Reading, Writing & Other Addictions

Facing Reality Through Fiction

Book Review: A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

The great thing about working for a book store is that you get your eyes opened to books you otherwise would have passed by.  Every Thursday at 10am, part of the Marketing Department of Half Price Books meets with one of the New Book Buyers to talk about what titles we are going to promote though signage, email, and yes, the book club.  I was given the job of coming up with eight questions for every book club title we choose.  So, it’s also my job to read every book club title we choose.  Most of them I like, a few are meh, and a couple I desperately wish I could get back the hours I wasted reading them.  A Man Called Ove, our August/September book club title, by Fredrik Backman is the best book club title we have ever chosen. But if we hadn’t chosen it, I never would have read it, which would have been a shame, because I truly believe it’s the best book I’ve read this year.

A Man Called Ove is a Swedish novel about a fifty-nine-year-old man called Ove (bet you never would have guessed that) who is forced into early retirement, so he spends his time patrolling the neighborhood, putting bikes back into the bike shed, making sure people are recycling correctly and complaining about dogs who pee on his paving stones.  All his neighbors think of him as the “bitter neighbor from hell,” and he doesn’t think much of them either, coming up with descriptive names for them like “the Lanky One” and “the Weed” because he can’t be bothered to learn their real names.  Then an accident prone man, his pregnant wife and their two girls move in next to him (smashing his mailbox in the process), and through a series of humorous and somewhat touching events they force Ove to come out of his shell and engage with his neighbors.  As Ove’s life is invaded by this family, you learn about Ove, and how he became the cranky old coot everyone believes him to be.

Backman uses clever chapter titles to draw in his readers, and the bittersweet humor that runs through the book makes Ove an endearing character.  I don’t want to give too much of the story away, so I’m not going to tell you why he tries to buy an iPad or why he needs to put up a hook, or why one of my favorite characters is a cat. What I am going to tell you is you need to read this book.

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Book Review: Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge

If you, like me, enjoy retellings of classic fairy tales, especially if they are clever, like Merissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, then you will love Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge.  This book explores how no heart is pure, and there is a little bit of a beast in all of us.

Nyx has always been told that she must marry the Demon Lord who makes his home in the tower ruins.  Her father bargained her life away before she was even born in order to make his wife happy.  His wife had desperately wanted children, so he made a deal with the Demon Lord. If the Demon Lord would grant them children, then one of their daughters would be given back to the Demon Lord as his wife. So, Nyx was chosen to be his bride. She was also chosen to destroy him and save her country of Arcadia from the Demon Lord’s evil bargains and demon horde. Resentful of her fate, and jealous of her sister’s blessed life, Nyx meets her fate with anger and intelligence, acknowledging that her attitude and hatred toward those who failed to save her, failed to love her, make her a suitable bride for a monster.  But her attitude seems to amuse her husband, as does the attempts on his life, and slowly, this woman who has never been shown love but has always been treated like a sacrifice, discovers what it is like to be loved and have another sacrifice for her.

Still, her mission remains: she must destroy the Demon Lord and save Arcadia.  But how can she save Arcadia after she sees the evil in their selfish hearts as they so willingly make their bargains, knowing what they will have to pay for it?  And how can she destroy the Demon Lord after she sees how much he has done to try to save her people, after she sees how much he is willing to do to save her?

Throw in a house that changes every time you turn around, much like the staircases at Hogwarts, though much more dangerous, and a servant called Shade, who isn’t much more than a shadow (literally), and you have an intriguing book that was firing my imagination long after I finished it.  (I even woke up this morning and reread the ending, after having finished it at 2a.m.)

I would suggest this book to anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale, or even just a good story.

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I’m Starving!

The Friday before a three-day weekend tends to be a day a lot of people take off, but in my company, if you work the Friday before a three-day weekend, the company will sometimes spring for a pizza lunch.  They haven’t done so the last two holidays, so when I got the email about the pizza and salad that would be arriving at 1pm, I thought “YES!  I can grab some salad and save a little money.”  (I am no longer eating pizza.) Plus, I had been eating the same salad for the past three out of four days, so a little change would be good.

The pizza arrives. I hear others in my department passing my office to head to the reception area. I get up and walk around my desk, pizza…salad on the brain.

The phone buzzes and I hear a voice “Julie?  You there?”

Technically.  “Yes.”

“Can you help me out, and print some more of the 11″ X 17″ signs for the book signing tonight?”

I am the Traffic Manager for Half Price Books.  My job is to make sure vendors, stores, distribution centers and my team have what they need to do their jobs–as well as tell them by when they need to have it done.

I walk back around my desk and pull up the signs.  The person on the phone is still talking about why she needs the signs, but I’ve stopped listening.  There is pizza…salad down the hall waiting for me.  She has taken a breath, so I say, “Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll have them ready for you to pick up.”

I set up the file and can’t for the life of me remember how many signs she said she wanted.  I put a number in the quantity field and hit print.  I go to the printer to pick up the signs.  The cubicles and other offices around mine are empty. Everyone is down the hall, stuffing their face with free pizza.

The sign printed out the wrong size!  I stand there holding only a  1/4 of the sign.  I remember changing the page from letter to tabloid, but we got a new printer last month and when we first got it, no one could print anything other than 8/5″ X 11″. We threw several fits until it was solved.

I walked back to my computer and tried to print again.  Again, the same problem.  For the third time, I check all my settings.  Everything looks right, boxes all ticked, all info entered.  What is the problem?

I email the IT Dept. “If you have parked under the balcony, you may want to move your car because the new printer is about to have an accident.”

Person stops by my office to pick up signs. “Sorry. I’m having printer problems.  I can’t print the sign.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I can. Can you just email me the file?”

And you didn’t ask this in the first place, because…”Sure.”

I email her the file. Then start toward the reception area.  At least, I will be rewarded with pizza…salad.

I can see the boxes.  I can smell the cheese.  My stomach grumbles.

“Julie!”

A member of the IT Dept. is walking straight towards me, pointing. She walks right by me saying, “Let’s fix your printer problem.”

But the pizza…salad.

I follow her to my office.  She checks all my settings, has me input my password, reinstalls the drivers, blames the problem on the Art Dept. and their penchants for Macs, and hits print.  The paper comes out the right size.  YEA!

She wants to check it again.  Again, it’s the same.  She deletes the other printer drivers so that my computer won’t be confused, and says I shouldn’t have this problem again, but if I do…

She leaves.  It’s after 2pm.  I’m starving.  I reach reception.  People are still getting pizza, and it smells so good.  But I can’t have any pizza.  I’m on a diet.  I reach the end of the table to find an empty pan.

“Is there any more salad?”

“Nope.”

I give the receptionist my biggest puppy dog eyes, as though she could wave her new Ballerina Barbie and more salad would appear.

She shrugs.  “You should have gotten here sooner.”

 

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Epiphany

epiphanyausWhen they saw the star they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him, Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and of myrrh.  –Matthew 2:10-11

Since yesterday I wrote about Twelfth Night, it’s only fair that today I write about Epiphany (the day after Twelfth Night).  January 6 is Epiphany and is celebrated around the world as the day the three wise men visited the baby Jesus, though personally I don’t know where they get that.  The Bible just says they came after the birth of Christ, which could be two minutes or two years. The Bible is very vague on that matter.  However, Herod’s decree was to kill all boys two years of age and younger, so Jesus could have fallen anywhere within that age range.  However, since the Scripture says they came to “the house,” we can assume He had gotten out of the manger by that time. However, we also know they were still in Bethlehem.  Regardless, of whether or not this day was actually the day the three wise men visited Jesus, the celebration of Epiphany is more about the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, and is one of the oldest Christian celebrations.

Epiphany also celebrates the time when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, which represents Jesus’s manifestation of the Son of God to the world. Epiphany is also the start of Carnival, which culminates with Mardi Gras, which of course leads into lent which ends with Easter.  So really from the day after Thanksgiving until Easter there is some religious celebration going on.

Epiphany is a public holiday in many countries.  In many Latin America countries, it’s the three wise men and not Santa Claus that bring gifts to children. In France, there are parties for both children and adults, and in Spain, children leave their shoes, filled with straw for the wise men’s camels, outside on Epiphany eve, and in the morning the straw has been replaced with cookies, candy or gifts.  Makes me wonder how they celebrate Christmas.

Anyway, happy Epiphany!

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Twelfth Night

images-2“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” –Malvolio, Twelfth Night

What a great quote to begin this blog, on the 5th of January, 2015.  Greatness is not something to be feared.  As I start a new year, the one I’m dubbing “the year I finally force an publishing editor to accept by novel,” this quote is a strong start to the year.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt that January 5 is actually Twelfth Night, which is the day that the 12 drummers drumming were sent to me by my true love.  Of course with all these maids, lords, and pipers I have no idea where these drummers are going to sleep tonight. Not to mention that my neighbors are starting to complain about the noise the birds are making.

Actually, Twelfth Night is the day before Epiphany and the end of the medieval winter festival, which began on All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.  That’s one long party. On Twelfth Night it was a common practice to follow “The Lord of Misrule” and switch places.  The peasants became the lords and the lords, the peasants. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my boss to go along with this idea today.)

“The Lord of Misrule,” of course was the king. To decide who was to be “The Lord of Misrule” everyone would get a cake that contained a bean, and the person who found the bean was the ruler, like the king cake around Mardi Gras. In fact, in many places around the world, a king cake is baked on Twelfth night, and eaten on Epiphany. At midnight, the world was put right, and his rule ended

William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night was written to be preformed on Twelfth Night, just in case you were wondering. However, the earliest recorded performance was in Middle Temple Hall on Candlemas, which is February 2.  It seems that even Shakespeare missed a deadline or two.  The play is true to Twelfth Night as many of the roles of the characters are reversed.  Viola dresses as a man and a servant, and the servant Malvolio aspiring to be a nobel.  I wonder if they timed the play so that the reveal (or the end) was at midnight, when things were put right.

Does anyone else feel the need to watch Shakespeare in Love, whose main character was named Viola, and where Queen Elizabeth commissions Twelfth Night from Will Shakespeare, and then watch She’s the Man, which is a modern day telling of Twelfth Night, starring Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum.

“If music be the food of love, play on.” –Orsino, Twelfth Night

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Trivia Day!

images-1Today is Trivia Day!  One of my favorite pastimes, trivia!  Here are some wonderful little bits I have read through the years (most from Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts).

  1. Tissue paper gets its name from its original use: it was designed for placing between the folds of extremely fine gold-woven fabric, or “gold tissue.”
  2. Martha Washington’s silver service was the source of the silver that went into the first U.S. coins.
  3. The Egyptians trained baboons to wait on tables.
  4. The Europeans once called the giraffe a camelopard, because they thought it was the product of a camel breeding with a leopard.
  5. Henri Matisse’s Le Bateau hung in New York’s Museum of Modern Art for 47 days in 1961 before someone noticed it was upside down. About 116,000 people has passed in front of it before it was noticed.
  6. All of Reykjavik the capital of Iceland, is heated by underground hot springs.
  7. New York City’s administrative code still requires that hitching posts be located in front of city hall so that reporters can tie their horses.
  8. Chocolate was once considered a temptation of the devil. In Central American mountain villages, no one under the age of 60 was allowed to drink it, and if churchgoers broke this rule, they could be ex-communicated.
  9. The only thing that Isaac Newton said when he was a member of Parliament was to ask someone to open the window.
  10. The average married woman in seventeenth-century America gave birth to 13 children. (PTL I am neither married, nor live in seventeenth century America.)

Happy Trivia Day!

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All You Need to Know About Straws

234_straw-940x626-300x199Did you know that the paper drinking straw was patented on January 3, 1888?  Oh, there were straws before then.  In fact, archaeologists discovered a gold and lapis lazui drinking straw in a Sumerian tomb.  (By the way, in case you were wondering lapis lazui is a bright blue semi-precious stone and the Sumerians were an ancient people who lived in what would today be Iraq.) Apparently the Sumerian men used straws made from hollow rye grass to drink beer. (Archaeologists found a seal dating bace to 3100 B.C. to prove it.) Paper straws were not invented until 1888.  (You knew, I was going to say that, didn’t you?)  Legend has it that Marvin Stone, a paper cigarette holder manufacturer was sitting around with some friends sipping his mint julep through a hollow rye straw, not particularly enjoying the gritty residue the straw left in his drink, not to mention the way the straw would break down after a while.  So he went back to his factory and wound strips around pencils, and then began playing with a wax-coating, so the straw wouldn’t break down.  Two years later, Stone’s factory was producing more straws than cigarette holders. Now, most straws are made from plastic, though you can still find paper straws. it’s estimated that McDonald’s alone used at least 60 million plastic straws daily world wide.  That’s a lot of straws.

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January 2, Isaac Asimov’s Birthday

isaac-asimovIsaac Asimov, one of the most prolific writers on the twentieth century, was born this day in 1920.  Though Asimov is best known for his science-fiction writing, this trivia hound is more familiar with his book Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, which by the way, has an interesting fact about Isaac Asimov.  Did you know that Isaac Asimov wrote six popular books of science fiction for high school students under the pseudonym Paul French?  Neither did I until I read his book.

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia on January 2, 1920.  His family immigrated to New York when he was three years old.  He taught himself to read when he was five, and fell in love with science fiction.  He was first published at 18, and just a few years later wrote and had published “Nightfall,” a short story that the Science-Fiction Writers of America voted to be the best science-fiction short story ever written.

Asimov wrote more than 500 volumes and an estimated 90,000 letters on postcards and has works in all the major Dewey Decimal categories, except for Philosophy.  (I think James Patterson must be trying to see if he can write more.  I think he has a book coming out every other month in 2015.) However, The Gods Themselves is the only book by Asimov where readers will find aliens and sex in the story.  Why no more aliens?  Well, he once wrote a story with aliens that was rejected because he portrayed the aliens as superior to humans.  So, Asimov decided he’s forego the whole mess and never wrote about aliens again, until his readers asked, “Why don’t you ever write about aliens or sex?”  The Gods Themselves has not only aliens and sex, but also alien sex, so everyone is covered.

Isaac Asimov died in 1983, a mere 63 years old, from AIDS related complications.  He contracted the disease after receiving infected blood in a transfusion during his heart bypass surgery.  His widow, Janet, kept the true cause of Asimov’s death a secret for more than a decade after death.

To close, here are a few more interesting facts about Isaac Asimov I found while reading and surfing the net:

  1. Isaac Asimov was afraid of flying.
  2. He got his Ph.D. in Chemistry at Columbia, and became a professor of biochemistry at Boston University. (Could you imagine walking into class and realizing your teacher was one of the most famous science fiction writers ever?)
  3. He was a claustrophile, which is the opposite of a claustrophobe. He enjoyed being in small, enclosed spaces.
  4. Isaac Asimov showed up on the Ghostbusters movie set one day.  It seems that his daily commute was disrupted by filming, and he was upset.  He ended up yelling at Dan Akroyd, who was crushed because he admired Asimov’s writing.
  5. Asimov coined the word “robotic.”
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Happy New Year!

These are not the black eyed peas I made. These look a lot prettier.

These are not the black eyed peas I made. These look a lot prettier.

Since I was a child black eyed peas have always been part of our New Year’s tradition.  I was told that eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day would bring me luck in the new year.  I was also told that if you could eat 365 black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, you wouldn’t have to eat black eyed peas any other time during the year.  After doing a little digging, I have discovered that the good luck story was true, but the story about eating 365 peas so that we wouldn’t have to eat them for the rest of the year, seems to be something my family made up to get us to eat their vegetables.

Black eyed peas being good luck is a Southern tradition that dates back to the Civil War, when Union soldiers would either eat or destroy the crops of Southern farmers and plantation owners as they marched through.  However, they never ate or destroyed the crops of black eyed peas because they thought black eyed peas where feed for cows and not fit for human consumption.  So the Southerners would eat them and think they were lucky to have them. Black eyed peas are usually cooked with either pork or bacon (I cooked mine with bacon), because  hogs root, which represents pushing forward.

Since I was looking into New Year’s traditions, I also decided to look into why New Year’s is celebrated on January 1st, as it never made since to me to begin the year in the middle of winter.  However, after doing a little research it starts to make a little more sense.  Did you know that the earliest record of a New Year’s celebration is in 2,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, but it was celebrated at the vernal equinox (mid-March), which of course made more sense to me, as Spring is the time when everything becomes new again.  Actually, many different places celebrated the new year at different times.  The Egyptians and Persians started the new year on the Fall equinox (September) and the Greeks at the Winter solstice (December).

So, why do we celebrate in January? Well, the month of January had to be created before we could start to celebrate during it.  The calendar used to only have 10 months, which is reflected in the names for the months (septem=7, octo=8, novern=9, decem=10 in latin).  So the early Roman calendar had the new year starting in March, until 700 B.C. when Numa Pontilius, the second king of Rome added January and February to the calendar.  January comes from the Roman God Janus, the two-faced god, who was the god of doorways and beginnings.  Janus had one face that looked back into the past and one face that peered into the future.

Another reason I found for the timing of the new year was that January is after the Winter solstice and therefore the days begin to get longer again.  The longer hours of daylight effect the cycles of crops and even the emotional state of people.  Therefore, the Romans began celebrating in January.  Not that the Romans celebration had any effect on when the Greeks or Egyptians celebrated. Until the Julian calendar came into effect.  This calendar was a solar based calendar and decreed that the new year began on January 1.  Unfortunately, the Julian calendar suffered from a math problem and so days kept getting added to the calendar.

Then, during the Middle Ages, celebrating the new year on January 1st was actually abolished for having it’s origins in a pagan ritual, so people started celebrating New Year’s on December 25 (because of the celebration of Christ’s birth) or March 1 or March 25 or Easter (I guess we shouldn’t mention Christmas and Easter are also based on pagan rituals that Christians adopted as their own).

Fortunately, in 1582, during the time of Pope Gregory XIII, the Jesuit astronomer Christopher Calvius worked out the math and gave us leap year day.  Thus, the Gregorian calendar was born and most of the world reverted to celebrating New Year’s on January 1,  There were still the hold outs, mostly Protestants in England and the American colonies, who didn’t fall in line until 1752.

So question answered. Now we know why we celebrate New Year’s on January 1.  We can blame it on the Romans.

Happy New Year!

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Julie’s Top Ten Animated Movies–Retold Tales

Though I’m a book fiend, I’m always excited when they make a movie from a book or story.  Most of the time the book is much better than the movie.  Sometimes the movie and the book can both stand side by side as wonderful compliments to each other. And on rare occasions, the movie is better than the book. I am especially fond of animated movies and have been impressed with how they have retold some of the world’s best stories (old and new).  Here is my list of Top Ten Animated Movies—Retold Tales.

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  1. How to Train Your Dragon—(Dreamworks, 2010) This delightful movie is loosely based on the middle-grade book (and series) of the same name by Cressida Cowell. What I love about this movie is that it completely changed the book’s original story, while keeping a lot of the humor of the book.  In this way, we can enjoy both the book and the movie equally, without constantly saying, “That’s not what happened.”  In the book, all the Vikings in Hiccup’s village have dragons and they are required to train them by “yelling very loud.” Unfortunately, Hiccup’s dragon does not respond to that kind of training. So he must find another way to “train” his dragon.  In the movie, they reversed the premise so that Hiccup is the one introducing his village to keeping dragons, which they have been treating as enemies.  I applaud both the author and the screenwriter for giving us two stories that are fraught with humor and able to capture the imagination of so many.

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2.

  • Beauty & the Beast—(Disney 1991) Along with Cinderella, Beauty & the Beast is one of the most retold tales, resulting in several books, movies and even a television series.  However, no one can deny that the Disney animated version not only tells a beautiful story, but the extraordinary animation made this movie an instant classic.  Of course, in the original story, told in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Belle has two sisters, who are also part of the story, and before going to the sea to check on one of his ships that had returned to port their father asks if they would like him to bring them back something from his journey.  Belle’s sisters ask for jewels and fine dresses thinking their destitute father had regained his riches with this ship, but Belle only asks for a rose as none grew in their part of the country. Of course, he has not regained his riches and returning home empty-handed, he becomes lost in the forest.  Stumbling on a palace, he sees a rose garden and thinks he could at least bring Belle her gift. But with the taking of the rose, his real trouble begins, as the beast who owns the castle demands payment for the rose in the form of the merchant’s daughter.  Now, the Disney version paints the beast in a harsher, more selfish light than the original story, but none can deny the growth of the selfish beast into a handsome prince, even before the transformation, is as good of a story as the original, which deals more with learning to see past what someone looks like in order to discover true love.

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3. Tangled—(Disney, 2010) After Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast, I kept waiting for Disney to tell the story of Rapunzel.  Surely the Disney animators were not going to just leave one Princess hanging.  So, I was excited when I first saw the trailer for Tangled, and the movie did not disappoint.  However, in the original story, Rapunzel becomes a princess after being rescued, instead of being born one as in the movie.  While pregnant, Rapunzel’s mother craves a certain edible plant (rampion or rapunzel plant) and begs her husband to bring her some.  He steals the plant from the garden of an enchantress who catches him and makes him promise to surrender his child to her when it is born.  When the child turns twelve, she locks the child up in a tower, where they use her hair as a ladder for the enchantress to reach her.  The prince finds her. They fall in love. They plan an escape. Rapunzel unwittingly gives them away (by saying her dress is getting too tight. Can we say pregnant, boys and girls?).  The enchantress cuts Rapunzel’s hair and casts her out. She draws up the prince using Rapunzel’s cut hair. He jumps out of the tower to get away from her, and is blinded by the thorns below. The blind prince then wonders through the country and finally comes to the place where Rapunzel (and his twins) live, and her tears restore his sight.  While the enchantress accidentally gets herself trapped in the tower by dropping Rapunzel’s braid.  I have to say I think the Disney version is a bit more action-packed and the plot line more understandable. (I never understood why all the bad guys in fairy tales wanted to steal children, and I know parents who would have given them their kids for free.)  Plus, the heroine is stronger and bolder, and the storyline less prone to the necessity of having a “birds and bees” conversation with your 5-year-old.

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4.

  • Chicken Little—(Disney, 2005) I have to admit, when I heard that Disney’s next animated movie was going to be “Chicken Little,” I was not overly impressed.  Remember, there was still a princess out there they hadn’t animated. After all, Chicken Little (or in other parts of the world Chicken Licken or Henny Penny) is a folk tale about a chicken that believes the sky is falling after an acorn hits him on the head, and then he proceeds to cause hysteria before being eaten by a fox.  Moral of the story: Don’t believe everything you are told.  Of course, in the tradition of folk tales, sometimes the story ends with Chicken Little getting away from the fox.  The moral of that story is: Don’t be a chicken.  While the original is a fun story, the Disney version of this tale is ultimately more entertaining with its aliens, its touching father/son relationship, and Chicken Little’s ultimate redemption for the panic he had caused. Pair that with the voice talents of  Zach Braff, Gary Marshall and Don Knotts and some kicking songs, and it’s no wonder this is my number 4 pick.

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5.

  • Sleeping Beauty—(Disney, 1959) I love the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty for several reasons. One of which is that the animators didn’t use the typical Disney style of animation and instead tried to match medieval art.  Disney wanted Sleeping Beauty to look like a walking illustration, and I believe he succeeded.  Also, the illustrators put more detail in the animals and the background than they had previously, giving the animation richness and depth.  One other point that I would like to make (which is the reason my brother also loves this movie) is that Sleeping Beauty is the first animated Disney fairy tale where the prince has a name, Phillip.  As for the original story, the “wicked fairy” was wicked because she hadn’t been around the kingdom for a while and people thought she was dead so they forgot to invite her to the shindig when the princess was born.  She showed up anyway, but they didn’t have enough parting gifts so when it was her turn to “bless” the child, she cursed her instead. A final fairy does keep the little princess from death by saying that she will “fall into a deep sleep for 100 years and be awoken by a king’s son.”  Also, instead of going away as she does with the movie, the princess stays with her parents, but spinning on spinning-wheels is forbidden because of the curse.  Of course, the princess finds an old woman who doesn’t know about the king’s decree against spinning wheels and low and behold the princess pricks her finger and falls to sleep. And the good fairy that saved her from death puts everyone in the castle tosleep and causes a ring of brambles and thorns to spring up around the castle to protect the princess and the others sleeping inside.  After 100 years pass, a passing prince braves the brambles and finds the princess.  The princess awakens, sans kissing and then there is something about his step-mother trying to eat her, but then getting eaten herself.  Yeah.  Needless to say, the movie is a bit more appetizing than original tale. Plus, there’s kissing.  Kissing is always good.  And I love the dueling fairies. Pink. Blue. Pink. Blue.  Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty was a box office flop, and the Disney studio didn’t return to fairy tales until 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid.

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6.

  • The Little Mermaid—(Disney, 1989) Well that was fortuitous. You probably won’t believe me when I say that wasn’t planned, but c’est la vie.  Now, I love Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales.  I don’t know why. They aren’t very happy, but I had already read The Little Mermaid before I saw the animated version.  I was in Junior High, but I remember thinking, “How are they going to spin this one?”  You see, in the original story, she doesn’t marry the prince.   That’s right! She saves the prince from drowning and falls in love with him, but she never marries him.  Why? Because he thinks this other girl (the one who finds him on the beach) was the one who saved him. (Happy Thought #1). The little mermaid visits the Sea Witch and exchanges her tongue for two legs, though walking will always be like being stabbed by swords (Happy Thought #2) However, she will only obtain a soul if she finds true love’s first kiss. Otherwise, she will die brokenhearted and disintegrate into sea foam at dawn on the day after the prince marries another woman. So, she meets the prince, and though the prince loves her, he does not fall in love with her. He has fallen in love with the girl who saved him (remember the other girl) though he doesn’t know who she is.  Wouldn’t you know, this girl turns out to be the same princess that his father wants him to marry? (Happy Thought #3)  So, guess what, he marries her.  In the meantime, the little mermaid’s sisters have made a deal with the Sea Witch.  All the little mermaid must do to come home is to slay the prince and let his blood drip on her feet.  (Happy Thought #4) But she can’t do it and chooses to throw herself into the sea as the dawn breaks.  She dissolves into sea foam, and turns into a spirit.  The prince and his wife try to find her, but they never do. Needless to say, the Disney version is much happier.

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7. Shrek—(Dreamworks, 2001) This movie is loosely based on the picture book of the same name by William Steig about a young ogre who dreams of leaving home and seeing the world.  Like How to Train Your Dragon, the book and the film should be treated as two separate entities.  For though the picture book is cute and a must have for any little boy, it has nothing to do with the storyline of the movie. In fact, the only character they have in common is the character Shrek. (That’s right. No matter how many times you read it, Donkey never appears) Still the movie’s clever fairy tale-esk storyline, and hilarious bro-mance has launched 3 successful sequels (though I wasn’t too fond of Shrek 3 myself).  And with its humorous banter, this fairy tale that is not quite right, and yet oddly perfect resonates with people of all ages, as an misunderstood, antisocial, bully of an ogre shows that he has a heart of gold.

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8.

  •  Anastasia—(20th Century Fox, 1997) This is the only movie in my list that is a retelling based on a real person.  The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia was the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia.  She and her family were killed by the Bolshevik secret police on July 17, 1918.  She was 17-years-old.  Rumors of her possible escape have been circulating since her death, especially since her body was not discovered in the mass grave that held her mother, her father and three of her sisters.  Several women claimed to have been Anastasia, but they have all been disproved and in 2008 Russian forensic scientists found and confirmed the remains of Anastasia and her younger brother Alexei.  Still, the 90-year mystery makes a wonderful story, and the Fox Animation Studios did an excellent job turning it into an animated film, with the voice talents of Meg Ryan, John Cusak, Christopher Lloyd and Kelsey Grammer, among others. Of course, my favorite character is Bartok the Bat, played by Hank Azaria.  He may be a bad guy, but he’s got some great lines.  In the film, Grigori Rasputin is an evil man who sold his soul to the devil in order to bring down the Romanov family (Anastasia’s family) because they had thrown him out and disgraced him, but in reality the Romanovs always thought of him as a holy man, though others did not.  In fact, when the rumors against Rasputin got scandalous and the Tsar was forced to launch an investigation, it ended with the minister of the interior being removed from his position, not Rasputin. Still, it is believed the scandal and rumors that surrounded Rasputin led to the distrust of the Romanovs and eventually led to their downfall.  So, though the movie is based on real people, it is not based on truth.  Just remember that when the talking bat readjusts the talking corpse’s lips.  That’s not really what happened.

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9.

  • Mulan—(Disney, 1998) This Disney film is a retelling of the Chinese folktale, the poem really, of Hua Mulan, who fought for 12 years in the army and gained high honors, without anyone ever realizing she was a girl, until she leaves the army, goes home and dons her old clothes.  This folktale has been around since the 6th Century and is one of the first poems in Chinese history to promote gender equality. The story was expanded to a novel during the Ming Dynasty and is one of the most popular folktales among the Chinese. When I saw the movie, I had never heard of the poem of Hua Mulan, but I did go to see the movie in the theater twice, which tells you something when you consider I was a poor college student working two jobs at the time.  Like Sleeping Beauty, the animators tried to reflect the time and culture of the story in the animation, but unlike Sleeping Beauty, Mulan did very well in the box office and even spawned a sequel, proving that people can connect with a brave, misfit girl who loves father and desperately longs to bring honor to her family.

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10.

  • The Emperor’s New Groove—(Disney, 2000) Here I have to bow down in homage to David Reynolds, the screenwriter for this movie.  What an awesome idea to retell the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a selfish, arrogant, fashion forward emperor in an Aztec setting, and make the emperor’s “groove” or his selfish, instant-gratification be the thing that tricks him up.  In the original story, the emperor is conned by two conmen who promise to make him some clothes out of a material that is invisible to anyone who is unfit or unintelligent. So, in order to prove that he is not unfit or unintelligent, the emperor pretends he can see the clothes, and so do all the adults around him.  When the “clothes” are finished, the emperor “puts them on” and parades down the street in his birthday suit, until a child asks why the emperor is naked.  Well, of course, the Disney animators couldn’t really build a show around a naked man (prompting more birds-and bees discussions with precocious 5-year-olds), so they build it around a naked llama.  Ah-ha! Brillant!  Throw in a evil witch, a secret lab, a lovable dummy, and a feisty squirrel and you have Disney magic.

Now there are many more wonderful animated retold tales out there, and to tell you the truth I had trouble picking ten.  I may have to follow up with an Honorable Mention list, but I still believe these 10 movies reflect the best animated retold tales.  Don’t be shy in letting me know what you think.

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