Just one more moment to bask in the glow of a few kind words that helped close out 2014 before we move on to 2015.
Twelve months gone, and what’s to show? —I wrote a thing about Frozen, because I live with a six-year-old, and I jazzed up something for a guest post. And also there was a climax, and an epilogue, and a book. —Could’ve been better, I suppose. Or at least more. —Next!
You may have seen it before; maybe not. Just in case:
(—Forgive me a moment of pride?)
It is easier to imagine the end of a city, than the end of a police force.
“I’d like the bacon-and-tomato panini—”
“And would you like that with the tomato?”
But that was on the way out. On the way in, I didn’t buy a thing; sat stewed in indignation at the gate, over all the little indignities I’d had to suffer: belt stripped, and shoes, wallet and phone and boarding pass in my hands up over my hand, don’t shoot, I’m coming out, as my junk was strobed with millimeter waves. The nigh-constant announcements over the loudspeakers that my safety was their top priority weren’t helping: I didn’t feel safe. I felt rather distinctly threatened. By them. —Foolish, perhaps; even rather indulgent. But. —In the paranoiac frenzy of packing (leave the toothpaste, of course, can’t take that in a carry-on, tube’s too big, and the razor, God no, and the deodorant? Is it a solid, or a gel? The hell is the difference? One’s apparently more likely to be explosive, or at least more likely to be considered as an explosive. There’s no definition anywhere I can find, but I can call the airport I’ll be traveling from if I have any and you know what? Just leave it. Leave it, leave it, leave it—) I’d suddenly been struck—what about the badges? The buttons I’d made the week before, a nice big set for each faction and fifth, that I wanted to hand out to any and sundry as ice-breakers and attention-snaggers. Made of metal, with pins, sharp pins—little, yes. But sharp. Would they be allowed through? Would they cause a problem? —Sure, laugh away, it seems utterly illogical to worry about it now, but logic plays no part in this at all. It wouldn’t even matter if some DHS working group had sat down and soberly assessed any possible threats posed by pin-secured flair of all sorts: its potential as a threatening weapon; its utility in jimmying a locked cockpit door; et cetera, et cetera—and then rubber-stamping appropriate forms in triplicate to propagate the appropriate data updates and normalizations throughout the various linked databases humming to themselves on servers across the country, allowed, or disallowed, or the one-inch buttons are fine but the line’s being drawn at two-inches, and God knows the little pinch-back pins? That they use for lapel flags and such? Those are right out, God damn, you could stab yourself with one if you aren’t careful, okay? Put it down. Put it down, sir. —It wouldn’t even matter if I’d called ahead to the airport I’d be travelling from, got their blessing and imprimatur, because what it all comes down to in the end is essentially that one singular transaction between you on the one side and the person with the badge on the other and if they take it in their head to take exception to some little thing or other you’re basically fucked, you know? Game over. Best case scenario, all those little pins come out of the bag and go into the trash. Worst case? I’m not going to lose my temper, no, but I don’t have money, I don’t have time, not to get another ticket, not to deal with any sort of delay, my only chance, my only choice—
(A couple-some years before, in Newark, I’m on the security line, I’m wearing a loose light green vest over a T-shirt, it’s more like a sleeveless shirt, really, I’ve taken off my shoes, I’m not wearing a belt, I’ve dumped the contents of my pockets in the bins, I’m ready to step through the metal detector, but the guard on the other side of the table says sharply “Hey. You want to take off your vest?” and it takes me a minute, like I say, it’s more of a shirt almost, so “I’m sorry?” I say, quizzically, which is enough for me to realize what it was he’d said, figure out what he wanted, my hands coming up even then, automatically, Pavlovianly, reaching to open it up, but he’s leaning, lunging even, over the conveyor belt, “Hey,” he’s bellowing, “you looking to start something?” —This man, with a badge, and hard eyes, and a finger, stabbing at my nose.)
—so I’d brought only a handful, of each type of button. In plastic bags, in my carryon. They went through the scanner without a hitch. I never got a second look from anyone.
“Your safety is our top priority,” says the announcement over the loudspeaker, as I sit at the gate, glowering at no one in particular at all.
I used to like flying. I even once liked airports. You know?
- Marfisa, once the Axe, had finally broken with her brother, the Axehandle;
- Luys, the Mason, had been sent by his occasional lover the Duke to find Jo;
- now, the two of them have met under the tree in Pioneer Square (where they’d fought a duel just weeks before).
- (Luys had been wearing a mysterious mask at the time, the mask worn by the swordsman Vincent Erne, when he’d been Huntsman to the Court.)
- —The Duke then went on to challenge the Axehandle and the Guisarme, Banker to the Court;
- That done, he went in a snit to sit the Throne, and only his (mostly) ex Jessie to witness his apotheosis.
- His other ex, Orlando, the Mooncalfe, had won the keeping of the Bride by defeating Jo in a duel;
- the Mooncalfe then went on to murther the Shootist and the Gammer, all to take away the Bride he’d already won;
- but Ysabel, terrified she might be broken, appalled she might not be, fled from the Mooncalfe…
- …only to meet a lugubrious, grey-faced man, who hailed her as the Queen.
- (Jo, meanwhile, who’d found the Huntsman’s mask, went on to trade a briefcase full of porn for a gun,
- (and Messrs. Keightlinger and Charlock went somewhere—else?—and brought back something—else?)
- Then, it started to snow.
- Marfisa, Luys, and Orlando have asked their questions of the witch, Miss Cheney;
- Ysabel, having run from the Mooncalfe, runs to Messrs. Charlock and Keightlinger, and their employer, Mr. Leir;
- Jo finally figures out what it was Miss Cheney had told her, and goes to see Becker, the right one, second;
- and she fires the gun she bought, even as Mr. Charlock—Mr. Leir?—looses what he’d found;
- and Ysabel, Bride of the King Come Back, Queen of the Court of Roses, is suddenly gone from a rather different world—
That’s, I guess, where we were.
Beginning Monday: City of Roses no. 21, “Gallowglas.”
I forgot to mention (here, anyway) when it went up: the folks at the Skiffy and Fanty show invited me to describe my superpower, which being: I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I don’t know a goddamn thing. (Previous visitors to the pier might recognize it as a less belligerent, more accessible version of this post.)
Have some books. “Wake up…” collects chapters 1 – 11; The Dazzle of Day collects chapters 12 – 22; the first season omnibus, Autumn into Winter, collects all 22 in one handy ebook—so you should get the two, or the one, but not all three, unless you’re feeling especially generous. —You can buy copies through Amazon, or Smashwords, or Payhip, or (of course) me; you can add them to your Goodreads or LibraryThing shelves; you might, if you need a little more convincing, read some reviews and interviews first.
No. 21, “Gallowglas,” will see its free online premiére on Monday, April 21st, with no. 22, “Maiestie,” to follow. Until then, you’ll need to secure a copy of The Dazzle of Day or the omnibus (or the paper chapbooks, of course) to read them. —And after that? Well. Whatever comes next is after that.
“I have some beef with your article about Frozen,” said occasional nemesis and friend of the pier, Ben Lehman. “Want to get into a twitter argument about it?” And I had a database cooking, so what the hell, right? —I can’t manage to get Twitter and Storify to agree which tweets were tweeted when, or even exist, but you can at least start here and follow some of the chains of replies and counter-replies that resulted between meetings and phone calls. —Suffice to say we didn’t manage to convince each other, but his reading is an important counter to mine, obsessed as it is with overturning the fantasy conventions that bind it; still, I think, in the end, he limns another story it would’ve been better and more powerful to see, than the straitened one that’s ended up onscreen. —Also, Becky Hawkins points out “Life’s Too Short” is essentially a Disney princess take on “Take Me or Leave Me,” which, yes. —And, finally:
“These charges are false. While we have not read the book, the only reality here is that Gabe was not provided any direct access to Roger Ailes and the book was never fact-checked with Fox News.”
“Did I say he called out these fading powers? Rather, he tosses them into the air like confetti and dances underneath.” —Sessily Watt, “Nothing New Under the Sun: Reading Urban Fantasy”
“This business will get out of control. It will get out of control and we'll be lucky to live through it.”
On the one hand:
He says his son had about a six-inch screwdriver and was threatening to fight his mother, so they called police to calm him down.
Wilsey says everything was under control until a third officer arrived, and the situation took a dramatic turn.
“Murder. They murdered our son for no reason,” Wilsey said. “Everything was going good, then this fat cop from Southport walks in the room, walks around the corner, says, ‘We don’t have time for this. Tase that kid now. Let’s get him out of here.’”
Wilsey says like any teenage boy, his son tried to run when he heard the word tase.
“The tasers hit him, he fell back. Two officers were on top of him. You know, he’s got the little screwdriver. I mean, I would have went and got the screwdriver from him. I went to help, and I hear a shot,” Wilsey said.
Wilsey says he grabbed the officer so he could not shoot again.
“You should not expect a handout,” he tells me. “You should not even expect a safety net. When my house burns down, I should not go to the government to rebuild it. I should have the savings, and if I don’t, my neighbors should pitch in for me, because I would do that for them.”
So sayeth Frank Luntz, as neutral a political consultant as you’re ever likely to meet. —And you shake your head and wonder why it’s so damn hard for some people to understand that government’s just a means of making sure that help is pitched whenever it’s needed, to whomever needs it—and then you read it over again and see the work that word, “neighbors,” really does in this sentence: I don’t want to help just anyone, it says. Just the people I like. Just the people like me. —How ugly it becomes, in hands like these.
“I am grateful that Occupy Wall Street turned out to be a bunch of crazy, disgusting, rude, horrible people, because they were onto something,” he says. “Limbaugh made fun of me when I said that Occupy Wall Street scares me. Because he didn’t hear what I hear. He doesn’t see what I see.”
There were still a number of these little fragments of glass floating about in the air, and now you shall hear what happened with one of them.
I wasn’t going to see it. —The ads looked atrocious: more of the same grim bonhomie that’d soured me on Tangled, and do they even give a damn about how ugly this participial trend in titling comes off? Like they’re steering into what otherwise would’ve been an unavoidable Tony Awards skit, Neil Patrick Harris shouting Frozen! Tangled! Tattered! Feathered! Sorcelled! Fired!
I wasn’t gonna see it, and then I saw this:
So, yeah. Well.
This snow-flake grew larger and larger, till at last it became the figure of a woman, dressed in garments of white gauze, which looked like millions of starry snow-flakes linked together. She was fair and beautiful, but made of ice—shining and glittering ice. Still she was alive and her eyes sparkled like bright stars, but there was neither peace nor rest in their glance. She nodded towards the window and waved her hand.
“It was the best movie ever that I ever saw,” pronounced Taran as we left the theater. We’d talked beforehand, to let her know how it was going to be in a theater, and loud, and there would be scary bits, and she promised to be as brave as a bumblebee and not yell. She did yell: “I want to watch something else!” which is what she says at home, whenever a show gets too intense. —Not so much at the spills and thrills, the wolves or the roaring snow-beast; these she took in stride. But when actual stakes were on the line, however quietly: Anna, betrayed by clever Hans, left to die by the unlit fire. —You know this won’t be allowed to happen, and so do I; there are Rules. But Taran’s only five. She doesn’t know the Rules yet, and can’t bear what knowing the Rules makes bearable: the possibility of what might happen, if. What might be lost if not. —She wants to watch something else.
You know this, and I do, and for sure and certain they know the Rules: that Good, imperiled, will recover, restored with the help of True Love; that Evil will be vanquished, and if not plunged to its death will at least be roundly humiliated, kicked in the butt on the way to the brig. Way of the world. Well, a world. This world. —Oh, there’s some little flexibility to the Rules, changes that might be rung, and they are, most notably in the form and fashion True Love takes (though they telegraph their punch with constant emphasized references to it as an Act thereof). But: Good, triumphant; Evil, vanquished; swell to the chorus of the theme and: credits.
He told her he could do mental arithmetic, as far as fractions, and that he knew the number of square miles and the number of inhabitants in the country. And she always smiled so that he thought he did not know enough yet, and she looked round the vast expanse as she flew higher and higher with him upon a black cloud, while the storm blew and howled as if it were singing old songs.
You know this, and so do I—but I’d seen that song, remember?
A mostly generic new-model Disney princess belts through a radio-friendly rip of “Defying Gravity” (it’s okay, they got Idina Menzel to sing it) and blows her way through a magical-girl transformation into something of a different genre, if not richer and more strange: something of an actual, maybe, antagonist? (—Not that the Snow Queen is all that much of an antagonist in her own story; not that her own story even has that much of an antagonist, aside from cosmopolitan sophistication, or maybe atheism; any given intellectualism, really, and also robbers.) —But: a Disney princess? An antagonist? —She sheds her cloak, her glove, her tiara, her (as the lyrics make painfully clear) past, but: look at the joy, as she finally lets it go, unleashes the magic that’s been leaking frightfully from her all along thus far, learns what she can do with it, and how far it can take her, and how (through that scrim of Disney CGI) beautiful it is—but also how cold, how inimical, inhuman, how—therefore—villainous? —And the transformation, the (yes) sexualization, through that same scrim—a sure sign of villainy, in Disney. —But the va-va-voom slink, the precisely flawless makeup under the artfully touseled hair, it’s all a bit too studiedly much, isn’t it? A Disney, a Barbie-doll idea of sophistication, a perfectly realized burst of adolescent excess, of someone trying something new, of trying the very act of trying something new, of succeeding wildly in that first wild flush, giddily heedless of the cost they know they don’t, can’t know.
I may have watched it a few times.
So I knew, but I was starting to think that maybe, this time, I didn’t, I wouldn’t know. A glimpse of a possible if, a might-maybe. The Rules were creaking, bending, those serried ranks of Good and Evil muddling, confused: would she be triumphant? Or vanquished? I didn’t know! Or thought maybe I didn’t, anyway.
As Anderson-Lopez recalls, “Let It Go” was the first song she and her husband wrote that ended up staying in the movie. Its composition also led the film’s team to rethink its entire approach to the character of Elsa, a.k.a. Frozen‘s take on Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen. In previous drafts, Menzel’s character had a villainous bent. Once the couple penned “Let It Go,” though, they finally began to understand what really made Elsa tick: She’s a scared, repressed teenager, not a malicious ice queen. “As the movie got rewritten and rewritten around ‘Let It Go’ to earn that moment,” Lopez explains, “she became more and more the protagonist along with Anna” — Elsa’s younger sister, voiced by Bell.
If I’d read that before I’d gone to see the movie, I would’ve.
The very idea that a scared, repressed teen could ever become the most malicious of wintry metaphors. That a malicious ice queen could ever be identified with, could possibly be sympathetic, could be a protagonist. I mean really.
X’s first novel, title, was rejected by a publisher because its female protagonist didn’t “triumph over all adversity,” thereby providing the requisite happy ending. XX’s title sold to a German publisher for six figures, but American publishers refused to buy it unless she made her lead character “more remorseful” for having a passionate fling. An editor of XXX’s title said that although readers would be “haunted and moved” by her protagonists, she should turn them into characters that readers would regard with “genuine affection.”
The original soundtrack album for Frozen includes a number of demos, drafts of tracks that didn’t make it into the (currently) final version, that suggest directions and misdirections in the revising and rewriting Kristen Anderson-Lopez refers to, herrings kippered and otherwise. —One of these demos is for “Life’s Too Short,” and in its introduction, Robert Lopez tells us, “One of the songs we knew we had to write was, the song between Elsa and Anna, at the end of which, Elsa had to freeze Anna’s heart with a blast of magic.”
Anderson-Lopez chimes in: “This first attempt was more confrontational than what ultimately ended up in the movie, but we enjoyed going to that drama place.”
It’s an oddly sprightly track, for a confrontation—
—but there’s still a charge there, an anger, on the parts of both our protagonists: a drama: they sing at each other, to each other, and what they want—who they are—is set in direct conflict: Elsa, terrified she’s the prophesied unending winter, giving in to her frozen power anyway, hiding her fear with spite and rage; Anna, who in another cut song refers to herself as the spare to the heir, eager to save their little realm, even if it’s from her own beloved sister—until the song climaxes with that magical strike: “I’m not the prophesy!” cries Elsa, as she fulfills it.
But conflict is confrontational; people get hurt, and people do hurt, and when it’s over someone will have won, however provisionally, and someone will have lost, something. Unless it’s muddled, confused, someone will be triumphant, however muted; someone will be vanquished. The story will have chosen, because there are Rules, and the logic of them works backwards as well as forwards: someone will turn out to have been Good, and someone will have been Evil all along.
And so in the revising, and the rewriting, to soften, remove, erase her villainous bent, to make her more likeable, to earn that moment—of sympathy, of identification, of grace—the conflict is ducked, dodged, leashed, concealed, not revealed:
They sing past each other, now, in this final version: choruses and recitatives that interlock musically, but don’t respond to, don’t struggle with, don’t even acknowledge each other. When Elsa learns that in letting go she’s released enough power to freeze the realm, she doesn’t retort; she crumples into a muttering despair that Anna’s soaring refrain doesn’t even notice. And when Elsa lashes out, the blow that freezes Anna’s heart, it’s unconscious, accidental; she doesn’t even notice. —No intentional villany, here—just misunderstanding: regrettable, yes, but once explained, easily enough forgiven. Swell, and: credits.
(It’s not just our Snow Queen’s possible-maybe villainy that’s softened, of course. In that unused demo, Anna’s insisting Elsa put her gloves back on, to stop eternal winter—the gloves she’d let go. And this is a demand more specific, more actionable than her vague if plaintive cries of don’t shut me out, don’t live in fear, just unfreeze it, you can do it ’cause I know you can! —A stifling, smothering, repressive demand, a frightening demand that directly opposes what Elsa wants, what we’ve been told Elsa needs, and thus a hurtful demand—and while a protagonist, a hero, can deliberately hurt a proper villain, a malicious ice queen, with no mark or stain or blemish to her character, hurting a fellow protagonist is, well. Tricky. Not likeable. So soften; so leash; conceal, don’t feel, don’t reveal. Rewrite. Revise.)
One day, when he was in a merry mood, he made a looking-glass which had the power of making everything good or beautiful that was reflected in it almost shrink to nothing, while everything that was worthless and bad looked increased in size and worse than ever. The most lovely landscapes appeared like boiled spinach, and the people became hideous, and looked as if they stood on their heads and had no bodies. Their countenances were so distorted that no one could recognize them, and even one freckle on the face appeared to spread over the whole of the nose and mouth. The demon said this was very amusing. When a good or pious thought passed through the mind of any one it was misrepresented in the glass; and then how the demon laughed at his cunning invention. All who went to the demon’s school—for he kept a school—talked everywhere of the wonders they had seen, and declared that people could now, for the first time, see what the world and mankind were really like. They carried the glass about everywhere, till at last there was not a land nor a people who had not been looked at through this distorted mirror. They wanted even to fly with it up to heaven to see the angels, but the higher they flew the more slippery the glass became, and they could scarcely hold it, till at last it slipped from their hands, fell to the earth, and was broken into millions of pieces.
Protagonist, antagonist, villainy, Good, Evil, Rules—I hope the soaring refrain hasn’t misled you as to whatever point it is I think I’m making with these muttered divagations. —I’m not, mind, arguing that Elsa should more properly have been a villain, any more than I’m pleased with Anna as a plucky, fiesty-pants protagonist. I mean, Good, Evil, anti and pro—what are we really on about, here?
Frozen is a fantasy, which means (broadly, crudely) it’s about restoration and return: of proper summer, undone and overwhelmed by the unnatural winter that Elsa embodies, had been holding back by force of will and gritted teeth and gloves, and closed doors now thrown open, now relaxed, now, at last, herself—and there, right there, that’s the kernel: in threatening what’s seen as natural, usual, expected, Elsa’s turned against what’s Good; in trying to restore and return, Anna’s doing the story’s work, fixed against Evil, as ineluctably as the tide. The efforts the movie must go to, to face them both in the same direction, as jointly likeable protagonists, according to the calculus of these Rules; the Evil the story requires, thus unmoored, has only clever Hans to bear its weight, and while his heel-turn’s admirably, literally chilling, he’s far too slight for the existential threat of eternal winter, of summer forever forgone. —No, that’s resolved almost as an afterthought, an accident: “Of course!” cries Elsa. “Love!” —And just like that the power she’d let go, the existential threat, is leashed; can now be let out, on holidays, and state occasions, as lovely sheets of skating ice and charming flurries, rather than snow-beasts and threatening, phallic spikes.
That’s all it took; that’s all the conflict required: the restoration, the mere expression of a love that was never really in jeopardy. Elsa’s rejection, her letting go, her moment, her song, the one I saw, up there, is all undone; was undone, when she crumpled at the first sign of opposition, the first indication of hardship. In an older version of the story, in an earlier draft of this story, she’d’ve been a proper villain, and fought for what she wanted. It would’ve meant something, to her, to the story, to us. It would’ve been earned. —But in that story she would have to lose, would have to have been vanquished, would have hurt someone, would not have been likeable, could not have been a protagonist, or a Disney princess.
Good, this Good, according to these Rules, because there can be no real dissent among its partisans, is necessarily univocal: we all of us good people want the same thing, right? Essentially? The restoration of the natural order, the return, undisturbed, of the safety of our realm. And so there is no contest. There can be no contest. Not if you want to be triumphant.
And the buttercups sparkled gayly, and looked again at Gerda. What song could the buttercups sing? It was not about Kay.
But that’s according to those Rules. —What I’d seen? That moment, above, the one they wanted to earn? What I’d hoped that maybe this time I wouldn’t know? That maybe this time the Rules themselves were being questioned? The kernel, cracked? That more than one vision of Good was in play, on the surface, explicitly, rather than desperately read into the cracks and fissures, the what-ifs and the mightabeens? And none of them wrenched into the role of villain, of antagonist, of Evil, despite their differences? That—instead—forged somehow between them some actual forgiveness, however fleeting? One that meant something because of what it cost, to give, and to receive? That this might be the 102 minutes’ traffic of our screen?
I mean, I guess what I’d been hoping for was a post-Brave princess movie, and what I got instead was post-Wicked. —And this, this wandering argument, this glib anti-climax, none of this is meant to take away from what Frozen manages to accomplish, and even do well; there’s good stuff in there for you. Go, see it, if you haven’t.
But still. —I wanted to watch something else.
I know they can do the job, but can they get the job?
I know they can get the job, but can they get paid for the job?
—I’m not arguing that with you, I’m not arguing that with you, I’m not arguing that with you, mic drop.