Mothers and Daughters

If you’re reading this, you have a mother. It’s an indisputable fact. It’s also an indisputable fact that here in the United States, it’s Mother’s Day. Today is a day when we honor our mothers. We thank them for what they do and did for us, and we generally spoil them as they’re never spoiled for the rest of the year. Today’s the day to thank your mom for all she’s ever done for you.

It’s also an indisputable fact that I’m a daughter. (Yup. I am female. SHOCKING.) And I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say that I invest a lot in fictional characters and their relationships. Because of this, my Mother’s Day tribute is a top 10 list of fictional mothers and daughters. Fiction, fantasy, classic, contemporary—here are some of my favorite daughter/mother pairings.

What others can you add to my list?

This list is worth reading, but lest you read something you regret, I warn you…

cooltext929021329

10. Scarlett and Ellen O’Hara, Gone with the Wind

“It’s only natural to want to look young, and be young, when you are young.”

Poor Ellen. She’s setting a wee trend on this list: the long-suffering mother whose death forces her daughter into adulthood and maturity. Ellen is the mainstay of the O’Hara family. She keeps Gerald in check, she reins in Scarlett, she oversees the morals and health of the entire plantation. Her calm, steadfast presence is Scarlett’s rock, the safe space Scarlett longs for once the Civil War really gets going (read: impacts Scarlett herself). Although she dies, and Scarlett fails in her attempts, Ellen is Scarlett’s role model and unchanging idea of virtue. She is the daughter’s ideal of her mother.

9. Jaye and Karen Tyler, Wonderfalls

Karen Tyler, heart of the family. Sorta. Okay, maybe it’s the housekeeper. But still.

Sure, Jaye has a ‘sode, works in a tourist shop, hears/sees inanimate objects talk, and isn’t quite what hyper-successful Karen expects from her children. But Karen loves her all the same and, at Jaye’s request, grants her youngest child more words in Karen’s newest book’s bio page.

What I’m saying makes no sense? Yeah, that’s the joy of Wonderfalls. But whether or not you understand that reference, the Jaye/Karen dynamic is one of my favorites in contemporary television. They push and pull against each other, but they love each other all the same.

8. Paige and Max Connors, Heartbreakers

A typical day in conning. Yup, normal mother-daughter stuff.

I am a longtime devotee of Heartbreakers. I saw it in the theater in 2001, bought the DVD when it came out, and continue to love it wholeheartedly. (The John Lennon song from the wedding night scene—erm, one of them—was the song I walked down the aisle to!)

Paige and Max’s is about the weirdest relationship on this list. (See #6.) They compete, seduce and con men, and, well, lie generally. But when push comes to shove, Max puts Paige’s welfare above their conning success, and she encourages her daughter to come clean with the man of her dreams. If you haven’t seen this underrated flick, check it out.

7. Toula and Maria Portokalos

The horror of wedding-planning. The horror! THE HORROR!! … and the joy.

Well, she’s not your pretty, normally housewifely Greek woman. She wants a new life, works with computers, and fights against her heritage. But Toula loves her family, and the biggest conflict in her semi-unconventional life is her perceived need to choose between her family and desire to break with tradition.

In spite of that, her mother, Maria, fights on her behalf. She argues with her husband, Toula’s father, for Toula’s independence. She welcomes Toula’s “normal” husband, Ian, and his family into their Greek clan with open arms. And she loves her daughter unendingly.

6. River Song and Amy Pond, Doctor Who

Daughter and mother, and…

Mother and daughter, and…

Mother and daughter? What?

Yup, weirdest relationship on this list. Conceived in the TARDIS, River has a time-head and some Timelord qualities. She’s taken away from Amy within moments of her birth, and transformed into a girl we never see again. THEN she becomes a teenager(ish?) and insinuates herself into Amy’s life as her best friend. AND THEN she becomes the fabulous River Song, badass, role model, wife of the Doctor, and… loving daughter? What?

Regardless of all that weirdness, they make it work. They love each other. And that’s what’s important.

5. Jo March, Meg, Amy, Beth, and Marmee, Little Women

There it is, right there: mother-daughter love.

This is the go-to gold standard of mother-daughter relationships. Marmee encourages and reprimands her daughters with tender kindness; she nurses their hurts, she tends their dreams, she waits out their wacky antics. My favorite portrayal of Marmee is 1994 film starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. While some may complain about Marmee’s almost-modern sensibilities, I love her for encouraging Jo to write and “find herself, and for holding revolutionary transcendentalist beliefs. She’s a remarkable character, and what every mother should hope to be.

4. Elizabeth, Jane, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, and Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Mrs. Bennet and the girls, always waiting on a man.

Whatever opinion you hold of her methods, you have to admit that Mrs. Bennet puts her daughter’s futures in a priority position. Plus, she’s hilarious. She’s ridiculous, outspoken, unenducated, and a little rude, but she’s still a delight, and a wonder of forward-thinking planning. Her first concern is for her daughters(‘ future wealth).

I once read an introduction to one of the many editions of Pride and Prejudice I have lying around that argued that Mrs. Bennet is a far better parent than ironic Mr. Bennet, who openly prefers clever Lizzie to all his other daughters. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I won’t deny Mrs. Bennet’s limitless concern for her children.

Plus, the woman had FIVE daughters. Give her a break.

3. Bridget and Pamela Jones, Bridget Jones’s Diary

Ah, mothers and their gherkins.

Poor Pamela. Bridget and her father have their “grown-up club of two,” always judging and laughing at mad old mummy. But when Pam has an affair, cheating on Bridget’s dad, she does tell her daughter about the, erm, remarkable new relationship. Bridget sides with her father, of course, but she doesn’t cut her mother out.

In the end, Pam wants Bridget’s support and approval. This relationship reminds us that, just occasionally, parents screw up, too. Mothers make relationship mistakes as often as daughters, do, and sometimes daughters have to hold their tongue and let their mothers live their own lives.

2. Cora and Mary Crawley (and Sybil and Edith), Downton Abbey

Nothing brings mother and daughter together like a dead body.

How many mothers would help their oldest daughters carry the body of their dead lovers back to their rightful bedrooms?

Unclear pronouns aside, Cora is a mother among mothers. Yes, she judges Mary. No, she never forgets the awkward moments of carrying Mary’s dead lover’s corpse back to his bed. But she, too, lives for her daughters’ welfare. Cora advocates for breaking the entail on Mary’s behalf, she lives and breathes Mary’s future prospects, and she hates the thought of Mary loving a man she doesn’t love.

She also fights for Edith’s best prospects, and she lives and dies with Sybil’s choices and misfortunes. Cora is, in short, a realistic mother. She is the unconditional, if hopeful, love a mother gives to her daughters.

1. Buffy and Joyce Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Loving and accepting, and letting it burn.

“Mommy?”

You knew, YOU KNEW, this one would be on this list. Come on. It’s me, after all.

Buffy and Joyce have just about the most realistic mother-daughter relationship of them all. Joyce has to accept Buffy’s, um, quirks (“Have you tried not being the Slayer?”), to watch her daughter fight every day and night for her life, and to let her daughter attempt to become a grown-up.

And in turn, teenage Buffy has to watch her mother have her own life. She accepts her father’s flaws and the mutual reasons for her parents’ divorce. She has to release some of the centrality she assumes she has in her mother’s life. And Joyce has to trust her daughter to oversee her (Joyce’s) death with grace and maturity.

As Giles says, Joyce teaches Buffy everything she needs to know about living. And there’s nothing more we can ask from our mothers.

 

Scare Me

I’m currently writing a semi-scary short involving ghosts and seances and all around creepiness, and I have more frightful works planned for later this month (stay tuned!).

‘Tis the season, after all.

Halloween

And it occurs to me, now that I’ve started my ghosty short story, that I know not the first thing about writing horror or ghost stories or scary works generally. I don’t watch many horror films, I’ve read maybe three horror books in my life. I just don’t go there very often.

If I stretch, I can say it’s because horror movies and books upset me more than they do others. I stayed awake nearly all night after watching The Ring. I saw The Shining as a semi-youngster, and it didn’t bother me, but when I saw it again in college, it troubled me so much I turned it off. I still get a little weirded out if I see a random pile of rocks in the woods, and I’d never laugh at a myth of a creepy New England murderer-witch.

It’s definitely something that came with age. I liked being frightened by Scary Stories to Read in the Dark as a kid, but it was fun-fright, not genuine. Eventually, I grew out of those, and as a teenager, I fell asleep in horror movies. Something about the long silences and dark scenes: they just knocked me unconscious. But for some reason I got jumpier as I got older, and I haven’t seen a new horror movie in ages.

I did see The Grudge last year, and it didn’t frighten me.

I have no idea: my fright-factor is completely hit or miss.

And since I have no idea how to frighten myself, I don’t know how to frighten others, either. So tell me: what makes a story or a movie scary to you? What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever read or seen? Do you have any good horror-writing tips?

Star Wars: The First Time

Oh, what the dirty minds out there are thinking, I’d love to know.

My husband and I just finished watching Star Wars: A New Hope for approximately the gazillion and fifth time—and it’s still damn good, no matter how many times we watch it.

As the opening text was rolling, though, Drew said, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to watch this for the first time.

I looked at him and said, eloquently, “Huh?”

When he stared at me blankly, I said, “What do you mean? For the first time in the theater? For the first time as the Special Edition? For the first time with the crappy new ones?”

“No,” he said. “As just the first time—I’ve been watching these movies since before I can remember.”

“Oh!” I said. “Well, I CAN remember, and it was magical.”

You see, I was in sixth grade when I first saw Star Wars. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but somewhere in the midst of my Anne McCaffrey and Dragonlance obsession, my mother realized I’d probably like Star Wars. She told me about it, and I dimly remember crinkling my nose and saying something like, “I dunno…”

I vividly remember, though, going to Planet Hollywood and finding the TAPE (yes, the VHS) of the remastered version, released (I believe) shortly before the Special Edition films hit theaters in 1997: I was 11 and 12, respectively. We found the remastered version of A New Hope in the ‘popular releases’ section, and I remember we were both puzzled by the ‘Episode IV’ subtitle. We asked the nerdy guy at the counter if it was truly the first movie, and he assured us that it was in fact the right starting point.

Luke, Leia, and Han in all their 70’s glory.

We watched it that night on the “big” TV in our black-and-white basement (with the surround sound!), and my entire world changed. I was obsessed, in the way that only pre-teens can get obsessed with something. We watched all of them within a week, and I had to BEG my mom to let us rent and watch a movie on a weeknight.

Being a good mom, she indulged me. (Hi, Mom.)

Return of the Jedi ‘done me in’. Ewoks? Yeah, I loved them—still do, in fact.

They’re like teddy bears with weapons! (May the piracy furies forgive me… Image via starwars.wikia.com)

After that, I collected action figures, even though I was probably too old. I remember finding the remaster VHS trilogy in my parents’ closet for Santa to bring me, a month or so before Christmas. I had a Star Wars sleepover birthday party, to which I made all of my (female) friends wear Star Wars costumes. (I was Luke, naturally.) I bought all the soundtracks and listened to them obsessively. I watched the movies on the tiny TV/VHS system in my bedroom, and I have fond memories of snuggling up to watch them when I was sick. I even read some of the novels.

It shaped my life in the same way that Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, Braveheart, and the Dragonlance novel Dragons of Autumn Twilight all changed who I was. Honestly, it’s up there with the moment I read Hemingway’s short story, “Cat in the Rain,” in high school and realized that I wanted to study English literature in college. My life has never been the same.

I think, oddly, of the How I Met Your Mother quote when Ted’s best friend Marshall says to Ted’s almost-wife, Stella:

Look, Stella, that is Ted’s favorite movie of all time. He watches it when he’s home sick with the flu. He watches it on rainy Sunday afternoons in the fall. He watches it on Christmas Eve. Ted watches Star Wars in sickness and in health; in good times and in bad. Do you really think you can pretend to like a movie you actually hate — for the rest of your life?

Could I have married a man who didn’t like Star Wars? I’m not sure—all the guys I’ve ever been involved with have liked it. My high school boyfriend’s mom liked to tell the story of how her first date with my boyfriend’s dad was to see A New Hope. (They’ve since had a messy divorce… hmm…)

A New Hope was magical for me in a way that Brave would have been if I’d seen it at 8, that Harry Potter has always been, The Lord of the Rings was when I was 17, and Buffy was when I was 24. It’s one of those worlds you can get lost in and not emerge from for months.

So, can I imagine the first time?

Oh, yes, I can. I will never forget it. If I have kids, I’ll save this movie until they’re old enough to appreciate—unlike my husband, they’ll remember the magic of the first time. Any friend of mine will have to watch it. And I’ll always go back to it when I need a boost, or when I’m happy, or when I just want to get away for awhile. It’s part of who I am.

Do you remember the first time you watched Star Wars, friends? Tell me your story. What other stories have had this impact on you?

Freudian Friday: “He’s Too Good for Me!”

This post is going to branch beyond fantasy, because it’s a trend that’s bugging the heck out of me. We could also call this post Freudian Friday: “I’m Just Not Good Enough!”

You see, I read 50 Shades of Grey while I was away. It was… not the best… but I’m not going to review it in depth. What irks me enough to write about today is the main character’s perpetual insistence that she’s too plain, too boring, too normal to be with the rich, attractive, intelligent, athletic, attractive (yup, throwing that in twice, ’cause the main character is always bringing it up), and deeply disturbed Christian Grey.

The internet has pulled the book to pieces because it’s based on a piece of the author’s Twilight fanfiction, and the resemblance to Twilight is impossible to miss… but frankly, 50 Shades makes Twilight look like a portrayal of a nice, healthy relationship between two nice, healthy people.

I’m not talking about the BDSM elements, either: that’s probably material for another, very different post.

I’m really talking about the female lead’s attitude toward herself. The last fifteen years have seen a lot of books, television shows, and movies that revolve around a plain (or Hollywood Homely) main character who attracts a stunningly attractive man and then can’t believe her luck, even when he turns out to be a controlling a-hole. The heart-warming idea these works are supposed to convey is that real beauty is on the inside, and sometimes even ridiculously handsome men are smart enough to see the wonders of a Plain Jane or at least a Normal Nancy.

“Bizarre what some men find attractive,” says ANOTHER WOMAN about adorable Bridget.

Here’s just a small selection:

  • Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996), which I love, portrays an awkward, normal woman who really thinks that, at 130 pounds, she needs to lose weight. She goes on to snag TWO handsome, rich men who love her just the way she is.
  • Twilight (published 2005-2008), in which Bella, who at least perceives herself as plain, wins the heart of sexy-vampire Edward. She spends a lot of her free time thinking about how she’s just not good enough to have won him. The series ends with her becoming a beautiful vampire and thus “worthy” of her mate.
  • Ugly Betty (2006-2010), which I’ve never watched, has the whole less-than-lovely-woman built right into the title. I gather that the awkward title character and her handsome boss become friends, and Betty overcomes her awkwardness enough to become a magazine (sort of) bigshot.
  • Drop Dead Diva (2009-present), portrays, weirdly, the soul of a beautiful young wannabe-model who refuses to “go into the light” after her death, and ends up in the body of a plump (but still beautiful) lawyer. The show continues today, but it revolves largely around the main character’s quest to make her former body’s fiance continue to love her, new figure and all.
  • 50 Shades of Grey (2011), a titular reference to the shades of effed-upness shown by the love interest, portrays a basically normal girl getting swept up into the sexual life of a 27-year-old billionaire and wondering how she could possibly have done to deserve it.

As I said, that’s just a small sample. And it’s quite a trend reversal from what TV Tropes calls, “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife,” prevalent in sitcoms, in which a seriously unattractive dude lands a total hottie… and as far as I’ve seen, takes it as his due and never broods about how he’s just not good enough.

All in all, the pattern suggests that “normal” women should be grateful to have attracted “beautiful”men and that they should put up with any sort of bad behavior, up to and including outright abuse, in order to keep their beloved happy.

Talk about inferiority complex: These women feel so inferior to their mates that they will try to lose weight, try to change their interests, try to adopt an “alternative” sexual lifestyle, or even die and become a vampire, all in the name of “keeping” the man.

This is not a good message to send.

What do you think, readers? Why are inferior-feeling women a much-enjoyed trope in books, television, and movies?

Brave: A Rave, Plus a Question and a Picture

… and I’m back! Did you miss me? I’m happy to say that this post is coming to you from the present. First, let’s give a big thanks to Liv and Emmie for their blog posts, and then let’s heave a huge sigh of relief (and a gasp of terror), because it’s time to get back to real life, complete with thoughtful blog posts and query letters.

So, the first order of business is Brave. We’re still semi-honeymooning, and we’ve spent the past two days sorting out our bank accounts and acquiring new cellphones. But my new husband did promise to take me to Brave once we got back from Mexico, and today we went.

I have to say I’ve been waiting for this movie for something like a year. An animated movie about a young girl with crazy-curly red hair, who rides a horse, shoots a bow, sings in Gaelic, and lives in Scotland?! Let’s just say, if this movie had come out when I was about 10, it would’ve ended up on my all-time favorite list. As it is, it’s maybe not in the top 10, but I still loved it.

The premise, in case you don’t know, is this: Princess Merida of the Wild Hair likes riding, shooting, and swinging a sword. She wants to run free and shape her own destiny. Her mother, however, wants Merida to behave like a good princess who speaks softly, walks gracefully, and generally acts like a lady. When her parents open the contest for suitors to win Merida’s hand, the princess refuses to accept the verdict and shoots for her own hand, thereby upsetting the peace of her family and the entire kingdom. She strikes off to make her own destiny, and wacky, touching, and beautiful antics ensue.

Sounds kind of like a hero’s journey, full of sword-fights and battles, right?

Wrong. The movie was essentially a mother-daughter story. The quest is an education in how the other sees the world, and the goal is to strike a balance between the powerful, sedate queen and the free-spirited, tomboyish princess. Merida must learn to appreciate her mother’s gifts, and Elinor must learn the joy and magic that comes from Merida’s playful approach to the world.

It’s a “taut” relationship… haha… no.

In spite of the semi-faulty advertising, it’s a beautiful story, one that almost made me cry at the Moment of Truth—and I’m not a crier.

If you don’t mind a small spoiler, I can tell you one of my favorite bits of the story: Throughout, hair is a metaphor for a person’s (not just a woman’s!) approach to life. Merida’s, obviously, is Botticelli-esque, beautiful and untamed, until her mother tries to force her into a new role and traps the locks in a garb that kinda makes Merida look like a corset-clad ET. Once Elinor learns her lesson and eases up on her daughter, she wears her hair long and flowing down her back: still straight, of course, but less no longer trapped in perfect, queenly ropes. The blustering king has grizzled, wild locks, and the wee demon brothers have tresses to rival their sister’s. An obnoxious, vain suitor has flowing waves that fall into his eyes, while the witch has a few rebellious hairs on her chin.

It’s not a new use of hair-as-metaphor, but I enjoyed it all the same, especially since it wasn’t kept to the women: it was much-used image, polished and given a new, cheerful face. The same could be said of the story, a timeless generational battle given a delightful fresh front.

In short, I was charmed by the whole movie. It has peerless animation, a gorgeous soundtrack, bathos, pathos, and a nice tomboy-girly core. Go see it.

So, without transition, I’m going to jump right into the question. It’s back to real life for me now, and that means paying more attention to this blog than I have in the past few months. And so, I have a question for you, dear reader:

What sort of content would you like to see here on Kristin’s Fantasies:

Remember: your input will make this blog more fun for you!

And since you’ve played along this far, here’s a photo from my wedding day:

DSCN0119

That’s me in the white dress (haha), just after our handfasting. I cannot WAIT to see our professional photos. Sigh.

In case you’re wondering, my groom is 6’2 and the officiant is 6’4. I am 5’2. Hopefully this photo illustrates why I wore the five-inch heels: I’m still short.

Four Reasons to Love The Secret World of Arrietty

My fiance and I celebrated his three-day weekend today in our usual fashion: we went to see a matinee on a weekday.

While I’m typically skeptical of anime (see the future for a blog post on why that is), I was sold on The Secret World of Arrietty from the first time I saw the preview. I’ll watch anything that’s full of fairies (or Borrowers, as the case may be) and is set largely in a garden. Add a cat, and you just get double bonus points. It’s what my fiance calls “a Kristin movie.”

Anyway, I loved this one, and here’s why you should love it, too:

1. It’s based on the classic children’s novel by Mary Norton called The BorrowersI don’t think I ever read this as a child, but I wish I had. My fiance distinctly recalled his mother reading it to him when he was a youngster, and I think my kiddish self would’ve loved it. Had the movie come out when I was little, too, I would’ve been obsessed. I would have made tiny furniture and left it out for the Borrowers; I would’ve put out sugar and berries and anything else I think they would have liked. In fact, I’m still tempted to do it, because I suspect they’ve “borrowed” my Monty Python DVDs, which I would surely like back.

2. It’s beautiful yet understated. No big fight scenes or computery-graphics in this movie, no sir. But the animation, the backgrounds, the characters themselves are beautiful all the same. Likewise, the music is gorgeous but not overwhelming. This movie reminded me of one of my childhood favorites, The Last Unicorn, and not just because of its Japanese origins: both are beautiful and poignant and sad, even as they’re uplifting.

3. The tiny little girl teaches the boy about bravery. When the six-inch girl teaches the full-sized boy with a heart condition to be brave, you know you’re watching something wonderful. There are no standard roles here: Sean is brave, but Arrietty must teach him to let himself be brave. He’s a dreamer, too, even more than she is, willing to believe that the impossible is possible. Arrietty just teaches him to apply that belief to himself.

4. It teaches kids (and grown-ups) to never give up. Think you’re the last of your kind? Think you’re going to die on the operating table in a few days? Well, don’t let that stop you from seeking others, from trying to live, from having hope and believing in the goodness and unending wonders of the world out there.

This is the (tiny) face of courage. Image via FilmOFilia.com

Bonus reason: She wears a clothespin in her hair and has knives in her shoes. How cool is that?