagonist. In the first chapter he demonstrates his jerk streak to much delight. And he’s American and interesting and interesting things happen to him and he goes out to do interesting things (which sounds like par for the course, but you’d be surprised how many books lack this).

The story is built around these odd photos his dead grandfather had — ones that might have used old-timey trick photography (e.g. two reflections in a pond where just one girl is standing). But these happen to be the peculiar children (i.e., they’re basically X-Men — one’s super strong, one’s invisible, one can grow plants, etc.) We find this out when he goes to England where this home supposedly is, though it was destroyed in World War II.

The anticipation of the movie (also by Tim Burton, what can you do?) prompted me to give this a try. I’ll be reading the next two books, so I have a good feeling about the movie.

The Third Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

It’s worse than the first two. It’s tedious. It leaves big gaps between books. Explanations are left on the floor in favor of vapid philosophical questions. It’s got nothing to do with the cool swords. It brings up some topics relating to gods and mortals that might have been interesting in the eighties, but are old hat now. The plot focuses more on ideas than engaging characters. And it all ends with a big confusing war where characters die and I just don’t care, because I don’t remember them. There’s nothing resolved with the swords or the gods at the end. It’s better as a premise than a book.

Emily Fox-Seton or The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I read this as research for a book I might be writing. The BBC made-for-TV movie is better, and I could only watch that drunk. The book is just so damn tame. The bad guy confesses everything without provocation then leaves peacefully. Then dies accidentally. The women are all so weak. The littlest things throw them into an emotional tizzy. Arranged marriages and racism are the least of this story’s problems.

Everything happens through hearsay and after-the-fact conversations. People talk about things, they don’t do them. There’s always the threat of things happening, never actual things happening. Sure the book’s a hundred years old, but you only get so much leeway.

Hero-Type by Barry Lyga

The promises at the beginning of the book don’t match the content. The main character is a town hero after saving a girl in his class from a rapist. And as the reader finds, it wasn’t just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. However, no one knows this, and no one’s going to know, because that isn’t the meat of the book.

The meat is that he gets a ton of flak for taking some “Support the Troops” magnetic ribbons off his car, ones he didn’t put on in the first place, and is forced to take off by his Dad. All of a sudden, this makes him the town pariah. It gets worse as he rolls with it, defending the non-decision as it relates to the first amendment. And it all snowballs into discussions on politics and free speech.

One of these stories interests me. One of them doesn’t. Guess which is which (hint: the stalker angle interests me and the political one doesn’t). I could make a case for why one fits into the other. But the two themes just don’t seem to fit with each other. 

A big chunk of plotline is the character holding the idiot ball. Problems that could easily be solved if someone just explained what happened instead of being cryptic or obstinate. He took the ribbons was because his dad freaked out (he has PTSD from the Iraq War). But the main character doesn’t, because then there’d be no story. The dad doesn’t tell anyone the reason he was dishonorably discharged from the army, which turns out to be a because he was a whistleblower. The school administrator allows not one but TWO student-run student-organized debates about this “controversy” which devolve into chaos. (I swear, Barry Lyga’s fictional school has the most inept administration since Lawndale High).

I thought this book would be about what it means to be a hero. But the plot overstates to the point of melodrama, which makes this my least favorite Lyga book.

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

I know what I said before, but I’m pretty sure this is the last Tiffany Aching book this time. It’s good. The easiest to follow of the five. I say this all the time, but it gives a fitting end to the Tiffany Aching saga, giving the main character a mantle from her mentors, passing on the torch.

What feels unusual is that it seems a little rushed. Wrapped up a little too quickly. The previous books’ antagonists like Wintersmith and The Cunning Man enveloped abstract concepts. The other books had more plot threads, interactions with different and new characters, and sundry subplots. But I suppose there was a reason for the rushedness — Terry Pratchett was suffering Alzheimer’s and he wanted to produce something before his mind or life had gone. I salute you Mr. Pratchett. Shall we all be as hardworking as you.

This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own: A Journey to the End of Boxing by Jonathan Rendall
(unfinished)

John Green recommended this, but it was out of print and not to be found in any libraries. I finally decided to buy a used copy, because I like boxing.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that John Green’s favorites do not run parallel to my own. The writing style is too journalistic. It’s a memoir, but there’s not enough interesting things happening. The main character doesn’t come up against enough conflict. It’s basically “I saw boxing. I liked boxing. I went into boxing.” And then there’s a laundry list of celebrities and famous pugilists whom I don’t recognize. I’m sure it’s a fine book if you know boxing and/or sports history, but for everyone else… well, there’s a reason these books become unavailable.

Village of the Mermaids by Carlton Mellick III

Bizarro fiction, but less bizarro than others I’ve read. The plot is not so much a “monsters in the deep”, but a “Village of the Damned”/”Children of the Corn”. Our protagonist is a doctor with some kind of terminal medical condition where his skin turns to putty. He arrives at an island to figure out where the mermaids went and makes friends with a young girl. When the ferry sinks and there’s no way off the island, he keeps a cool head. There’s some gross sex stuff and people genetically-engineered to be delicious for mermaids.

I feel it needed more character development. It ended too early. The main character appeared to have changed, but I don’t know for what. It’s presented as a mystery novel, but the answers are in plain sight, not even hiding. The answer isn’t really found through deduction or mistakes of the enemy, but coincidence and luck. And then it ends in a gory, creepy mess. Which is fine if you like that kind of thing (I do), but doesn’t seem to fit the promises made in the beginning. The man’s condition has no bearing on the plot. Really, I just picked it up for the mermaids.

Poor Unfortunate Soul by Serena Valentino

So… Ursula is Cthulhu.

Oh, you didn’t know? Yes, apparently she can transform people into Deep Ones. Also, she was raised on land in a small village by a fisherman and can transform into a human at will, no magic needed. This was happening behind the movie the whole time and you didn’t know it. Isn’t it good to be informed?

The plot uses the non-canon lore that Ursula is Triton’s sister, but that’s what little of Ursula there is here. Again, this is more about the three witch sisters and Circe and Tulip and a bunch of other non-Disney characters who I don’t give two shits about it. If I hadn’t read “The Beast Within” I would have been totally lost (although you’d think I would have learned my lesson from that book). At least Valentino took the time to get the lines from the movie right this time.

The only reason I read this was the “The Little Mermaid” connection, and let me tell you, people, it’s not even worth that. There’s no character investment in anyone. And there’s less than forty percent of the page count dedicated to “The Little Mermaid” lore, let alone Ursula. It’s probably going to end up on my “worst books I read” of the year.

Mermaid Thoughts After Dark

ariel flounder sad face

Okay, I don’t mean to be gross here, but did when Ariel turned into a human, did her carpet match her drapes?

ariel tries to speak
What’s that, Ariel? Got nothing to say on the topic?

I don’t expect Ursula has done a lot of research on humans. Books on physiology are hard to come by under the sea. So I’m not sure how she would know that human hair is all the same color. For that matter, Ursula might have overlooked that whole business and given Ariel an unfurnished basement. These days, trimming the hedges might be commonplace, but it must have freaked Prince Eric out — finding out that his bride doesn’t have secondary sex characteristics.

For that matter, does Ariel even have a vagina? Ursula’s no xenophobe, but it doesn’t look like she’s spent much time in the human world, if any. How does she know what humans look like down below without their pants on? Has anyone done a study of humans, maybe by dissecting the corpses in the sunken ships? I don’t know how long the sea kingdom’s been anti-human but it looks like it stretches farther than mere monarchical law.

ariel naked flounder
“Just keep looking up, keep looking up…”

So does that mean Ariel’s got the anatomic structure of a Barbie doll? (She’s got the proportions, but…) All Ursula would have done is make two legs and no extra parts. How would she know there’s more to put down there? What a surprise for the honeymoon night. We all know about the mermaid problem. Poor Prince Eric thought that would have been solved by her transformation. It explains why there’s no scene of Ariel trying to figure out what’s that new opening between her legs.

alan rickman dogma
What would have happened if Ariel was male?

And no, I haven’t forgotten that Triton actually changes her permanently in the end. Considering that, it’s even worse. He’s even more anti-human than anyone under the sea.

I’m Fixing a Plot Hole Where the Ocean Gets In

little mermaid writing note to eric

One of the biggest plot holes in The Little Mermaid that everyone brings up is “Why doesn’t Ariel just write out a message to Eric?” One could have explained that away by saying mermaids have no written language if not for Ariel’s signed contract. I’ve tried to explain it by saying it’s translation convention (the same way Klingons speak Klingonese to other Klingons, but we hear it as English). It’s possible that telling him might have an effect on him falling in love with her (like ulterior motives or the fact that she’s a mermaid). However, if the alternative is turning into kelp, I might risk it. But the sad short answer is if she does, there’s no movie.

However, I’ve come upon a possible theory (thanks to a tweet) that could explain this discrepensay. Keep in mind there’s a lot of conjecture here. These are all guesses based on evidence or absence of evidence (which is false cause and anecdotal at best). But at least it’s better than saying that the plot demands it or that Ariel is holding the idiot ball.

Ariel doesn’t know what a pen is. Scuttle never told her or misinformed her.

Let me explain. Ariel knows what a pen is — she uses one to sign her contract with Ursula — but she doesn’t know what humans use for a pen. We never see her write while she’s a human and we can presume she never sees anyone else write. Or she might believe humans don’t use them. It’s not mermaids without the written language, it’s the humans (from Ariel’s POV, at least).

One must presume that she never saw anyone in the world writing or reading. Based on what we see in the film, this is plausible. She spends day one getting clean, then has dinner with Eric. The next day is spent touring the kingdom. I don’t see any words during this part — not even the storefronts have signs. But let’s keep in mind this takes place between the 16th and 18th century. The commonality of literacy was questionable at best. And what it was in Denmark, I have no idea. And the third day, she spends most of it sulking while brainwashed Eric prepares for the wedding.

All right, so obviously there are some issues with this. Here are the big ones.

A) Ariel has books in her grotto.

True, but ocean water plus ink equals one destroyed book. If she found any that she could open without it crumbling to pieces, I doubt the words would stay.

B) But she holds a book during Part of Your World. She even points to something in it.

Yeah, she uses a book during her “questions and answers” lyric, but we never see what’s inside it. She points to something in it, so that likely means there’s still something to see in it. Could be a book of art for all we know. Since my argument is based on lack of evidence, I say counter-points can use the same. Besides, knowing humans have words doesn’t mean humans have something to write with.

C) Doesn’t Sebastian know what a pen is? 

sebastian the crab little mermaid sheepish
Who? Me?

By his own admission, Sebastian’s had copious interaction with the human world, by virtue of his crustacean nature (crustature?). We must assume he’s an intertidal crab (the other two kinds, marine and terrestrial, would die if they’re taken out of their respective environments).

Intertidal crabs must keep their leg cuticles moist in order to process oxygen from air. Meaning it’s not likely he strayed far from water in his life. And how many people bring pens to the beach? He was paying attention to the music.

But let’s presume he does know that humans write. I wouldn’t trust Sebastian to spread butter on my toast. He may be a court composer, but he’s a neurotic doofus. He’s too busy worrying about Ariel, the spell, King Triton’s wrath, Ursula’s magic, and his own safety. Just the fact that he has to keep his distance (which translates to all kinds of shenanigans) means his tiny crab brain’s too stressed to think about alternatives. He’s concentrating on playing the game: “You got to get dat boy to keess you.”

D) In “The Scuttle Strut” in Songs of the Sea, Scuttle is helping Ariel write a letter. He specifically says “First you need a tappelhooper / That’s what they use to write / A BALLPOINT tappelhooper / would really be out of sight”

All right, let’s assume that this album is canonical for the sake of argument. Scuttle’s statement implies that there is a difference between what humans use to write and what mermaids do.

But Scuttle never describes what it looks like. Without a picture, Ariel would have to imagine what a tappelhooper is.

She knows what a comb is, but thanks to Scuttle, thinks human combs look like forks. She knows what a saxophone is (or its coral equivalent during the “Under the Sea” sequence) but thinks human saxophones look like smoking pipes. Thus any attempt to ask for one would result in getting a cattle brand or butter churn. If somehow she was able to ask for a tappelhooper, all she’d get would be a funny look.

Also, let’s consider that the first patent for a ballpoint pen was in 1888 in Sweden. The Little Mermaid takes place in 1890 (this is inferred based on the architecture and technology presented, although the fashion borrows from several periods. The original fairy tale was written in 1836). Would it be commonplace enough for Scuttle to know about it by then? (I use the word “know” in the loosest sense of the term.)

E) Even if Ariel doesn’t know what the human pen is, why doesn’t she ask for a mermaid one? Why doesn’t she write it in the sand?

You got me there. We see Ariel use a fishbone pen to sign Ursula’s contract. When it’s presented to her, she knows what to do with it. Therefore, mermaids know what writing utensils are.

The best I can come up with (besides translation convention) is that she is so enthralled with being a human and living with Eric, she forgets all about this. Ariel is a headstrong, lovesick girl. No one said she’s a genius.

Personally, I’m more worried that Eric somehow hears Sebastian say Ariel’s name. Crabs can speak to humans? They just don’t notice? Is anyone worried about this?

Who is the Protagonist in The Little Mermaid? (Follow-up)

the little mermaid logo

So I got my kids to watch “The Little Mermaid”, and honestly, I hadn’t seen the full film for quite some time. In the context of my last article about who the central figure of this movie is, I began to wonder, what if Prince Eric is the protagonist?

Let’s think about this. For one, he’s the first person we see, usually a giveaway. Ariel doesn’t appear until eight minutes in, after two other scenes. Also, Eric is the one who finally defeats the antagonist, not Ariel. Even though he doesn’t know Ursula from Adam, maybe she represents the Mrs. Wrong he’s been trying to avoid — a bride with bad motivations.

Like all good protagonists, there is something he wants and forces that act as obstacles to it. The kingdom wants to see him “happily settled down with the right girl”. Why the kingdom’s full of gossipy yentes, I don’t know. I always figured it had something to do with royal inheritance or power shifts. Prince Eric must have a real close relationship with his people if they’re so nosy. There’s a great unwritten fan fiction about the Princess of Glowerhaven somewhere.

Anyway, Eric tells his sidekick that he’s not interested in a marriage of convenience or power or arrangement or wealth. This contrasts his role in the original fairy tale where the prince is actually kind of a bad guy. The titular (pun intended) mermaid falls in love with him, sleeps outside his door, follows wherever he goes. The prince ignores her and marries someone else. (Not for love, if I recall.) She’s so devastated, she almost kills them, but chooses to end her own life instead.

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. Another factor is that he has a change. His quest is to accept the reality, rather than the dream. Sir Grimsby’s worried that he’s too picky or searching for something he’ll never find. He astutely notices Eric’s affections for the mute girl, and advises him that “far better than any dream girl is one of flesh and blood. One warm and caring and right before your eyes.”

When he throws his flute into the ocean, that symbolizes his capitulation of finding the mystery maiden. Life’s full of tough choices, in’nit? One could argue that this demonstrates a lack of change. But the dramatic irony is that it’s the same girl. So, if Vanessa hadn’t come along, he would have gotten what he wanted all along. Reminds me of an O. Henry story.

And last, we learn a moral from his quest — if you accept reality instead of the dream, the dream might become your reality. And from what I’ve learned in my personal life, I think that’s true.

Love you, honey.

Is Ariel the Protagonist of The Little Mermaid?

the little mermaid logo

During my Ursula analysis, I came upon this question (also posed by Lindsay Ellis and Doug Walker). Who is the protagonist of The Little Mermaid?

Through my studies of narrative, I’ve learned that a protagonist is not necessarily the main character or the hero. Don Quixote is the main character, but Sancho Panza is the protagonist. A protagonist is the person who changes as a result of the story. The protagonist enters the story because of conflict with the antagonist. The protagonist is supposed to be the person the audience mostly identifies with.

There are many different kinds. The hero protagonist is the most basic, most common. This is when the protagonist and the force for good in the universe is the same character. They’re sympathetic because they’re who we want to be, not who we are. Supporting protagonists are usually the POV character, but not the hero. Examples are Red from The Shawshank Redemption, Watson from Sherlock Holmes, and Mary Poppins. A Pinball Protagonist is simply bounced around from one situation to the other. Always reactive, never proactive. Forrest Gump, Charlie Bucket, and Bilbo Baggins tend to this type. Sometimes a protagonist doesn’t win, or dies right away, maybe as a decoy (like in Psycho), and other horror movies.

That means Darth Vader is the true protagonist of Star Wars. He’s the one that changes the most. True, Luke Skywalker does go from farm boy to uber-ninja, but Darth goes from noble warrior to dark lord and then redeems himself. In The Dark Knight, the Joker is not Bruce Wayne’s antagonist. It’s Harvey Dent. How can you tell? Because Harvey Dent is the one getting in the way of what Bruce Wayne wants. Bruce wants to stop being Batman. Harvey’s got the skills to do it, but he needs to step up. That’s why those incidents like Harvey torturing the fake cop for information are so devastating to Wayne. That’s why, in the ending, Batman is facing Two-Face, not Joker.

So now that those terms are defined, who is the protagonist of The Little Mermaid? Well it’s clear that Ariel is our main character and hero. She’s the force for true love in the world. For pursuit of knowledge and acceptance and curiosity. She has agency — she makes the decisions that affect the plot events. She’s the one who wants something. She’s the one who overcomes obstacles. But is she the one that changes? Some say no, some say yes.

We know Triton definitely changes. He goes from hating humans to letting his daughter marry one. From staying isolationist under the sea, bigoted and unsympathetic, to letting their two worlds interact (I always wondered if the existence of mermaids becomes a “thing” after TLM). After Ursula blows up, Triton should be one happy camper. His primary threat to the throne is gone, his daughter’s back. It’s pretty much back to status quo. Nevertheless, he realizes how wrong he was, and grants her wish to be human, so she can marry a guy she barely knows at the age of sixteen be with her one true love. Parenting 101.

But how does Ariel change? Does Ariel ever stop wanting the thing she wants? From the time she sets on eyes on him, she never stops loving Prince Eric. She never stops chasing her dream of staying human. She never turns from her goal, she never gives up (except for that small part where she’s crying on the dock, but who wouldn’t be doing that). Modern criticism says that Ariel is simply a ball in Triton and Ursula’s court.

Or is she? There’s one small part where, when Ursula is dragging her back down into the depths, Triton confronts her. As Ursula shows him the contract, the eels hold Ariel back as she says “Daddy, I’m sorry, I- I didn’t mean to…” That would indicate regret — a look back at where events led and the realization that this may not have been worth it. It’s just a blip, barely a few shots, but it seems to indicate that she’s learned something. So where does that leave us? Is she a changed person? Is she as stubborn as when we got into this whole mess?

Maybe Ariel is a deuteragonist. That’s always a hard one to define. It’s not a sidekick or a supporting protagonist (neither Triton or Ariel are assisting each other or following each other around). Not a decoy protagonist, since both are in the movie for the length, and it doesn’t end in a bait-and-switch. The deuteragonist has his/her own story, own character arc. Definition-wise, he/she is simply the second most important person in the story.

Triton and Ariel revolve around each other. Each is doing something the other doesn’t like, and that causes conflict. Both have flaws, both make sacrifices to get what they want. Triton may not be the protagonist, but he is definitely Ariel’s antagonist. Not Ursula. And in the end, neither are in the same place they were before. Much like Lady & the Tramp or Frozen. It’s Lady’s story, but Tramp is the one that changes. Lady never wavers from her belief that a good home in exchange for servile guardianship is better than freedom & risk. In Frozen, both girls change. Anna learns not to jump headlong into situations. Elsa learns the consequences of rejecting love.

I think this question all depends on one thing — what is Ariel thinking when she’s on that rock?

She’s up there, gazing at her prince. Is she saying goodbye? Or is she contemplating a new way to get legs? Is she unchanged? Is she giving one last look before diving back under the depths, never to return? Have the choices and obstacles she faced changed her?

We may never know. The writers didn’t even give her a line after Ursula is dead. I guess they left that mystery up to us, to forever ponder.