The Poor Teaching Practices of Professor Dumbledore

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Illustrated by Mia Carnevale

Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was a great man. A champion of wizard and muggle rights, defender of the innocent, genius, scholar, warrior, philosopher, and general. Founder of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore single-handedly stopped the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald’s reign of terror, kept the dangerous Elder Wand safe from those who would abuse its power, and waged two wars against the Dark Lord Voldemort (yeah, I can say his name) over a period of twenty years, even giving his life in order to stop the darkness.

Dumbledore’s life stood for kindness and compassion for others, and the value and power of love. I love him and I will challenge anyone who disagrees to a duel. And yet… how well suited was Dumbledore to be the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

Here, to the detriment of my own soul, I admit that as great a man as Dumbledore undoubtedly was, he wasn’t a very good headmaster.

Let us start with the dangers that Dumbledore allowed into his school. Does everyone remember in The Philosopher’s Stone when three eleven year old children stumbled into a room that held a gigantic, vicious three-headed dog? I sure do, that book was great. But you might be shouting, “Fluffy and the other traps were there to protect the philosophers stone you moron!”. And yes, I know this.

It was a very decent thing of Professor Dumbledore to do, to keep safe the most important possession of a dear friend against the forces of evil. But…why exactly did Dumbledore decide to do this in a school? Yeah sure, he mentioned at the feast that year that the third floor was out of bounds to any who didn’t want to suffer a horrible death. This is a school full of children! It was wildly inappropriate for Dumbledore to hide the philosopher’s stone inside of the school where his priority should be the children. Yes, he had the best intentions, but he still endangered the lives of his students in order to prevent the return of Lord Voldemort.

Also, speaking of monsters, remember how there was a giant child-killing snake hiding in the Hogwarts castle? The first time the Chamber of Secrets was opened, Dumbledore was a professor! A child was killed, and that was absolutely out of his hands. But later, once the attacks stopped, Dumbledore just kind of went, “Well, I know there is a child-killing monster somewhere in this castle. Neat.” and he did nothing about it! There is no evidence that in the fifty years between the times the chamber was opened that Albus ever so much as peeked under a bed to try and look for it.

Now we must come to Dumbledore’s teaching practices. Professor Quirrell can be excused, as he was hired before supergluing the Dark Lord to his head. I will also fight anyone who says it was inappropriate to hire Remus Lupin. Even Hagrid I would say was a perfectly decent choice for the Magical Creature’s professor, although some limits as to what he was allowed to teach at what level (and what he was allowed to breed) should have been firmly put in place before Hagrid accepted the job.

So this leaves us with six teachers we know were hired by Albus Dumbledore during his tenure as headmaster of Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry: Severus Snape, Gilderoy Lockhart, Sybill Trelawney, Firenze, Mad-Eye Moody, and Horace Slughorn.

The most obvious and insane mistake of Dumbledore’s hirings: Gilderoy Lockhart. Lockhart, who is a barely-competent wizard, a selfish fraud, and a charlatan, is hired by Albus Dumbledore, a man adept in seeing through people, has the power to read minds, and hopefully the ability to check references. What on earth prompted Dumbledore to hire a man who is so obviously incompetent that a bunch of twelve year olds figured it out after a couple weeks of lessons? Really, there are only two possible explanations.

  1. He did it because it was funny. Yes, Albus has a great sense of humour. No, it should not be at the cost of the education of the youth under his care. Or…
  2. Dumbledore thought Lockhart was very pretty, and so hired him on the basis of how pretty he was. This is horrible and his students suffered as a result, though admittedly, since I too am hoping to get by in life by being so very pretty, it does give me hope for my future.

Sybil Trelawney is a true psychic. Indeed, it was her prophecy which caused the deaths of James and Lily Potter, and ensured that their son Harry would be the one to bring about the downfall of Lord Voldemort. Knowing her importance, Dumbledore agreed to hire her as the divination professor in order to keep her safe from Voldemort’s forces.

But just to be clear, so far as Dumbledore is aware, Trelawney has only ever made one real prophecy in her life. Albus believes that the rest of the time, Trelawney is a fake. He does not hire her to teach his students, he hires her as a chess piece in his war against Voldemort. An asset in a supernatural war is really not a good reason to hire a bad educator.

Now how about Mad-Eye Moody, eh? Yes, I know Moody himself never got a chance to teach since he had been secretly replaced a Death Eater. That wasn’t the real Mad-Eye. But we still meet the real Mad-Eye Moody in later books. We get to see how paranoid, abrupt, and extreme he is. This is a man with intense PTSD from his time as an officer of the law. He is brilliant, but he is also prone to violence, shouting, and telling people that someone is going to come and try to kill them at any moment.

Albus Dumbledore thought it would be cool to put this man in charge of eleven year old children. Maybe I’m being judgmental here, and it could have turned out that if given the chance, Mad-Eye would have been a great teacher and had hidden talents in working with youth.

But I don’t think so.

And finally: Snape and Slughorn.

Slughorn is a more than competent potions master. He is perfectly capable to do the job he has been hired to do and, creepily making students join his pseudo-cult aside, he seems like a good teacher. But this is not why Dumbledore hires Slughorn. Slughorn is actually hired so that Dumbledore can have Harry Potter extract a memory from the old professor, so that Albus may confirm his theory on Voldemort’s seven horcruxes. Slughorn is hired so that Albus can continue the fight against Voldemort. It had nothing to do with his teaching ability.

And finally, Snape. Snape, who is Dumbledore’s valued spy. Snape, who Dumbledore entrusts with both his life and his death. Snape, who brutally tortures the child of the woman he loved, just because she didn’t love him back. Snape, who was biased in the classroom, cruel, and abusive. Snape, who made thirteen year old Neville Longbottom more afraid of his teacher than anything else in the universe.

I understand that Snape was ultimately not the villain he pretended to be. Snape did what he needed to do on Dumbledore’s orders. He was an excellent spy and soldier. But he was a terrible teacher. Maybe Harry could forgive Snape for his treatment of children, but I can’t. Dumbledore brought Snape to Hogwarts to fight a war against evil, and they won. But he did so at the cost of allowing a teacher to bully his students until they trembled when he approached.

I will never forgive Snape for being the thing that the Bogart became at the sight of Neville.

If there is an underlying theme of my criticism of the headmaster, I think it is that Dumbledore often put his fight against evil over the safety and education of his students. Yes, he did the right thing, he stopped a terrible dark wizard from destroying his people. Albus worked as hard as he could, and saved as many as he could. But really, did he do so as a teacher? No. Many of his hiring practices were to do with fighting evil, which was good for the fight, but bad for the school.

Dumbledore might have turned down the position of Minister of Magic, believing he could not be trusted with power. But really, it might not have been a bad idea to go and run the war from the Ministry instead of the school. If anything else, he could have at least found a place for that giant three-headed dog where an eleven year old girl couldn’t break the lock.

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Great man. Lousy school administrator.

 

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

Embracing The Hag: Feminist Implications Of Proto-Pagan Ritual

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Illustrated by Mia Carnevale

Mythologies across the world have stories from before the regular pantheon. Before the Norse gods there were frost giants, and before Zeus there was Cronos and the Titans.

The Winter Hag, or Cailleach, is an ancient deity, a goddess of winter and the land who predates even the earliest Celtic pantheon of spirits. My aunt Valeria—an expert on mythology through her own religious practices—once told me a folktale all about how no one could recall the Winter Hag’s age.

The story goes: One day, a parish priest visited Cailleach’s house to asks how old she was. The woman replied that she couldn’t quite remember, but every year on her birthday she would kill a cow and throw the thigh bone in her attic. So if he wanted to, he could go up to the attic and count the bones. In the end the priest sent his assistant to go, and the last anyone heard, the young priest is still counting.

It’s a joke, but it accurately represents the proto-age of the mythos. A dark, scary earth mother from a cold, ancient time where the harsh northern winters of Ireland and Scotland could easily kill. She sleeps throughout the summer and returns in late fall to bring winter across the land.

My aunt has been interested in the legends of the Winter Hag for years. Fittingly, we sat down by the fireplace on a winter night with a glass of wine and talked a lot about the evolution of religion, and how deities are shaped to fit the lands they’re brought to through diaspora and travel. The Winter Hag comes from Ireland and Scotland and was such an integral part of the land there, but being adopted by practitioners across the world shapes the mythology, in much the same way that European and American Christian practices can be so different.

The Winter Hag’s mythology predates the maiden/mother/crone archetypes defining so many women in folklore. These proto-deity earth mothers are found throughout mythologies and come from a time when land was central to existence. The Hag is her own woman, having many lives, faces, and facets representing the whole of her experiences on earth. She’s the grandmother, the spinner, and the weaver, similar to the Fates in other mythologies.

Her appearance is described in the tale of Beira, Queen of Winter as that of a very old, wrinkled woman with a blue face and one eye. In Norse mythology, as recounted in James Weigel’s Mythology, the god Odin shares this feature, having traded his other eye for wisdom.

According to the Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, the name Cailleach means “old woman” in Modern Gaelic, but comes from an older word for “veiled one.” But rather than veiled out of modesty, like the Catholic nuns who came to populate the insular world once Christianity spread across pagan lands, the Winter Hag covers herself in a veil of mystery. She isn’t about hiding her appearance, and neither is it the practice of those who worship her. Valeria described how some contemporary rituals involve looking deep into a mirror to really look at yourself and see the strength of all the qualities you’ve acquired in your life. Seeing Cailleach in yourself means seeing – and accepting – yourself for who you really are.

The stories of the Hag are helpful guidelines when looking at aging, mortality, and change. Old age and ugliness can be seen as terrible things, especially for women in contemporary society. “There’s a lot of this identity where your value as a human being is about being sexually attractive to men,” Valeria mentioned. She feels that, as women grow older, they grow more invisible, but also that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can help take focus off of physical appearance, one of many, many aspects of womanhood. “And you get less focus from creepy men,” she laughs, but it is very true.

A lot of the “fear” of the elderly comes from a fear of death. But, as in the case of the Winter Hag, age can indicate how long you’ve survived just as much as it indicates how close to death you are. It’s good for old and young people to share each other’s strength, and it benefits folklore, stories, and wisdom. I experienced this firsthand while I talked to Valeria; I learned about mythology, but I also gained a better perspective on the relationships between youth and age.

The story of the Winter Hag is all about teaching each other from experiences and accepting aging and changing. This folklore came to Valeria at a point in her life when she was accepting change and becoming an elder within her community; it really made her think about the passage of time – in stories and community – and everyone’s place within it. She’s going to be a grandmother soon, which puts it all into a concrete perspective. It’s similar to the sense in which you’re a different person now than you were in high school, but you’re also still the same person. You are aging and growing, both spiritually and physically.

Winter is resisted the same way aging is. But if it was always summer, and we were always young, the natural balance would be upset. “Part of embracing the hag is accepting the seasons and appreciating what winter offers us,” Valeria reminds me. I offer up the idea that winter functions as a “palate cleanser” for all the emotional strife that summer always brings me; something to wipe away all the drama and leave you ready to start over again. Valeria agrees, “If it was always summer it would be out of balance.” The unchanging can only offer so much.

-Contributed by Risa Ian de Rege

The Old Gods and the New: Religion in Westeros and Beyond

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Illustrated by Mia Carnevale

Just as George R. R. Martin draws inspiration from real-world history and politics to add depth to his world in A Song of Ice and Fire (or, as HBO would prefer, Game of Thrones), so too does he look to real-world religions.

Religion, a central aspect of medieval culture, is also an important theme throughout A Song of Ice and Fire: it pushes the story along, develops characters, and fleshes out an immensely complex world. Many different faiths are depicted and are all shown to have their own power, whether it be politically, in the strength of their followers, or magically.

Drawing from the books and the show, here are three of the major religions in the series, the roles they play within the story, and their real-life historical and contemporary counterparts.

1. The Drowned God 

We Do Not Sow

The Drowned God is worshipped on the Iron Islands, one of the only parts of Westeros to resist the conquest of the Faith of the Seven. The Ironborn culture is one of reaving and taking; they are conquerors. Their god reflects their maritime lifestyle, and his priests are called Drowned Men. The Drowned God is in constant conflict with another deity, the Storm God:

“From the sea had come the ironborn, and the fish that sustained them even in the depths of winter, but storms brought only woe and grief.”

The Drowned God’s watery halls

In Norse mythology, one of the gods of the sea was Aegir. His wife, Rán, was a goddess of death who used a net to bring the drowned to feast and drink mead in her and Aegir’s great hall below the waves – an underwater Valhalla. Much of the Ironborn culture reflects that of the Vikings, and similarly the Drowned God welcomes drowned men into his halls. When Balon Greyjoy, former king of the Iron Islands, is pushed from a bridge and dies, it’s said that “he feasts now in the Drowned God’s watery halls.”

Bless him with salt, bless him with stone, bless him with steel

When Theon Greyjoy first returns to the Iron Islands in A Clash of Kings, he meets his uncle Aeron, a priest, who baptises him with the salt water Drowned Men carry as holy water, blessing him and bringing him back into the culture and faith he was taken from as a child.

Being baptized to the Drowned God is violent. “Fill your lungs with water, that you may die and be reborn. It does no good to fight,” says Aeron during a baptism in A Feast For Crows. As children, Ironborn are sometimes baptized gently, with a dab of water similar to Christian baptisms, but Aeron and other devotees look down on these. In both practices, baptism and holy water are key rituals for integrating people into the religion.

2. The Faith of the Seven

The dominant religion in Westeros, the Faith, is common everywhere except in the Iron Islands and the North. In structure and its role in society, it is similar to the Catholic Church of medieval Europe, holding a powerful place politically and socially. At the head of the Faith is the High Septon, who serves like a pope. Female members of the clergy are called Septas and usually serve as governesses to noble families; the Stark girls were taught by Septa Mordane.

Seven Faces

The Seven are seven facets of one god: the Father, the Mother, the Warrior, the Smith, the Maiden, the Crone, and the Stranger. These seven faces are similar to the Christian Holy Trinity, where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God, though the seven have more distinct roles. A follower of the Faith may pray to the Crone for wisdom or the Warrior for military victory.

The High Sparrow

The rising tension between church and state becomes a major conflict as the series progresses and is at the heart of the King’s Landing story in season six. The High Sparrow and his Faith Militant act as an inquisition, intent on bringing faith-imposed justice for a myriad of political and religious reasons in the same way the medieval inquisitions started by the Catholic church fought against heresy with violence and torture.

3. The Lord of Light

R’hllor, the Lord of Light, is a strange, foreign deity who isn’t well-understood in Westeros, but is widespread in Essos. The basis of the religion is the conflict between R’hllor and The Great Other, who brings darkness and death. The mythology of this faith is also a metaphor for the central conflict of the series: the fight between fire and ice, dragons and White Walkers, life and death. Red Priests and Priestesses work with fire as a divination method, using the flames to see what the Lord has to show them and its cleansing power to sacrifice non-believers.

The Night is Dark, and Full of Terrors

Melisandre, a priestess who is the main voice of R’hllor in the series, uses potions and tricks for show, but is very capable of real magic – surviving deadly poison, casting glamour charms to make one man look like another, and, in the show, bringing back the dead. Similarly, Thoros of Myr continually brings Beric Dondarrion back to life, and, in the books, does the same with Catelyn Stark after her murder at the Red Wedding.

Fire, light, and rebirth are key motifs throughout this religion’s folklore and the central theme of light against dark is universal in the real world as much as it is in Martin’s fiction. Dualities, such as God and Satan, enlightenment and suffering, fire and ice, life and death, are integral to mythology.

Rebirth

In the New Testament, Jesus rises from the dead and will come again to the world. In Essos legends, Azor Ahai is a legendary hero who sacrificed his wife with his sword, Lightbringer, in order to bring light to the world when all was dark. The world starts out dark in the Old Testament too, before God creates light. Azor, as God, as Prometheus, will be born again to fight off the terrible dark of the long winter looming over Westeros.

Melisandre believes Stannis to be Azor Ahai reborn. Some claim it is Daenerys Targaryen after she rose unharmed from a pyre with three dragons. But if season six is anything to go by, it may end up being Jon Snow who is Azor Ahai, reborn to lead the fight against the White Walkers before a rapture of night and ice overtakes the world.

-Contributed by Risa Ian de Rege

A Step in the Right Direction: A Review of Disney’s “Moana”

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We are slowly entering the age of the reinvention of Disney.

Disney has boasted about including diversity in their films for a few years now, but still, Moana came as something unexpected to me. I suppose I didn’t actually expect anything from the big talk of how Disney was trying to push boundaries, and finally strive for more accurate cultural representation of non-white/Western European cultures.The trailers for Moana were ambiguous at best, and the scandal with the Maui Halloween costume at the Disney store was not reassuring.

But having promised my brother we’d go see it in theatres, I nonetheless told myself to remain optimistic. Moana could be different—it could be excellent.

Now I cannot speak to how other audiences received Moana, or how truly accurate or representational it was of Polynesian culture, but the first thing that struck me about the movie was how much it displayed a genuine effort to research and present its findings.

Some Disney movies, like Beauty and the Beast and Tangled, take a fairytale approach in which the story begins with a narrator, either ominous or involved. Moana does this as well, but chooses instead to present an origin story rooted in mythology, telling the story of the island goddess Te Fiti and how her heart was stolen by the mischievous Maui. The viewers soon sees that it is a grandmother telling the story to a group of children, of which only tiny Moana is enthralled by the terrifying details.

There is something very down to earth and homely about this beginning sequence. The movie presents, for the first time, a glimpse of childhood story time that is familiar to many of the audience members, capturing the uniqueness of the heroine without driving it home with a giant flashing neon sign.

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Concept art for Moana by Ryan Lang between Moana and Te Fiti

Moana is, in many ways, a movie of firsts. Moana’s adventurous spirit isn’t presented as an anomaly but rather as a return to ancestry and a past way of life which has been forgotten. The movie aims for a message of remembering one’s roots rather than going down the stereotypical path of having a heroine that’s different just because that is what is expected.

It’s a movie where, for the first time, the animal companion is arguably there not only for comic relief. Instead, we appreciate that other, subtler, line of thought presented through Heihei the chicken, that patience and love towards someone who’s different is a powerful thing. The story is also very much a “hero’s journey” archetype that leaves no room for a romantic side plot, another first in the long line of Disney’s princess ancestry, with only Mulan and Merida coming close.

One of the things I appreciated though was how “meta” Disney decided to be, in two moments both facilitated by Maui. The first occurs on a canoe, when Maui calls Moana a princess after she says that she’s the daughter of the chief. Moana corrects him, and  he replies: “it’s practically the same thing…if you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” It’s a cheeky and fun jab at the Disney line, especially since we all know Moana is ineviatebly going to be part of their “Disney Princess” line.

The second meta moment is about halfway through the movie, when Moana and Maui fine the entrance to the realm of monsters. An exasperated Maui asks Moana to not break into song and dance (even though he did this earlier himself). An added bonus is the scene where Maui signs Moana’s oar with Heihei’s beak, declaring that “when you do it with a bird, it’s called tweeting.” Perhaps Disney has become bolder in poking fun at itself and modernity. It is another sign of progress, one that added optimism.

As far as musical Disney goes, one will certainly find memorable songs, but thankfully nothing as out-of-context and catchy as “Let It Go”. The soundtrack is worth its own separate exploration, particularly with the original and cover versions of “How Far I’ll Go” and, even more memorable for me, the Rock’s tap-worthy “You’re Welcome”.

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Still from the movie, depicting baby Moana

Sitting here now and thinking over the whole movie again, it’s easy to come up with all the movie’s strengths—it had many of them. Even small aspects of the story that existed for driving the plot were adorable and memorable, such as the Kakamoras and their elaborate pirate ship.

Right after finishing the movie though, I didn’t quite know what I felt or thought about it, apart from the general agreement that I liked it. I didn’t cry the way many people swore I would, perhaps because I’m not emotional at the same things. Yet this hesitation and uncertainty shouldn’t be taken as a negative sign, in fact, quite the opposite. It is an indication that for once, we have been presented with a princess-like character that doesn’t fall into one of the polarized regions of the spectrum as either a “I like her and relate to her” or “no, she doesn’t speak to me/I disliked her for ‘x’ reason”.

Moana lines up a carefully conceived and perfectly paced storyline, characters that are so well-balanced that one almost hopes they’re perfect even in their shortcomings, and a visual culture that is rich and vibrant without being exoticized. Moana is a step in the right direction, a movie that is hopefully an indicator of the way Disney plans to head.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

3 Movies To Change Up Your Holiday Viewing List

It’s that time of year again when people are pulling out boxes with Christmas ornaments and fairy lights, and getting into the spirit of the holidays with nostalgic, classical holiday movies. But while some might say they grew up watching movies like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf, or even The Nightmare Before Christmas, I’ll admit I never did.

It’s hard to say whether it’s the result of being a first-generation child who, despite moving to Canada, still grew up on European stories and movies, or whether I simply didn’t like them. The holidays for me have always been marked by a rather different set of movies. Now, these non-traditional films are what I associate with winter and the magic and spirit of the holidays.

So whether you’re looking for something different to spice up a yearly tradition, or are just generally curious, here are three alternative speculative films to watch these holidays:

1. Tři oříšky pro Popelku (translated: Three Wishes for Cinderella; 1973)

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Still from the movie Three Wishes for Cinderella

Though it is considered a holiday classic in some European countries, Three Wishes for Cinderella has nothing to do with the holidays. The only Christmas aura you’ll get from this film is the the stunning snowy Czech landscape, and the evergreen trees.

Three Wishes for Cinderella tells the story of a male servant, who is sent to a marketplace to pick up fabric for the stepmother and stepsister of the classic Cinderella tale. After asking Cinderella what she’d like for him to bring back, the servant is told to bring the first thing that falls on his nose. This happens to be a trio of hazelnuts which, when cracked open throughout the movie, reveals a new outfit that Cinderella needs.

The movie features a rather sassy and badass Cinderella (for her time period, at least), who is nostalgic for the days she used to go hunting with her father, and even mocks the prince when she meets him in the woods. Viewers also get to see a bit of the prince’s character, as opposed to the very bland and cookie-cutter Disney version.

Three Wishes for Cinderella brings with it a quality that’s very much in the style of European fairy and folktales. It takes its time to create an atmosphere rather than simply powering through the story. And the best part is the main theme in the soundtrack, which has a light, twinkling quality to it, guaranteed to make you imagine galloping on a horse through large piles of snow, feeling the pleasant crispness of winter all around.

2. A Little Snow Fairy Sugar (anime series; 2001-2002)

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Still from the anime A Little Snow Fairy Sugar

While the most well-known anime series focus on creating elaborate fantasy worlds and introducing viewers to a cast of emotionally complex characters, A Little Snow Fairy Sugar quietly tiptoes the line between the child and adult realms.

Luckily for you, A Little Snow Fairy Sugar is a short series, so it’s perfect to blaze through this winter season. The show is twelve episodes long, and tells the story of a highly organized and studious girl named Saga, who lives in a small German town with her grandmother and works in a coffee shop. But one day everything changes when Saga discovers a tiny starving fairy and feeds her a waffle, and meets a snow fairy apprentice named Sugar.

Beyond being simply adorable, what with Sugar’s addiction to Belgian waffles and the constant mishaps she gets into with fellow friends Salt and Pepper, the series also addresses themes of growing up and dealing with the loss of a loved one. At times, it is hard not to get emotional while watching. The show has a natural and heartfelt tone to it that make the series stand out in the anime genre.

Sugar’s constant practicing with conjuring snowflakes makes winter feel like it can be found at any time of the year, but also gives a different—and cuter—association to the season. If anime is for you, be sure to give this series a shot!

3. Vechera na Hutare Bliz Dikanki (translation: Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka; musical, 2001)

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Still from the movie Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka

For a rather long time, there was a different kind of holiday tradition that developed in Russia and Ukraine: that of the musical.

While this trend lasted for over a decade, only the first four or so were genuinely any good. However, I’d argue that the best is the one based on the work of Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol, called Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka.

Set on New Year’s Eve in the small village of Dikanka, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka is the story of a blacksmith named Vakula, who is rejected and mocked by the beautiful Oksana. She gives him a challenge: he can marry her only if he brings back the red shoes worn by the tsarina in St. Petersburg. While the task initially seems impossible, a lucky run-in with the Devil himself proves to be helpful and Vakula, after some blackmailing, is flown across the night sky to St. Petersburg to bring back the shoes and marry Oksana.

The story will most likely sound bizarre to people outside of the culture, but the film does a pretty good job in both presenting and stressing the importance of New Year’s Eve, as opposed to Christmas Day, in Ukrainian culture. It is considered to be the most magical night of the year when all the magical forces come out to play. This version features a talented cast and hilarious lyrics (for those who don’t mind quickly learning Russian/Ukrainian, or can find a version with subtitles), adding a touch of comedy and music to a beloved cultural classic.

So, if you’re still in search of some new and different films to change up your holiday movie list, be sure to give some of the wildcards above a try. And happy holidays to you all!

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Homestuck: The Future Of Fiction

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Let me tell you about Homestuck.

Homestuck: the monolithic webcomic that inspires eye-rolling in some, fond nostalgia in others, and confusion in all the rest. Reactions to Homestuck are as varied as the content and history of the piece itself. Clocking in at over 8,000 pages, it is perhaps the first piece of great literature based on and created on the internet, hailed by some as a Ulysses for the internet generation.

In short, Homestuck is a story by cartoonist Andrew Hussie, about four friends who play a game together and unwittingly bring about both the creation and the destruction of their world. Its long, convoluted plot features over 100 main characters, told through multiple timelines and intergalactic settings. Humans and their alternate versions—grey-skinned aliens called “trolls”— animated chess pieces, and winged dogs all play a role in the story, which is told through still-images and GIFs, flash animations with original music, interactive games, and lengthy text chats between characters, known as “pesterlogs”.

Homestuck‘s massive success lies in its ability to tap into a uniquely millennial humour that many books or films fail to understand. Its diversity is its strength—it is a parody of every genre: from film-noir, to comedy, to sci-fi, to everything in between. Moreover, its characters are vastly different, featuring personalities and interests so varied that it’s easy to keep reading Homestuck.

It was ‘Rose Lalonde’ who stuck out to me: a witty violinist who loves wizards and knitting. In fact, Rose Lalonde was my first and only cosplay. It was Homestuck that encouraged me to emerge from my shy nerd shell and unite with other shy nerds at an anime convention.

This is another quality of Homestuck: it is unifying in its strangeness. If you like something as weird as Homestuck, you want to find people who also enjoy something as weird as Homestuck. It is because of this that the fandom flourished at incredible speeds. At the comic’s peak, the phrase “let me tell you about Homestuck” actually became a meme, often superimposed over photos of confused civilians watching the antics of Homestuck cosplayers.

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Homestuck is undeniably influenced by the internet and pop culture. Its characters know each either chiefly through the internet. Though they do eventually meet in person, their friendships are established through an online bond.

The comic contains countless allusions to literature and film; evidenced, for example, by John Egbert’s obsession with the hilariously terrible Nicolas Cage movie Con Air. John’s interest in this film is ridiculed by other characters and by Hussie himself. Hussie is poking fun at the fixation many fans have on the comic—a running theme that wouldn’t be possible if the piece were found anywhere but the internet.

It is this interactive quality that makes Homestuck so innovative. In the very early stages of the comic, Hussie was able to take fan advice in naming characters and creating the plot. Once this became impossible due to the sheer scope of the fandom, the comic continued to feature fan-contributed music and artwork, blurring the line between reader and creator. The fandom became known for throwing together cosplays and fanart mere minutes after an update (or “upd8”, as per the tumblr tag) was released.

I speak of this in the past tense because Homestuck finally ended on April 13 of this year, seven years to the day after it began. But the legacy of Homestuck is nowhere near complete. In 2012, Hussie launched a Kickstarter to fund Hiveswap, a computer adventure game precluding the events of Homestuck and following a human girl who finds herself transported onto the troll planet of Alternia. The campaign raised upwards of $2,000,000 dollars in support and the game is slated for release in early 2017.

For a quick taste of the absurdity of Homestuck, check out the Kickstarter trailer. Or, if your schedule is cleared for the next few years or so, you can read (or reread) Homestuck here.

 -Contributed by Julia Bartel

What Does It Mean To Be “Crazy”? Discussing Mental Health And Comic Books With Elaine Will

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Illustration by Elaine Will

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Discussion around mental health has been growing over the past few years. Though the graphic fiction medium isn’t one to shy away from such discussions, it’s always a treat to find a comic, like Look Straight Ahead, so focused on understanding this issue.

Penned by up-and-coming Canadian author, Elaine Will, this fantastically real journey follows high school student Jeremy Knowles through his struggles with mental illness, depicted in one of the freshest and most accurate takes on the subject in years. I was recently fortunate to have the opportunity to talk to Elaine about her book and the importance of representing mental health in graphic literature.

How long did it take to write Look Straight Ahead?

Well, it took four years to draw the graphic novel, but it probably took more like ten years altogether to figure out how to write it.

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“Look Straight Ahead,” by Elaine Will

Any specific reason?

I couldn’t decide exactly whether I wanted to tell a story about myself or a fictional analog, or whether I wanted it to be grounded in reality or more sci-fi. There was a version I started in about 2003 that was a lot more sci-fi and I was in it as a character and there were some completely fictional characters in it, and it was a prose novel, and I decided, “well I’m not that great at writing prose, so…”

Well you can draw pretty darn well, so that turned out well.

[Laughs] Thank you.

So where did the inspiration come from?

In 2002, I suffered a nervous breakdown in my senior year of high school—I guess I always call it a nervous breakdown, but I guess it was really a psychotic episode.

So it’s both a bit based on you and a bit based on a fictional analog as well?

Yeah, and I decided to do that in the end because a problem with writing autobiographical stories is there’s always the danger of alienating your friends or family if they don’t like the way they’re portrayed. I thought it would be best to fictionalize everything. So the characters—some of them are based on real people and some of them are composites.

You have some really great fantastical visual elements, you said it was almost a science-fiction story. Why did you choose to depict Jeremy’s mental illness in that way?

It was just the best way I could think of to describe it, like I had to have some sort of visual metaphor because it’s such a difficult concept to try and put into words—or even images—especially for someone who hasn’t experienced it. And I wanted to give an impression of what it was like for someone who hasn’t experienced it.

So you use the characters of ‘God’ and ‘Prinzhorn.’ Why did you use these characters as physical personifications?

‘Prinzhorn’ is actually German. He’s named after a psychiatrist from the early 1900s who collected artwork by mental patients. And I guess ‘God’ represents the euphoria I felt during my manic episodes, and this strange power that I felt I had been imbued with. The demons represent depression and the way that it constantly drags you down into a hellish pit.

Why do you think it’s important for mental illness to be portrayed in graphic fiction?

I think it’s very important because it’s a medium that’s very accessible, especially to young adult readers who may be struggling with mental illness. They probably need it most, and it’s important for them to read stories that represent what they might be going through. I’ve heard from a number of readers who’ve said they’ve had similar experiences, and that my book helped them. I’ve also heard from a couple of people who said they came to a greater understanding of mental illness through my book.

That’s awesome! That’s a real testament to the power of this art form we’ve got here. So based on that, what do you think is the most important thing that readers should take away from your book?

I would say, “There is hope and you aren’t alone, and if you have a story of your own, you might want to share it.” I understand that maybe some people don’t want to, but it’s important to open up discussions surrounding mental health, lessen the stigma, and perhaps even encourage better mental healthcare.

And now a question that I pulled from reading the back of your book. It says here that the book will ask “What does it mean to be crazy, anyway?” I was wondering if you could answer that.

Well, there’s a section in the book that I often read when I’m asked to do a reading, because I think that it sums it up quite well. It’s when Jeremy’s first admitted to the hospital and he’s having a conversation with Ian, the cool older guy that he meets there. Ian says, “Well, sometimes I think that you and I are the enlightened ones and everybody else is actually crazy,” because if you think of all the crazy things that happen in the world and this horrible capitalist system that we live in that favours the rich, and that sort of thing, I think the normal reaction is to perhaps fall into depression. It’s no wonder there are so many people struggling with depression, you know? In the difficult world and the difficult times that we live in?

That’s an interesting thing, because that’s such a dark statement, but at the end of the book, we know what you’re trying to have them come away with: that there is hope and you can make it better. When a story can tackle both sides of the story well, that’s sort of the hallmark of a good piece of literature.

I have been criticized for the ending of the book: that perhaps it was too abrupt. But, I didn’t want to tell anybody how they should recover, and my own recovery was actually every bit as swift. One thing I maybe should have included is that maybe you won’t ever be “cured” if you have a mental illness, but you can manage it, and you can live a “so-called” normal life.

Ha. “So-called.”

So-called, yeah. That is, if you have access to the right sort of resources, which unfortunately many people don’t. I was really fortunate to have a really good psychiatrist who never argued with me about my delusions, because he knew that they were real to me. And I don’t think it is humouring to work with people with their delusions, you know?

To validate them.

Yeah. I think that’s important because you’re just going to make someone more upset if you try to argue with them.

To wrap it up a little bit, what are you working on now? Do you have anything in the works?

I’m finishing up a graphic novel called Dustship Glory, which is an adaptation of a novel about a Finnish immigrant farmer who lived in Saskatchewan during the 1930s and tried to build a huge steamship in the middle of his wheat field—this is a true story. I’m also going be working soon on a graphic novelette that my partner Mark wrote called “Arcade”, which is a metafictional story about an old, forgotten retro-videogame character called Axe-man. He’s a Viking warrior with an axe for a hand, and faces the destruction of his world because the cartridge chip is deteriorating, and he has to get the attention of a retro game character in the real world.

And as someone who’s breaking into the industry, what advice would you give to any people who are trying to get into the graphic fiction industry, or even just start making comics themselves?

Start making comics and exhibit at as many shows as you can. And one thing to remember about shows is that you might not always make money. I think Noah van Sciver said it best when he said “be prepared to be at a signing at a store where hopefully one person will show up and cough on you,” which is very true. Not every event will be like that obviously.

But you’re going to have your fair share.

Yeah [laughs].

 

You can follow Elaine’s work at http://lookstraightahead.tumblr.com/ or http://blog.e2w-illustration.com/ where you can find a webcomic version of Look Straight Ahead. You can also purchase the book on Amazon.

 

-Contributed by Stephan Goslinski