Spec in Song Spotlight: Kyle Morton

typhoon - white lighter
Image from wearetyphoon.bandcamp.com/album/white-lighter

Spec in Song explores the use of the speculative in music, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi, horror, or beyond.

The content of Kyle Morton’s songs is just about as wide-ranging and eclectic as the musical styles he works into them. This makes sense considering that his main band, Typhoon, consists of eleven multi-instrumentalists; their work features acoustic and electric guitars, basses, violins, drums, ukuleles, banjos, and even a horn section. Yet somehow in this mess of moving parts, he manages to craft imaginative and intricate speculative worlds.

Morton is by no means a ‘speculative artist,’ however you might define it. His themes and stories are all grounded in real-world problems such as aging, relationships, and chronic illness—specifically Lyme disease, of which Morton is a sufferer.

However, as he addresses these ideas in his colourful soundscape, the imagery and plot he weaves place him among some of the greatest sci-fi and fantasy writers of our time.

In “100 Years,” from Typhoon’s third studio album, White Lighter, Morton paints a bleak and downright disturbing picture of a post-modern dystopia. After he (or his character) falls asleep under a tree and sleeps for 100 years, he wakes up to find the world changed. “I awoke in the future,” he says, and what a future it is.

Entire cities of old folks’ homes / In every household a hospital bed for everyone / They laid me down and they stripped my clothes / They gave me a shirt that says / ‘I survived my own life.’”

Morton draws a painful link between society’s emphasis on survival over living and his own struggle with mortality. In doing so, he flings the listener into a different world. Yet this world is torn down just as quickly as it is created, giving way to introspection. “I told you / I told you / I have nothing left with which to hold you.”

Morton’s lyrics are an interesting blend of metaphor and hyperbole. Some are realistic, if overstated (like living for 100 years, even in sleep), but are combined with fantastical elements. What comes out of this mix is fantastically deep world-building, spiralling even out of a few short lines.

He continues this world-building on his solo studio album, What Will Destroy You, bringing a post-apocalyptic flavour to tracks such as “Survivalist Fantasy.” This is a song that explores his complicated relationship with intimacy in a sort of ‘last man on Earth’ scenario.

The scene is set by the lines: “The traffic lights are out and all the phones are dead / Don’t answer the door for anyone.” In a world with a zombie apocalypse obsession, these lines strike a cultural chord. At the same time, the lyrics aren’t intrinsically apocalyptic, and can bring to mind real world scenarios of riot and revolution.

Before we lost the power I think the television said / Stay inside your homes wait for help to come / That must have been weeks ago / Now I’ve got this sinking feeling / You and I are the only ones.”

Again, we see world-building that takes familiar themes and alienates them so that they make more sense surrounded by the fantastical. Who hasn’t thought, when fighting with a partner or struggling to communicate with a loved one, that the world is coming to an end? Who hasn’t questioned the value of living when there doesn’t seem to be any life in their years?

Morton writes stories that are both close to home and entirely other-worldly, which makes for a complex lyrical experience. Being familiar and yet new, it’s definitely worth a stumble through one of his worlds.

Suggested Tracks:

-Contributed by Stephan Goslinski

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Calling All Storytellers: An Original, Contemporary Fairy Tale, Please!

When I think of fairy tales, I think of mythical creatures, anthropomorphic objects and animals, happy endings, and valuable lessons fully revealed at the end. The ones recorded  by the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, and Charles Perrault have justifiably become classic fairy tales, with great popularity and numerous literary, film, musical, and theatre adaptations. Recently, the musical film Into the Woods, which came out on December 25, 2014, was a crossover adaptation of the Grimm Brothers’ “Cinderella”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Rapunzel”. That film was in fact an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, which was itself an adaptation of James Lapine’s book of the same name. And that’s just one specific revival of the classic fairy tales.

On the top of my head, within the past decade (give or take a couple of years) these are some of the film adaptations of fairy tales: Ella Enchanted, Enchanted, A Cinderella Story, Another Cinderella Story, Maleficent, Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Killer, Beastly, the four Shrek films, the three recent Disney princess films, and so many others. And apparently there’s going to be more film adaptations this year, including one of Cinderella and one of Beauty and the Beast, which I’m not too surprised about; these fairy tales are as old as time with practically no copyright laws, and they help today’s storytellers get their creative minds going with at least the basis for a story.

But where are the contemporary fairy tales?

How can there be so many adaptations, but no new, original stories? Surely some brave people have attempted to create fairy tales with new teachings of morality that are relevant to our time. Yes, some of the aforementioned (and other) adaptations of the classic fairy tales may have snuck in an extra moral lesson or two, like Disney’s Frozen with its rejection of the idea of love at first sight. But where are the fairy tales with their own original premises and new, relevant moral lessons?

As you try to think of those fairy tales of our time, keep in mind that fairy tales are short stories. I was almost going to pose the idea of The Lord of the Rings as a fairy tale, after seeing it listed as a fairy tale on Wikipedia (another reason to take Wikipedia’s words with a grain of salt). If you think about it, it does fit the genre, especially since J. R. R. Tolkien’s own definition of ‘fairy stories’ from his 1965 essay “On Fairy-Stories” describes his own literary works so well. But then I remembered that fairy tales are short stories. Oops.

Unfortunately, short stories aren’t taking the world by storm as novels and novellas are doing, so we could have missed those brilliant contemporary fairy tales. The only fairy tale-like short story I can think of on the spot is The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch. You know, that princess that teenage girls dressed up as for Halloween in high school. It’s a short story because it’s a children’s picture book, it has fairy tale elements and motifs, and it teaches girls the valuable lesson that women don’t need a man to rescue them because women are capable of helping themselves. It seems like it could be the first of our contemporary fairy tales.

Now all we need are fairy tales with moral teachings on equity and diversity, discovering one’s actual passion(s), integrity in one’s work (to be applicable to any kind of work), making the choice between what’s right and what’s easy (thanks, Rowling, but maybe a short story with that lesson for the children would be best), and on feminist values (because The Paperbag Princess really only made the prince a wimp for comical effect and wouldn’t be proper in relating the genders equally).

I certainly haven’t read all of the fairy tales ever published (yet), so perhaps one of them was progressive for its time. But if not, do you know of any short stories that could be classified as contemporary fairy tales? And is there a valuable teaching pertinent to our time that I missed and should be the moral of a fairy tale? Let me know!

-contributed by Brenda Bongolan

Sandman : Handful of Dust

sandman shushes me
Image from empireonline.com

 

When a young Neil Gaiman first approached Vertigo comics about The Sandman, he was pitching a simple revival of the 70s series of the same name by Joe Simon and Jack “The King” Kirby. But DC editor Karen Berger insisted that while they keep the name, Gaiman should create a new character.

And thank goodness he did, for otherwise the world would have been robbed of something beautiful. Running from 1989 to 1996, for a total 75 issues collected in 10 volumes, The Sandman managed to create its very own expansive self-contained mythology.

The original artists Mike Dringenberg and Sam Kieth fashioned the title character after Gaiman himself. The Sandman, also known as Morpheus or Dream, and by many other names, carries with him an aura of inhumanity. While early issues exist in the DC comic universe with appearances by The Martian Manhunter and John Constantine (hellblazer), the creators quickly realized that Sandman should be a world unto itself, and so that is what it became. Sandman used several different types of stories to keep itself going and to keep it feeling new and alien all the way through to its final issue, but over its run, three types of stories were prevalent.

The Sandman was able to hold on to many overlapping threads throughout its near decade-long run, with characters who appeared in early issues later returning to have their stories told in elaborate detail. This worked well for the first main kind of story that was used. While several volumes are focused on the Sandman himself, there are also a number of stories in which the title character only appears in a minor capacity, and sometimes he fails to appear at all, instead being merely alluded to or referenced by the other characters. These stories were all set in the present and centered on ordinary people who are pulled into problems or adventures that they don’t understand, becoming involved with magic and monsters.

But even when Dream himself didn’t appear, Gaiman never lost focus on what the series was about. Even in these more domestic stories, the focus is on these ordinary people’s dreams, and the effect that dreams can have on the waking world. Whether it be the story of a young woman named Barbie who becomes trapped in her own dreaming, or of a girl named Rose who finds herself with mysterious powers, the underlying idea behind the story is always clear—what is important are the dreams that these characters have, and how these dreams provide a glimpse into the effect that Dream has on the world he inhabits .

The next kind of story that Gaiman used most often involves the various preexisting mythologies that the world has to offer. In The Sandman, the deities from various cultures and mythologies coexist. This allows Dream to engage with different stories from various mythologies, and allows Gaiman to teach the reader about histories and mythologies that they might not have been exposed to otherwise.

The Sandman also includes Biblical figures such as Cain and Able, who in the series exist as servants to Dream in his mystical realm. Cain is doomed to always kill his brother and Able is doomed to be endlessly resurrected. The devil himself is a key figure in several volumes, with Dream actually visiting hell to sort out his conflicts with the infamous fallen angel Lucifer. One such conflict is when Lucifer decides to retire and leaves Dream in charge of hell, leading to all sorts of problems .

Dream also has stories with characters cut from Egyptian mythology, such as the cat god Bast, and characters from Norse mythology, such as Thor, Odin, and Loki, with the latter two becoming important figures in The Sandman’s later volumes. The three Fates from ancient Greek mythology also figure, and in the end they become Dream’s most important foes.

sandman family
Image from wikimedia.org

But the third—and probably my personal favorite—kind of narrative that The Sandman employs is historical: the blending of the Sandman’s unique and eerie magic with historical figures and events. This is used to showcase the Kings of Rome and Marco Polo, and, most notably, is used when Morpheus visits the dreams of William Shakespeare, helping to inspire some of the famous playwright’s most beloved works. In issue 19, collected in the third volume Dream Country, Shakespeare’s company puts on A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Morpheus, with actual Fairy Folk sneaking into production. This issue is the only comic book to ever win the World Fantasy Award.My favorite example of this blending of history and fantasy will always be from Volume 6, Fables and Reflections, in which Dream inspires the broken and suicidal Joshua Abraham Norton in the year of 1859 to become the self-proclaimed Emperor of America, a real historical figure who solved social disputes in the city of San Francisco.

The Sandman is an intelligent, unnerving saga that follows an inhuman, monstrous magical figure. It traces his deeds and misdeeds throughout history with his siblings Destiny, Despair, Desire, Destruction, Delirium, and Death. The Sandman is a unique and beautiful series, and should always be remembered both as one of Gaiman’s crowning achievements and as one of the greatest creations of the comic book medium.

-contributed by Ben Ghan

The Giants Made Me Eat My Spinach: From Then to Now

Giants.  From the English fairytale “Jack and the Beanstalk” to the most recent iteration in the anime and manga Attack on Titan, giants are a well-established element of fantastical stories. However, as with all story elements, they are subject to evolution. Giants in some form or another had existed in folktales and stories well before Jack and his beans were conceptualized in the late 1790s. Greek folklore is thought to contain the first of the giants in its stories of Kronos and his cohort, who both gave birth to and terrorized the gods. Legends continued to spring up around the world, culminating in Ireland with the story of Fingal (or Fionn mac Cumhaill), who is the vertically-enhanced being responsible for the Giant’s Causeway. By then, giants were an integral part of European folklore, eventually coming to England with the well-known tale of Jack and the Beanstalk.

In Jack’s story, the giants are a thinly-veiled metaphor that essentially admonishes people not to be little brats or else they’ll be stepped on. It is a cautionary tale used to remind children that the world is not a forgiving place. What better way to scare them than to tell them of huge humans, with human desires and emotions, but with devastating strength and a penchant for vendettas? This metaphor has been reused constantly across almost every tale involving giants since then, from Roald Dahl’s BFG to J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. In both, the giants are, for all intents and purposes, just tremendously big people. Though perhaps not as lucid as Jack’s giants, they still demonstrate extremely human traits. These giants also have rather blatant similarities in the messages that they are attempting to convey. The world (giants) is big and scary, and if you aren’t nice to it, it won’t be nice to you. And it may even squash you anyway.

570_Roald-Dahl-s-The-BFG-live-action-movie-to-be-made-5551
Image from fanshare.com

 

Along comes the twenty-first century, and, apparently, a new set of rules. The anime and manga, Attack on Titan, takes the giant and gives it an entirely new spin. The giant is still big. Still bad. Still very much set on stomping. However, any human emotion, desire, or purpose has been utterly erased. These giants exist for one purpose: slaughter.

This complete reversal of everything giants had been, stylistically, up to that point, brings with it an entirely new metaphor. “Jack and the Beanstalk”, BFG, Harry Potter, and Fingal’s stories had all been written with nineteenth and twentieth century criteria. The giants in those stories were created to underline the age-old ideas of what it means to be good. Thus, it was important to see some part of ourselves in the creatures intended to be the externalizations of our punishments should we fail to be good. Attack on Titan departs from this line of thought. Its giants are pure and animalistic. Gone is “eat your vegetables, dearies, or you’ll be pulverized”. These giants seem to have a much deeper, much darker purpose—one that would take volumes to analyze, but seems to boil down to this: climate change, wonky political systems, and “don’t nuke your neighbours”.

from animediet.net
Image from animediet.net

 

Every part of a story exists for a reason, and all parts are subject to revision as society and media changes. Whether it be to inspire kids to go to bed on time or to highlight the various fallacies of modern society, giants are one such part.

-contributed by Rej Ford

 

Peter Pan: The Boy Who Grew Up

SPEC_peterpan
Illustration by Dorothy Anne Manuel.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that we all struggle to find our footing in the world during the transition from childhood to adulthood. Growing up to become an adult is a difficult and arduous journey that forces us to decide whether to hold on to our childhood self or to let it go. Most often, we are forced to stuff the child into the deepest recesses  of our brain, where we hope to forget them so that we can move on with our adulthood.

Now I know I’ve painted a dark picture, but the truth seldom shines in the light. However, there is one question that is worth asking: why are we forced to suppress our childhood self? Why are we forced to grow up only to fulfill societal expectations that may not suit all of us?

The answer can be found in one powerful tale that tells the story of a boy who chose not to grow up: Peter Pan. We’ve all read or heard of this story by Scottish novelist J. M. Barrie, but few of us may have thought about the overarching statement that Barrie is trying to make about the many reasons for and against growing up and what ‘growth’ really means. I’ll present just one theory that looks at the other side of the story: the side that explores why Peter left, and what that may potentially reveal about ourselves.

Barrie writes that Peter left his parents as an infant, because he heard them talking about his impending transition into a man and couldn’t bear going through with it. We are led to believe that he left because he didn’t want to grow up. But what if he left because he specifically did not want to grow into his parents and society’s definition of a man?

If we closely examine Peter’s adventures in Neverland, we can see that he does grow—he grows up psychically  but not physically. He leads a group of lost boys, fights Captain Hook, and saves people. Granted, all of these tasks are not seen as typical adult responsibilities, but that is only so in the eyes of society. Peter became what he believed he wanted to be. He became a man on his own terms. Even though it seems he never grows up, he displays strength, courage, care, and love. He even has a friendship with Tinker Bell, proving that he can be in relationship. Peter retains all the qualities a grown man has without ever giving up on the child in himself.

From the perspective of our society, we would declare Peter a child. Why? Because he doesn’t have a paying job. Because he doesn’t have a family. Because he is uneducated. Because he’s irresponsible. But again, all these limitations are only set by our society. Now, I am not saying that we should overthrow the system, but I think we should acknowledge that sometimes we don’t want to be the responsible, mature adults society tells us we have to be. Sometimes we just want to be ourselves, stripped bare from the expectations and responsibilities of our society.

Peter’s journey is not just one of a boy to a man, but also one of finding who we are when we are not society’s usual nine-to-five  working citizen with a nuclear family, a post-secondary degree, and relationship issues. His journey is about finding out what we can be when we are not any of these things.

Peter Pan says more than what it initially appears to say. Society presents us with many images  of middle-class working conditions, minimum wages, brick houses, and a family, and leaves out the possibility of individual growth. I realize that somehow or the other we all have to conform to society’s ideals of a grown adult in order to survive, but that does not mean that we must forsake who we want to be as an individual. That does not mean that we have to forsake our childhood self in order to make room for our adult self. And it does not mean that we are all just working-class  students with nothing more to offer.

Peter left because there was no room for him to grow in his society, and we, too, must occasionally seek out a reprieve from our collective identity as working adults with familial and financial responsibilities in order to discover that we can be who we want to be, independent of society’s demands and conditions. So take a trip to a nearby park or mountain, hike, go camping, go to the playground, go bungee jumping, write a book, or make music—do what makes you happy, regardless of what society dictates. After all, Peter found his Neverland, and it’s time we find ours.

Ever since we began to understand the world, we became aware that there is already a plan for our future determined by our parents and by society. Growing up might be touted by them as a sacred process, but it’s tainted with their expectations of what a grown adult is and should be. We are taught that we need a degree and that we need a job so that we can nurture a family and die peacefully knowing that we lived the right life. But there is no semblance of who we are when we don’t want to do these things, when all we want is to revert back to being kids again. That’s what Peter’s tale is all about: how we can grow to be responsible and mature without ever having to forget or erase our childhood innocence and wonder.

 -contributed by Rashida Abbas

Remembering the Mighty Monty Oum: A Review of RWBY

RWBYSpec2
Illustration by Yamandú Sztainbok

 

This review contains spoilers.

On February 1, 2015, the world lost a great animator, director, and creative genius. Monty Oum suffered a severe allergic reaction during a routine check-up, causing him to become comatose before passing away. The lead animator for hit series Red vs. Blue, Oum quickly gained a large fan base in the Rooster Teeth community and decided to create his own series. RWBY is the product of his grand imagination and extravagant animating skills. Hyped up with various character trailers and critiques applauding its amazing animation and soundtrack, RWBY launched with a bang, filling the auditoriums during its premiere screening.

Each episode spans around ten minutes (with two volumes out so far) filled with action-packed fight scenes and intense plots. Monty’s animation style features design elements of Japanese anime mixed with Western animation, creating a unique combination that stunned audiences. The flawless visuals and excellent presentation have rightfully given this series the reputation of being one of the best North American-based anime in recent years .

The series follows the adventures of Ruby Rose, a young, energetic girl who wields a sniper-scythe (yes, it is a scythe that can shoot people). Ruby enrolls in Beacon Academy to become one of the Huntsmen and fight against evil monsters known as the Grimm. The story focuses primarily on her interactions with the other main characters, but also incorporates the stories of supporting characters in order to progress the storyline. There is no such thing as a filler episode as there is always some movement in the plot that flows perfectly with each episode’s mini-story.

Ruby is faced with problems ranging from teenage drama with schoolmates to battles with expert assassins. Monty is able to balance effectively a slice of life style premise with an action/adventure storyline. He also presents endless opportunities for development by keeping an open end to the adventure as the story branches off into various missions while continuing Ruby’s original goal of becoming a Huntress.

Image from i.imgr.com
Image from i.imgr.com

The weapons. The end.

Seriously though, the weapon list in this show borders on insanity: a sniper rifle combined with a scythe, a spear that can transform into a sword, brass knuckle gloves that shoot out bullets? These are ideas we all had as children but were too ridiculous to even be considered to be possible in real life. But Monty made it happen. His fantastical designs are the type of creativity no one knew they needed.

Combined with his animating genius, the minute-long fight scenes seem to last a lifetime as hordes of monsters are slain in matters of seconds. Pausing at each frame, you can see the immaculate animation. Lines are clean and colours are vibrant. Anatomy and proportions stay correct and movement is natural. Everything about this show’s visuals is perfect. Considering the small size of the animation team, the amount of detail that went into each scene is jaw-dropping.

The amount of detail used for each character is often overlooked. The main characters’ names correspond with their colour palettes (e.g., r for Ruby and Rose, which are red), and the supporting characters’ names allude to historic and mythical beings while also relating to their personalities (e.g., Sun Wukong is a half-human half-monkey character in the series and was based off of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King in Journey to the West).

The pairings are also well-thought-out. Ruby’s childish persona contrasts with the serious demeanour of her partner, Weiss Schnee. However, their true natures are shown through conversations that reveal their childhoods, providing reasons for their actions and outward attitude. A great example is how everyone thinks that the queen of combat, Pyrrha Nikos, is noble and free of worries at first, but then one episode focuses on her inner loneliness and disconnect from the rest of the world.

This series is relatable to the audience in this regard: every character has empowering traits that people exhibit, but they also have realistic flaws that make them more human. The attention given to the characters really paid off, resulting in heroes who wield impossible weapons but are also down-to-earth and familiar to the audience.

The music and character songs feature the voice actors of the show and are excellently composed. I’m sure  every RWBY fan went through a phase where they listened to the soundtrack on replay for a few weeks. (Or months.) The upbeat and battle-themed songs were not only catchy but also strongly connected to the corresponding characters and story. Listening to each song at face value was just as good as analyzing the meanings of their lyrics. The voice acting in this series was of great quality as well. The actors were able to capture the personality of each character and display it properly with each line. The best part was that Monty himself voiced one of the characters, Lie Ren, showcasing his vast arsenal of talents.

Image from youtube.com
Image from youtube.com

A downside to this series is the fact that its production team is so small (relative to other anime and animation franchises). The simple lack of manpower limits the animators’ resources, meaning that there isn’t enough time or a large enough budget to perfect the series. The only characters that were really individuated were the main characters. Unimportant background or side characters were mere silhouettes in the first volume, and only a few that interacted with main characters or monsters were generically drawn (e.g., with a white shirt and one-colour pants). The bustling city of Vale seemed very empty with only a handful of walking silhouettes. This was also a reason for the short length of each episode. There were simply not enough team members to be able to produce longer episodes at the rate at which they released the episodes.

The result of an experimental web series has proven to be more than the Internet could handle. Monty Oum’s animation child has grown to its third volume with a proposed video game and DVD release of the series in the works. Hopefully, the series will continue to grow as a monument of Monty’s greatness and will reach the hearts of viewers around the world.

 -contributed by Elizabeth Lau

The Uncanny Beauty of Death, Scent, and Belonging in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Illustration by Ann Sheng
Illustration by Ann Sheng

I propose to start this on a whiff .

Inhale, and let it out; pick up your favourite book and close your eyes and just breathe. Let’s talk about scent and murder.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind  explores a fantastical and fabulously decadent universe. We follow the story of Jean-Baptiste  Grenouille, born at a fish market to a mother who leaves him to die after giving birth to him. She is executed for abandoning him, and so Grenouille is left an orphan in the depths of eighteenth century Paris.

There is no compassion to be found in this book. There is no happy ending. Grenouille is a monster created by the cruelty of the society he lives in and by his own unique gift: an olfactory sense that stretches beyond normal human understanding.

Grenouille is treated like an animal by those around him. His painful existence drags through a cold childhood into a miserable youth, but this story is enlivened by a rich portrayal of the senses, brought to life with Grenouille’s every breath.

We are taken through every filth-filled part of Paris, but, disturbingly, the city doesn’t come across as repulsive. Süskind makes it his duty to connect the reader to the main character in such an evocative yet delicate way that once we are present for his first murder, it becomes a disappointment to not experience the rest.

Perfume is a mix of carnal desire and disappointment, but perhaps most importantly, it is about the fear of the fleeting existence of the individual. Because Grenouille has no scent, the people around him are repulsed by him; it is this social ostracism and isolation that underlies his fear of not truly existing. He collects the scents of young girls that astound and captivate him in order to make a scent for himself out of their scents and thereby ascertain his own existence. Grenouille’s killing is almost an afterthought to this mission.

While reading, I was struck by how realistic and familiar the brutal characters portrayed were. Grenouille is the killer, but no character in the book has any shade of goodness or any other redeeming qualities.

As individuals, we tend to not recognize our sense of smell as important because it is merely one of our many senses.  But it is supremely important. Taking every scent for granted—taking breath and life for granted—is something every character in this novel is guilty of.

The importance of the power of smell is perhaps most evident in our reaction to perfume, which the book uses to highlight our desire to be individuals—to have our own scent and to be unique. In fact, many of us live our lives in the knowledge that we each have individual scents, and looking for a perfume to compliment us as we see ourselves can become a huge part of what makes us us. We share this hunt for singularity with the protagonist, and the disturbing message of the book is knowing that on some level, our stories may resemble his much more closely than we would like to admit.

The brutality of the novel is directly proportional to its fantastic and beautiful qualities. Perfume depicts the hunt of a killer not only for a victim, but also for a sense of self, which is presented as an essential beauty. Yet the fear of not being able to hold on to beauty is also present. The end of the novel is unexpected and shriveling. Despite its use of the highly fantastic, it somehow succeeds in staying unashamedly human in the rawest sense of the word.

-contributed by Magdalena Wolak