Fur, Feathers And Fiction

In real life, I own two adorable guinea pigs named Bobby and Zebra, and our household is made all the more cosy by our cat, Daniel. I love animals. When an animal is harmed or, god forbid, killed in a piece of fiction I am enjoying, I am likely to cry. I often consult doesthedogdie.com, and watching Hachi was a tearful experience for me. In this blog post, I have compiled a list of some of my favorite animals in fiction.

 

Historically, animals have always served a special purpose in fiction. When your characters are animals rather than people, all kinds of satire and societal criticism suddenly becomes possible. Think of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Animals are also sometimes used to convey a life lesson, as they appeal to children as well as adults. Think of the works of Dutch writer Toon Tellegen, French de La Fontaine and Aesop in the world of the Ancient Greeks. Continue reading

Lord Sebastian’s Bookshelf

Welcome to the Character’s Bookshelf. This is where I speculate, entirely outside of the space-time continuum and the barriers of language, what books would be a fictional character’s favorites.

It is the prerogative of the Fangirl to think about fictional characters to cheer herself (or himself, for that matter) up. When I’m in an impossible situation, I find myself thinking: “What would Jessica Jones do?” When a conversation with an acquaintance is not going well, I try to imagine that Aziz Ansari is there to crack a joke. When I mess up my omelet, I wish for Dobby by my side.

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Wishful Thinking: Fictional Fandoms

It is the eternal plight of the fangirl that the things she loves most in the world are not real. Hogwarts is not real. Sam and Dean aren’t going to save you from a monster because monsters aren’t real. Toys can’t walk or talk or think for themselves, no matter how many times we watch Toy Story.

Toy-Story-You-Are-A-Toy

But fandoms are real. Books are real, TV series are real, films and games and stories are real. It really happens that I sometimes walk down the street, see a boy carrying a TARDIS messenger bag, and wave at him. Once, I even happened upon such an individual while I was carrying my own TARDIS messenger bag.

My point is, sometimes you can love a fictional world or character so much that it hurts to consider the fact that it isn’t real. It’s fictional. But when that happens, the fandom community can offer you support.  But what about fiction within fiction? What about the fandoms that were made up for the sake of writing about fandom? What about the things fictional characters fangirl over?

In this post, I’ve listed some. Just in case your life wasn’t infected with fandom enough as it was.

Books You Wish Were Real Continue reading

“I am, I am, I am” Books That Helped Me Through Depression

In the winter of 2014 and the year 2015, I experienced depression. There’s no nice way of putting it: I met the evil inside myself. I felt my soul die inside a body that refused to quit. I felt the world turn to ashes around me, the oxygen turn toxic in my lungs, and the people everywhere just kept on living. The closest I can come to describing the experience is that I am Squidward in the sequence of scenes below. No kidding. A depressed person is misery and despair made flesh, and they carry that burden with them whatever they do and wherever they go.

depression squidward.gif

Although I failed to see it at the time, there is always a spark of light in the darkness. There is the whole history of human experiences of suffering to assure you of that one, incomprehensible fact: You are not alone. As each person is unique, so is each depression, but there is a certain comfort to be found in the fact that someone out there is experiencing something similar to your sadness, even when that sadness seems unparalleled in the history of the world.

So how do we get in touch with these other unfortunate individuals? The answer, of course, is simple. We connect to other as we always have; through words, albeit written on paper, to thoughts made tangible on a page. Even as my mind was shattering into a million pieces, emotion and concentration both equally unreachable, I attempted to read as a drowning man attempts to swim. Continue reading

The Perfect Match: Jane Austen Edition

 In my everlasting effort to capture the the magic of Jane Austen’s work, to understand and contain it and eventually to imitate and emulate it, I have drawn up profiles of some of her heroes and heroines that would fit nicely within any modern dating site.

I’ve done this because I often find Austen’s matches to be imperfect, even though they are described as heavenly. Obviously, logic does not apply to matters of the heart (Ron and Hermione, I’m looking at you!)  but still, it seems to me that the woman’s happiness in these matches is often inferior to the man’s. In vain I have struggled to come to terms with this. It will not do. So here, for all of the judgmental gentlemen of Austen’s world, I shall judge them just as harshly. The verdict is as follows.

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From Miffy to Minou: Books From A Dutch Childhood

I am twenty years old, and until quite recently I’d never heard of The Cat In The Hat. I first discovered The Chronicles Of Narnia when it was made into a movie. Harry Potter, as an everlasting worldwide success, is a notable exception, but there’s lots of English children’s literature that I’ve never heard of, because I was raised in The Netherlands.

I’m Dutch. I grew up in Amsterdam. I grew up eating stroopwafels and lots of bright yellow cheese with holes in it and sitting in the front seat of bicycles. If, like me, you are a lover of children’s literature, of its imagination and its loveliness and of all the ways it makes you feel warm and safe inside, here is a list for you. It has all the books on it that I think of when I think of being a child. I have, at one point or another, read all of these in a tent made out of blankets illuminated only by a flashlight, when my dad had said twice already that it was really, really time to go to sleep. They have all been translated into English, so go ahead and read them. Read them to your children. Read them to your grandchildren and your nieces and nephews and the children you babysit.

The books are arranged by the age group I think they’re suitable for, starting with the books meant for the youngest of the young and building up to those timeless classics you’ll still want to read when you’re eighty.

Miffy – Nijntje, by Dick Brunadutch1

I could be wrong, but I think Miffy is internationally famous. On my bookshelf, I have an edition of Miffy translated into Latin, entitled Miffa Ad Mare, so I’m guessing it’s been translated into a bunch of other languages as well. Miffy books are all quite short, and illustrated by simple drawings in primary colors. They include such titles as Miffy Goes To The Beach and Miffy Goes To School. It’s not the originality of the stories so much as it is the style in which they are written, that makes Miffy worthwhile. I can’t judge the English translations as I’ve never read them, but in Dutch every Miffy-book is a delight of concise and clever rhymes.

The Cat Who Came In Off The Roof  – Minoes – Annie M.G Schmidtdutch 2

Annie M.G Schmidt is a household name in The Netherlands, and she should be in your household, too. Minoes is my favorite of her many novels, but perhaps you have heard of Pluk van de Petteflet, (Tow-Truck Pluck), Jip en Janneke (Two Kids from Holland) or her collection of poems, Een Vijver Vol Inkt (A Pond Full of Ink).

Minoes, or as the English translation says, “Minou,” is a cat. She roams deserted rooftops at night, hunts mice and birds, climbs trees to get away from dogs and washes herself with saliva. Until, quite suddenly, she is a lady. From one moment to the next, Minoes becomes a human being. This is great for struggling young newspaper writer Tibbe, “Tibble”, in English, because now Minoes can tell him the breaking news as she hears it from all of the cats in the neighborhood. Soon, the cats’ eavesdropping gets all of them into trouble. In short: this book features a cat turning into a person. What’s not to love?

How To Become King – Koning Van Katoren – Jan Terlouwdutch3

This is probably my favorite Dutch book of all time. I presented it in class when I was ten years old, complete with home-drawn illustrations and a fair amount of blushing and stuttering. This book taught me what a pomegranate was, so I took one to school to show it to my fellow pupils. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t have recognized a pomegranate if it walked up to me and introduced itself.

The book is about a young guy named Stach. It’s not just you. Even in Dutch, Stach is a funny name, that reminds me both of spinach and of pistachios. Stach lives in Katoren, a country which has been ruled by six bitter secretaries ever since their king died seventeen years ago. Stach wants to end the cabinet’s reign of terror and claim the throne for himself. In order to do so, he has to complete seven difficult and dangerous tasks. With an enthralling combination of cunning and bravery, Stach figures out How To Become King.

The Letter For The King – De Brief Aan De Koning –  by Tonke Dragtdutch4

If you have a taste for adventure, this is the book for you. A sixteen year old boy named Tiuri has sworn to wake in silent contemplation on the night before he is to be knighted. His silence is disturbed by a sudden voice in the dark, a desperate plea for help. Tiuri must deliver a letter to the king, but the road that leads him there is not without peril. Tiuri can’t trust anyone he meets. He has to deliver the letter safely. Most importantly, he has to keep its message secret.

I love this book because it showed me that sometimes obedience isn’t the way to success. Sometimes, you have to break your vow of silence to save the kingdom. You have to disregard the rules in order to do what is right. Seems to me like a great lesson to teach children.

Crusade In Jeans – Kruistocht in Spijkerbroek – Thea Beckmandutch5

Rudolf Hefting takes part in a science experiment. There is a tiny computer error, and Rudolf ends up in the middle of a Children’s Crusade, rather than the tournament of Medieval Knights he was aiming for. Who doesn’t love a time travel story? So now Rudolf is in the Middle Ages, with thousands of children traveling to their Holy Land on foot. The children, of course, are plagued by hunger, exhaustion and illness, and Rudolf has to use his modern knowledge to help them survive.

My knowledge of children’s literature is limited. In the comments, tell me what books defined or brightened your childhood. There’s only one rule: they can’t originally have been English books. I want the books the Spanish were raised on, and the Germans, and the Japanese and the Argentinians and the youth of Zimbabwe.