Women as werewolves: reviewing Ginger Snaps and When Animals Dream

Daddy to the rescue, musn't let daughter dear have lesbian sex-vampirism!

Daddy to the rescue, musn’t let daughter dear have lesbian sex-vampirism!

Horror creatures began as men. Varney the Vampyre and Dracula, Universal’s werewolf, even the original mummy monster, they were all guys. “Ah,” but I hear you say, “what about J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla?” Thank you for making my point. By all rights, Carmilla should be as well-known as Dracula, which it predates by over two decades. And if vampires are about sex and rape, then the bisexual Carmilla should have blown Victorian minds altogether. Maybe it did, and that’s the problem: a sexually empowered female rapist was just not an acceptable possibility in Anglo-American culture in those days. And not very acceptable now, either.

Werewolves can be about sex, too. Remember how in An American Werewolf in London (1981), werewolf David Kessler is symbolically killed by his English lover? And how in the movie Kessler specifically ties the idea back to Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941)?

See? Femininity and blood can be fun!

See? Femininity and blood can be fun!

So what happens when we get female werewolves? Well, horror films are typically not noted for subtlety, so we get blood. Not just other people’s blood, but menstrual blood. And sex. Yep, becoming a werewolf becomes a female form of puberty. Somehow with a guy, this can be played for humor, as in the original Teen Wolf (1985). With girls? Oh, the horror! Sexually empowered women are dangerous beasties, as the two films, Ginger Snaps (2000) and When Animals Dream (2014; Danish with English subtitles) demonstrate. Ginger and Marie both have unprotected sex and start killing people. And people thought Twilight was about abstinence!

Ginger smokes, has sex, and turns into a werewolf. Bridget lives in Ginger's shadow . . . until she has to take charge.

Ginger smokes, has sex, and turns into a werewolf. Bridget lives in Ginger’s shadow . . . until she has to take charge.

What’s interesting about these two films is that they are effective because they place their werewolves in social contexts that make us concerned about their fate. Dracula preys on women, so we hope he gets staked; we have no personal interest in him. Ginger, on the other hand, has a loyal younger sister named Bridget who goes all-out in trying to save Ginger. While Marie has a troubled family and hostile community that makes her social isolation heartbreaking.

Otherwise, the films couldn’t be more different. Ginger Snaps is a Hollywood film about werewolves. The lead is pretty, her transformations are extensively portrayed, and the menstruation, sex, and gore are all as obvious as can be. Ginger’s every outcast girl who turns into a slut, and we know how troublesome those are. But, ironically, she’s humanized by the sister she’s dominated in past. Bridget, unlike her sister, is still an outcast, but she cares about her sister. Ginger may now be a slut, but she’s also a werewolf and a killer, which means she’s still an outcast, and Bridget wants to reclaim her.

I just want my mother to be well and to work down at the fish processing plant like everyone else in town

I just want my mother to be well and to work down at the fish processing plant like everyone else in town

Marie, on the other hand, is always an outcast, even before she begins her transformation. She’s not especially pretty, either. We see less of her transformation, and a good deal less blood and gore all around. What makes Marie human, and enlists our sympathies, is that she tries to connect to others. She may be bad at it, and the isolated Danish village she lives in demonstrates how distant Scandinavians can be, but she does try. We cheer for Ginger’s possible redemption because Bridget enlists our sympathies, but we hope against hope for Marie’s salvation because she herself enlists our sympathies.

On the other hand, I'm growing hair on my body, my fingernails bleed, and I just had a nice meal of glass

On the other hand, I’m growing hair on my body, my fingernails bleed, and I just had a nice meal of broken glass

Ginger Snaps is considered something of a cult film these days. Don’t let that label discourage you. If you don’t mind the gore, it’s a touching, scary, and occasionally funny film about growing up and sisterhood . . . and lycanthropy. I doubt When Animals Dream will even reach cult film status in the U.S.; it’s more understated and atmospheric than American films, and is often unfavorably compared to the vampire film Let the Right One In (2008). I would rank it below Ginger Snaps. And yet it has its charms. Here’s a thought that might help you decide whether you want to watch it. Did you see both Let the Right One In and its Hollywood remake, Let Me In (2010)? Or, not quite as appropriate, but still a help: how about the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and its Hollywood remake (2011)? If you did, and you liked the Swedish originals in ways the American remakes didn’t capture, the Danish When Animals Dream may be for you.

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Chapter 23 of Magician’s Misfortune, and time to take a break

“Resolutions?” is the title of chapter 23 of Magician’s Misfortunes, my weekly serial about a government magician whose life has gone very sour. With a title like that, you can guess that it’s the end of the story (or is it?), so I will say no more.

And it’s time for the blog to go on hiatus for a while. I’ve got a birthday to celebrate over the weekend, some personal affairs to clean up, and some adult education courses to prepare. Those of you who follow the sister blog Sillyhistory should see some new posts up starting in late March when I start teaching a course on 19th century American communes, the places that inspired Prophecies and Penalties.

Until the next story, or book review, or belated review of a movie several decades old, take care and goodbye!

Ultima Thule, the end of the world, has monsters

Ultima Thule, the end of the world, has monsters

Posted in Magician's Misfortune, Writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Chapter 22 of Magician’s Misfortune

I’m just going to go all meta on you and tell you the title for this week’s chapter of Magician’s Misfortune is deliberately inaccurate, sort of. Hey, it’s the big fight, the action-filled climax, and if you haven’t been reading this story before, you sure as hell aren’t going to read this chapter.

Oh, yeah, maybe you say to yourself, “Self, an action-filled climax? Maybe it’s got a great fight scene? Oh, yeah, definitely!” My first response is to ask why you call yourself “self” in your own thoughts. You got some sort of identity problem? And then I’m going to tell you that the fight scene (yes, there is one, thanks for blowing the suspense) is going to be absolutely meaningless unless you’ve read the rest of the story . . . unlike the big fight scene at the end of the Twilight movie series, which was absolutely meaningless even if you did watch the rest of the movies.

Anyhow, this is chapter 22, “All hell breaks loose,” that we’re talking about. The title isn’t just a hackneyed cliché; it bears a deep and profound connection to the weighty themes of the chapter.

That doesn’t really save it from being a hackneyed cliché, does it? (And “hackneyed cliché” is a redundant phrase, come to think of it.) And do you really believe me when I talk about profound themes in this story?? And the title isn’t even right, sort of, even though it is sort of right.

I’m not making this at all clear, am I? Good. Read the chapterThen you’ll understand.

You think after what I've written I'm going to explain why I used this picture? OK, here's the deal. It's WIlliam Blake, if by some off-chance your inadequate education didn't include art history. It's from his interpretation of Dante's "Divine Comedy." And yes, it's set in a circle of hell. Which one? Think about Harry Eberhardt, and the answer should be obvious.

You think after what I’ve written I’m going to explain why I used this picture?
OK, here’s the deal. It’s WIlliam Blake, if by some off-chance your inadequate education didn’t include art history. It’s from his interpretation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” And yes, it’s set in a circle of hell. Which one? Think about Harry Eberhardt, and the answer should be obvious.

Posted in Magician's Misfortune, Writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Chapter 21 of Magician’s Misfortune

Harry Eberhardt likes sex. Preferably with willing women. Which rules out Deecee Young, who’s a lesbian. And Sanderson, who’s quite unwilling and just helped bust Harry’s nose again. So why is his life revolving around these two women? It’s “SNAFU,” chapter 21 of Magician’s Misfortune, my weekly serial about a government magician being quite down on his luck.

"SNAFU" originated in the military, so a picture of a military SNAFU seemed appropriate. This is "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. (1856-1927) who's family's life has its own SNAFU moments. Although famous and successful as a battlefield artist, Woodville committed suicide by shooting himself. Sadly, he may have taken after his father RCW, Sr., another noted artist, who died of a morphine overdose at age 30.

“SNAFU” originated in the military, so a picture of a military SNAFU seems appropriate. This is “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. (1856-1927) whose family’s life has its own SNAFU moments. Although famous and successful as a battlefield artist, Woodville committed suicide by shooting himself. Sadly, he may have taken after his father RCW, Sr., another noted artist, who died of a morphine overdose at age 30.

Posted in Magician's Misfortune, Writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chapter 20 of Magician’s Misfortune

Tumbling through an interdimensional magical teleportation system isn’t as easy as it sounds. And Harry Eberhardt hates surprises, even in bed. But Harry has a nose for trouble. All of which leads him to the question, “Who can you trust?” in chapter 20 of Magician’s Misfortune, my weekly serial about a government magician having an off day . . . off month? . . . off life!

Where Becky had her first adventure

Where Becky had her first adventure

Posted in Magician's Misfortune, Writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chapter 19 of Magician’s Misfortune

Some traps can be quite convoluted (Longleat maze, England)

Some traps can be quite convoluted (Longleat maze, England)

Harry Eberhardt has walked into a trap. People are coming for him and his associates. So we should expect Harry to react with his customary initiative, bravery, quick thinking, and resourcefulness. Which is exactly what he does. Too bad Harry’s a bit short on those qualities. Harry is “Trapped” in chapter 19 of Magician’s Misfortune, and if he doesn’t like it, he’s going to dislike what happens next even more.

Posted in Magician's Misfortune, Writing fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Review: The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley

There's an explanation in the story for all four symbols on the shield

There’s an explanation in the story for all four symbols on the shield

So I’m at my local bookstore and I see a new paperback with the line at the top, “ON HER MAJESTY’S SUPERNATURAL SECRET SERVICE.” Given some of the stories at the heart of the Sillyverse, which feature a magical organization attached to the U.S. Secret Service, how could I resist picking this up? I couldn’t. So I bought The Rook, a fantasy adventure by Daniel O’Malley that came out in 2012. And I like it very much, thank you, although not because it features an organization of magicians, no. I like it because it’s an interesting character study.

The obvious story line is about an organization of people with exceptional magical talents, who work for a semi-governmental organization in Britain called the Checquy Group responsible for defending the Realm, secretly. Their great opponents are a group of extraordinary alchemists/scientists called the Grafters, who naturally originate in Belgium (as would make sense to any Monty Python fan). The Grafters, having almost been wiped out by the Checquy a few centuries back, are out for revenge, and have succeeded in subverting part of the Checquy.

Sounds a bit complicated? You have no idea. A lot of the book is an information dump, O’Malley taking us on a limited (by encyclopedic standards) tour of the book’s universe, including a side view of the United States and what happened to the Checquy there as a result of the War for American Independence. If you like that sort of thing, it’s great fun, rather like Conan Doyle having Watson drop the names of cases Sherlock Holmes worked on but we never get to read. O’Malley can make all sorts of amusing references, without the trouble of explaining them in depth. And it’s great fodder for a sequel.

Now, I must say in O’Malley’s favor that he provides an explanatory framework for these information dumps. Our protagonist, Myfanwy (rhymes with “Tiffany”) Thomas is a high member of this organization who awakens with all of her personal memories gone. So she must try to hold down her job and socialize without knowing much about who she is, or rather, was. Worse, she finds out from her previous personality, through letters penned before she lost her memory, that someone is subverting the Checquy for unknown purposes, and that party is responsible for her loss of memory. So the loss of memory is organically tied to the plot. Neatly done, O’Malley. Better than the standard use of a person in training, which is how we usually get the information dumps in other sci-fi/fantasy books.

What to me makes this a fascinating novel is that Myfanwy’s character changes a great deal from her pre-amnesiac self to her post-amensiac self. O’Malley’s making a case that nurture can dramatically affect how a personality develops, and his portrayal is quite plausible. Myfanwy is traumatized in her youth, and so becomes a timid and withdrawn person, fearful of using her powers. But stripped of her memories of trauma, she blossoms and becomes a much more powerful personality, in more ways than one. It’s the contrast between the two personalities, which also plays other roles in the development of the plot, that really drives this story and makes it interesting.

Does the book have faults? Well, yeah (even apart from information dumps, if you consider that a flaw). There’s an unexplained bit of prophesy necessary to get the plot running. And to my mind, the ending, which does tie up a lot of loose ends, seems a bit forced and hurried. Still, I read it in a day, even though it’s 482 pages long. That is a recommendation.

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments