Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Darker Human Nature: The Good Luck Child

I'll bet you thought I wouldn't be posting for another eight some weeks, didn't you? Thought there would be a huge gap between posts? Well today I'm defying expectations. Continuing with the theme of exploring the darker human nature of literary characters, we're going to take a look at the story of "The Devil's Three Golden Hairs" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. You may also know it as "The Good Luck Child."
If you're not familiar with the story, click the link to read it.
In the story, this boy from, as far as we know, a family of no worth or title is born and a prophecy is bestowed upon him that in his nineteenth (or some versions it's fourteenth) year, he will wed the princess. The king of that land happened to be passing through, heard the prophecy, got very upset, and placed the child in a box and threw him in the river. The king thought he had rid his daughter of her "unlooked-for suitor," but as this was a lucky child indeed, he drifted downstream until he came to the shore of another poor man and his wife, who raised him as their own. The boy grows up, the king returns by chance, and realizes that the poor man's son is in fact the child he thought he had killed. To make a long story short, the king gives the lucky child a series of tasks in order to prove himself worthy of becoming his son-in-law, all of which are fool's errands and the lucky child is never intended to survive any of them. But as his name implies, he does. On the last errand however, he encounters a ferryman who has been ferrying people across a lake for years, and he wonders when his job will end. The lucky child discovers that all he need do is hand his oar to his next client and run away freely. On returning home to the king and the princess, the lucky child was rewarded by towns which he passed with lots of gold. The king asked him how he acquired it and if he, the king, could get more. The lucky child tells him he has to be ferried across the lake to get the rest of the gold. The king ventures out, but when he comes to the ferryman, upon remembering the lucky child's answer, the ferryman hands his oar to the king, runs away, and the king is left to be the ferryman for the rest of his life.
Now, bearing all that in mind, I found it interesting that throughout the story, the lucky child is by no means impish, cruel, or ill-favorable. He is virtuous, brave, smart, and determined. But he knew by sending the king across the lake, that the ferryman would hand off the oar, and the king would be gone forever. But if he is such a good guy, and throughout the story we have no reason to doubt that he is, why would he essentially send the king to his doom?
I believe that along the journey -and in the story I think the lucky child had to venture out about three times- the lucky child realized how perilous his journey was. He most likely also realized that the king had intended it so. The lucky child finally comprehended the king's disdain for him, because he was a poor boy. (I wonder if he even knew about the prophecy?) And so, to ensure the safety of himself and the princess, the lucky child sent the king to the ferryman, who would "pass the oar." Even though the lucky child is a good guy, and the king was his father-in-law, he did send him to his doom. I find that interesting, because I really don't think the lucky child just said, "Oh, yes, I got it from the palace across the lake; just take the ferry and you'll be fine." I don't think he forgot the answer he gave to the ferryman about how to leave his post. Sending the king away -permanently- was intended. I suppose even good guys must complete bad deeds for the good of their kingdom, at least when their predecessor would potentially go mad at having a poor man's son on the throne.
If you haven't read the story yet, I would suggest doing so. Despite the tone of this post, it's actually a very fun story and doesn't focus on the darkness of it all (which is saying something, considering it was written by the Grimm brothers). It has a happy ending at least! Good conquers evil and the bad guy gets his comeuppance.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Darker Human Nature: Red Riding Hood

Have you ever wondered if iconic characters of books and television had a hidden side to them? What if Princess Aurora was a rebel? If she were depicted in modern times, would she be that bad girl who always went against her parent (or legal guardians, in Aurora's case)? What if Daisy Duck had a secret online shopping addiction? Was Ursula once a mermaid? Bits of a person's character that have only been touched on or never explored. In short, the darker human nature. My friend Mark Venturini loves to explore the darker side of human nature with his characters. For more on that, see my last post where we had a very interesting discussion about The Hobbit. But Mark inspired me to take a look at a few characters and explore their darker side -or hidden side, depending on which character we're looking at.
(Little Red Riding Hood by Isabel Oakley Naftel, 1862)

(Meghan Ory as Ruby/Red in ABC's Once Upon a Time )

(Little Red Riding Hood by Evanira )

I want to start with someone a lot of people are fairly familiar with: Little Red Riding Hood. In the tale by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, Red is depicted as a young girl, quite innocent, venturing into the mysterious forest to do a good deed: bring goodies for sick, old Granny. She ends up being swallowed whole by the wolf, but then saved by the Huntsman before she can be digested.... Charming. (The version by Charles Perrault, which came before Grimm's, is similar, except the Huntsman slays the wolf before he can eat the grandmother and Little Red.) In another version, while the wolf is threatening Red and her grandmother, Red pulls a gun from somewhere and handles the villain Old Western style. ABC's Once Upon a Time (which I'm terribly behind in) depicts Red as... wait, too much of a spoiler. But in Scarlet, a book by Melissa Meyer, the main character who is a depiction of Red Riding Hood is a streetwise farmer who is trying to find her missing grandmere. So you have lots of different perspectives on this one character, although a few details stay the same, like the red theme, the wolf, and the grandmother.
It's interesting that in each of the tales, Red has to go on some kind of journey. It's also interesting how from the Grimm's version to now, there is a perceptible decrease in Red as being purely innocent. It's as if the tale by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm were the very start of Red's adventures, when she was a child, and as the story has evolved, the character has grown up and matured, becoming bolder and less predictable.
I like to think characters learn from their mistakes, even if they are make-believe. What did Red learn from all her experiences? Is the wolf merely metaphorical? Is the grandmother supposed to be the goal we are always trying to achieve, and the wolf the obstacles we must overcome? And what of Red's nature as a person? How did she change? Did she become more pessimistic or worrisome? Did the experiences make her braver? Did she crave danger? I think she would have made a good cop or PI. I don't know why, but for some reason those two just stick out to me.
Hopefully in a couple of days I'll have another character for you. Which would you prefer: heroes, villains, or secondary characters? Let me know in the comments. :-)


Friday, December 12, 2014

Blog Interview with Author Mark Venturini

Here is my interview with author Mark Venturini!
(Mark Venturini, author of Whispers from Forbidden Earth)

Q: Let's start with something off the wall. Who's your favorite dwarf in The Company and why?
A: Part of my answer will surprise you, since my genre of choice is Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I hate the Hobbit movies. I guess my favorite dwarf is Thorin Oakenshield. He's driven and a strong leader. There's also a darker nature lying below the surface that I appreciate since my writing tends to lean toward the darker side of human nature. So, back to the Hobbit movies. As a teenager, I devoured all the books, from The Simarillion to the Return of the King. I consider the LOTR movies to be cinematic masterpieces in every way: character development, plot, stunning imagery, all worthy of Tolkien's epic tale. The Hobbit movies feel more like a bloated, large-scale video game. any scenes are unforgivably cheesy. I will plop down money and watch Battle of the Five Armies when it is released, but you won't find the DVDs on my shelf at home.

Q: If you could have a chat with anyone from history, who would it be?
A: There are so many.
  • Jules Verne
  • Thomas Edison
  • C.S. Lewis
  • The Apostle Paul
  • Albert Einstein
  • King Solomon
  • Abraham Lincoln

Q: I love the world you've created for Whispers, especially how Eversong is tied to music in almost every way. Can you tell me about where you got the inspiration for all that?
A: It started with the "Creation Song" in the very first novel I wrote many years ago. Crossway books considered publishing it, but eventually passed. The story was a fantasy retelling of the creation story from Genesis, where God sang the universe into existence. I incorporated some elements from that novel into Whispers and just added to it. From there, Eversong was born. I enjoyed playing with the musical theme. Some readers caught it.

Q: Can we expect a sequel to Whispers? If so, tell us about it.
A: There is a sequel. The working title is Blood Tithe. The portal that opened between Earth and Eversong in the first novel also freed faeries from the Winter Court (the Unseelie) and Summer Court (the Seelie) to run amok on Earth and cause major troubles for Jason Snider. I'm really excited about how two parallel plot lines between Jason on Earth and the elf Strum and Magus Sinngh on Eversong unfold.

Q: I know you're working on a project called Medieval Mars with author Travis Perry. What can you tell me about that project?
A: The concept is interesting. The world of Medieval Mars takes place in some future time after humans colonized Mars. Over time, though, technology and scientific knowledge was lost and society degraded to a feudal system reminiscent of the Middle Ages. What little technology that survived is referred to as coming from the "Time of Magic." The stories primarily take place in the area from Olympus Mons eastward to the Chryse Planitia that is now a shallow sea in our world. I really enjoyed exploring the region and the society that lives there within the stories.

Q: Let's talk briefly about the writer's group Pittsburgh East Scribes. We have both been involved since the very beginning. Can you believe it's grown as much as it has? And all the writers have gone in so many different directions.
A: I am humbled by the success of Scribes. I started the group with one goal in mind: to provide information, resources, and encouragement to help aspiring authors pursue their dream of seeing their work published. We've assembled a great group of writers that I think covers most genres. The energy and passion and commitment I feel at every meeting is so encouraging to me. Every time I suggest a summer or holiday break, I'm shot down. Everyone wants to meet. I can't tell you how that makes me feel.

Q: I feel like I know you too well that I can't think up any good questions. So let me see here... I know you love kayaking and basically the great outdoors. You told me not long ago that you saw a bear! If you could go and do anything in the world and you had no restrictions, what would it be?
A: After my rafting trip through the Grand Canyon a couple of years ago, I have 3 items left on my bucket list.
  • Hike to Everest base camp. I don't want to climb Mt. Everest, but I think the 16 day hike through the Himalaya Mountains in Nepal to base camp where the expeditions are launched would be spectacular! (I have a feeling I would not be doing this with my wife, Kathy.)
  • A cruise to Antarctica.
  • Explore Alaska by rail and hopefully do some kayaking during the trip.

Q: Do you still make time to read?
A: With a full time job and many obligations, finding time to do everything I want to do is really a challenge. The only way to fit in everything is to give up on sleep. That isn't going to happen. Thank God for my kindle and kindle app on my smart phone. I have a 45 minute commute to work on a rideshare van. That's when I do the majority of my reading as well as my critiquing.

Q: What kind of traditions do you and your family keep around the holidays? In other words, how much does your Italian show?
A: For Thanksgiving, we're traditional with the turkey and stuffing. For Christmas, though, we keep the tradition of the "Feast of the Seven Fishes" on Christmas Eve. Menu items vary from family to family. We've added a few items to our menu over the last couple of years.
  • Linguine with a red anchovy sauce
  • Orange Roughy in tomato sauce
  • Calamari
  • Baccala (salt cod)
  • Whiting (fish)
  • Scallops
  • Smelts (fish)
  • Shrimp
  • Bagna cauda (warm anchovy dip)
Add to this all the Italian cookies! Christmas Eve is always a special time for my family.

Q: And on a fun note, what do you think about Twitter? Do you like it or would you rather keep what you had for lunch today to yourself?
A: I've always been uncomfortable with the marketing and social media end of the writing business. I'm basically a private person. But Twitter and Facebook and blogging and Goodreads (I could go on) are all necessary evils. So, I tweet and do all the other social media stuff that's expected. Am I as active as I should be? See my response to question 8 about making time to read. :-)

Thanks for the interview, Mark!
Check out Mark's blog to stay updated about his stories:
Also find Mark on Twitter (@Mark_Venturini), Pinterest ( ), and Goodreads ( ). Mark is also a contributing author to the Colony Zero series, up on Amazon now! Links to his chapters are below.
Colony Zero -Volume 1 -Contact 
Colony Zero -Volume 3 -In the Midst of Sorrow 
Colony Zero Series II -Volume 2 -For the Children