Monday, July 10, 2017

Break Out the Torches and the Pitchforks!

I am going to pontificate on writing.
(An aside: This is written somewhat tongue in cheek and I make suppositions that are not hills I will die on. Keep that in mind before you go all snowflake on me.)
Have you noticed that most of the characters and narrators of my stories are female? Have you ever asked yourself why?

Of course you haven't! You never noticed until I just mentioned it!

But I'm going to tell you why anyway and then I'm going to tell you how all female literary characters in the world are boiled down to just two stereotypes.

And who might they be?

Wait for it ... wait for it ...

They are Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood.

At this point you are now screaming at your computer monitor, spittle dripping down the screen as you express your precise thoughts on my lineage, but hear me out because it's true.

But first, let me tell you the reason I enjoy writing about female characters is because females are much more fascinating characters as they have a greater range of response to their environment.

Let's take Little Red Riding Hood for a moment (but not too far as she is going to be a major topic in a few moments).

When the hunter meets the wolf, his reaction is to kill it. That is what most men do in the literary genres in which I write. They approach a conflict and beat on it until it lies down and assumes room temperature.

Red on the other hand, females have a potentially greater range of interesting reaction. Case in point:

"All the better to eat you with!"

"So many available choices here," Red thought.
At that, Little Red Riding Hood:
... screamed in terror before disappearing into the lupine maw.
... begged for mercy trying to negotiate for her life.
... pulled the stiletto out of her garter belt and gave the wolf a second grin from ear to ear.
... grinned maliciously and said, "Not if I eat you first."
Then suddenly, the woodman burst through the window and
... beat the wolf with his axe until it lay down and assumed room temperature."
 Give me Alice or Red any day; you can have the woodman, but moving on ...

Now, as I said, all female literary characters are either Alice in Wonderland or Little Red Riding Hood in one of their thousand plus disguises.

First, though, I submit to you that you do not know these characters at all. First, it is possible you haven't really read Lewis Carroll's loving tribute to Alice Liddell and think the sanitized Disney version is "close enough for government work." Well, you're wrong. You don't know Alice like I know Alice.

And as for Red? I'm not talking about the sad moral pastiches from Charles Perrault or the Brothers Grimm. Oh, no, no, no. I am talking about the primal story where Little Red is not a nice little girl at all. You don't know Red like I know Red.

Let's compare the two, shall we?
Alice is the embodiment of innocence. Red is as guilty as sin.
Alice is wise and intelligent. Red is smart enough to get out of trouble, but gets in trouble easily enough.
Alice ponders moral dilemmas. Red says, "Morals? Morals? Aren't they a type of mushroom?"
Alice is the prim and noble embodiment of upper class Victorian morality. Red says, "If it's got at least two legs, it's mine!"
Alice is discerning. Red is gullible.
Alice lives by an external standard of what is right and wrong. Red is into "situation ethics."
Alice is basically courteous and kind. Red is so self-centered, she borders on pathology.
Now, at this point you're once again screaming at the computer monitor accusing me of being a bit harsh on poor Little Red, but please remember that I am talking about the original stories. It really does boil down to one simple, succinct sentence:

Alice is a good little girl. Red is a bad little girl.

But let me tell you the real story of Little Red Riding Hood, not the sanitized versions of Perrault or Grimm, but the first story of Little Red that has never been told to children, the primal oral tale as it was first told many, many years ago:
A woman had finished her baking, so she asked her daughter to take a fresh galette (French cake) and a pot of cream to her grandmother who lived in a forest cottage. The girl set off, and on her way she met a a werewolf.

The werewolf stopped the girl and asked, "Where are you going? What do you carry?"

"I'm going my grandmother's house," said the girl, "and I'm bringing her bread and cream."

"Which path will you take?" the werewolf asked. "The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins?"

"I'll take the Path of Pins," said the girl.

"Why then, I'll take the Path of Needles, and we'll see who gets there first."

The girl set off, the werewolf set off, and the werewolf reached Grandmother's cottage first. He quickly killed the old woman and gobbled her up, flesh, blood, and bone—except for a bit of flesh that he put in a little dish on the pantry shelf, and except for a bit of blood that he drained into a little bottle. Then the werewolf dressed in Grandmother's cap and shawl and climbed into bed.

When the girl arrived, the werewolf called out, "Pull the peg and come in, my child."

"Grandmother," said the girl, "Mother sent me here with a galette and a cream."

"Put them in the pantry, child. Are you hungry?

"Yes, I am, Grandmother."

"Then cook the meat that you'll find on the shelf. Are you thirsty?"

"Yes, I am, Grandmother."

"Then drink the bottle of wine you'll find on the shelf beside it, child."

As the young girl cooked and ate the meat, a little cat piped up and cried, "You are eating the flesh of your grandmother!"

"Throw your shoe at that noisy cat," said the werewolf, and so she did.

As she drank the wine, a small bird cried, "You are drinking the blood of your grandmother!"

"Throw your other shoe at that noisy bird," said the werewolf, and so she did.

When she finished her meal, the werewolf said, "Are you tired from your journey, child? Then take off your clothes, come to bed, and I shall warm you up."

"Where shall I put my apron, Grandmother?"

"Throw it on the fire, child, for you won't need it anymore."

"Where shall I put my bodice, Grandmother?"

"Throw it on the fire, for you won't need it anymore."

The girl repeats this question for her skirt, her petticoat, and her stockings. The werewolf gives the same answer, and she throws each item on the fire. As she comes to bed, she says to him, "Grandmother, how hairy you are!"

"The better to keep you warm, my child,"

"Grandmother, what big arms you have!"

"The better to hold you close, my child."

"Grandmother, what big ears you have!"

"The better to hear you with, my child."

"Grandmother, what sharp teeth you have!"

"The better to eat you with, my child. Now come and lie beside me."

"But first I must go and relieve myself."

"Do it in the bed, my child."

"I cannot. I must go outside," the girl says cleverly, for now she knows that it's the werewolf who is lying in Grandmother's bed.

"Then go outside," the werewolf agrees, "but mind that you come back again quick. I'll tie your ankle with a woolen thread so I'll know just where you are." He ties her ankle with a sturdy thread, but as soon as the girl has gone outside she cuts the thread with her sewing scissors and ties it to a plum tree. The werewolf, growing impatient, calls out, "What, have you finished yet, my child?" When no one answers, he calls again. "Are you watering the grass or feeding the trees?" No answer. He leaps from bed, follows the thread, and finds her gone.

The werewolf gives chase, and soon the girl can hear him on the path just behind her. She runs and runs until she reaches a river that's swift and deep. Some laundresses work on the river bank. "Please help me cross," she says to them. They spread a sheet over the water, holding tightly to its ends. She crosses the bridge of cloth and soon she's safe on the other side.

Now the werewolf reaches the river, and he bids the women help him cross. They spread a sheet over the water—but as soon as he is halfway across, the laundresses let go. The werewolf falls into the water and drowns.
And there we have it: a sordid tale of cannibalism complete with strip tease and strong sexual overtones.

You'll never read Little Red Riding Hood the same way again will you?

And here, Alice meets a psychopath.
As for Alice, she, on the other hand, is a very smart and very good little girl even when Humpty Dumpty threatens to kill her ...

What? You say you don't remember that part? Well, it's there, but it is so subtle, it's easy to miss:
Alice felt even more indignant at this suggestion. `I mean,' she said, `that one can't help growing older.'

`One can't, perhaps,' said Humpty Dumpty; `but two can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven.'
 Keep reading it. You'll get it eventually.

I confess that almost of my young ladies are Alices. I have to deal with so many Reds that they all get rather tawdry and boring after awhile. I think the only time Red has ever showed up in my stories such as The Pond, The Furry Con Murder Mystery, and Sheila.

The rest are all squeaky clean as befits my literary daughters.

You are now free to clutch your head and scream, "Paul, you are out of your mind ! Your great learning is driving you mad." (Acts 26:24)
(Side note: I once was asked on a panel why I wrote so many female characters as if I did not have any right to do so. I confess I was puzzled at the question and I did not give a satisfactory answer. I give one now.

The reason so many of my characters are female is that the tale would simply not work if the character was male.)

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