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Distortion and Stereotypes in Le Carré’s “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”

[As always—spoilers]

It’s been quite some time since I’ve read past midnight, but I had to see how John Le Carré’s novel, “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” ended. It was published in 1963, but I found it to be surprisingly relevant in 2017. One of things things that I admire about Le Carré’s writing is that he is not wishy-washy, trying to please everyone. There’s a bite to both the words and the plot.

Le Carre says of his own book in the intro called Fifty Years Later:

The novel’s merit, then—or its offense, depending on where you stood—was not that it was authentic, but that it was credible. The bad dream turned out to be one that a lot of people in the world were sharing, since it asked the same old questions that we are asking ourselves fifty years later: how far can we go in the rightful defense of our Western values without abandoning them along the way?(xiv)

He also points out that the negative parts of the spies’ culture were a reflection of the problems in the larger culture.  The plot of the book explores how easy it becomes to exploit the individual in the service of some “greater good.”  The sense of impending tragedy is palpable and grows throughout the plot. The pacing of the book is excellent. Leamas, the spy, has to give up much of his individuality and acts as a tool for his handlers to gain ground in East Germany. He willingly makes this sacrifice of himself.  Another character isn’t a willing participant in the scheme.

However, the thread that I found the most relevant to our current politics was the section where Liz Gold, a U.K. Citizen and a member of the communist party, is brought to East Germany before the wall came down. When she interacts with the people there, she realizes some of the distorted beliefs that they had about the British. For example, they informed Liz that the working class was treated horribly in the U.K. In one scene, after Liz has been involved in something disturbing and exhausting, she doesn’t feel like eating the food offered to her. The wardress and she exchange:

‘Why don’t you eat?’ the woman asked again. ‘It’s all over now.’ She said this without compassion, as if the girl were a fool not to eat when the food was there.

‘I’m not hungry.’

The wardress shrugged: ‘You may have a long journey,’ she observed, ‘and not much at the other end.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The workers are starving in England,’ she declared complacently. “The capitalists let them starve.’

Liz thought of saying something but there seemed no point (204).

It didn’t occur to them to ask Liz what her experience was as a citizen of the place, albeit of member of the Communist party there, because they already “knew” the answer.  Certainly, there were hungry people in that era as there are now, but most of them were comfortably fed, as demonstrated in an early scene, in which Liz is generous with another character, buying him a variety of food. Yet, Liz was also mistaken in her beliefs about what Communism was like. Le Carré was likely speaking to governmental propaganda.

In many ways, when compared to when this book was written, we have more exposure now to what other people’s lives are like in other places.  On the other hand, there are still distorted and stereotypical views.  Even within a country, people of different categories and political beliefs may not have exposure to how other people actually live or what they believe.

And yet, Le Carré also shows how both governments shared similarities in the prices they were willing to pay for their ideologies, despite having different ideologies. Both were willing to sacrifice the individual to win the “game.”

I’d highly recommend reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It’s an excellent spy novel that is also thought-provoking.

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Pratchett’s “The Shepherd’s Crown” and A Pair of Sensible Boots

[Spoilers the size of Granny’s Boots.  Seriously, this post will spoil you on one of the most important moments in the book and in the series.]

Reading Sir Terry Pratchett’s last book in his Discworld Series, The Shepherd’s Crown, left me feeling emotionally raw in the best kind of way. While it may have been a bit less polished compared with earlier books in the series, it contained gorgeous emotional depth. It contained so much feeling, so much love. It contained warnings. It contained hope. Sometimes we, either individually or as a society, lose our way, but we can work together for the good of the community. Terry Pratchett believed in us. He believed that good people can prevail—not perfect people and not followers of a particular creed.  But rather good people who care about others and do the things that need doing. People able to both listen and truly see the world around them.

Although I have many books left to read in the Discworld series, I wanted to read this final book, as it was in his young adult series that I love. For those who haven’t read Terry Pratchett, he used different characters in his various sub-series in Discworld. One included witches like Granny Weatherwax. In his young adult series, he follows the childhood, adolescence, and, in this book, emerging adulthood of Tiffany Aching. (Incidentally, I loved Granny Weatherwax, as well as her principles, so much that I named my car after her. My next car will likely be named after Tiffany.)

Reading this book was highly emotional since Terry Pratchett had early onset Alzheimers and passed away in March of 2015.  Before I read the book, I experienced a sense of loss and sadness. I wondered what the tone of his last novel would be like. I was right to expect an emotional response to the book, but I didn’t expect the wealth and variety of feelings I had. Pratchett seemed to love all his characters; this love never seemed so profound to me as in “The Shepherd’s Crown.” It radiated. As far as I know, Tiffany is the only character that he “raised” from childhood and focused on so extensively. In his books, he shaped her to be the representative of what he thought a good person, and a good leader, should be like.

I’ve been thinking about what it takes to make a good society and a good person lately, as this year has seemed especially filled with international tension. Terry Pratchett’s entire series dealt with this, but, in his final book, his thoughts became even more clear. This book was about communities and relationships. Throughout the books, Granny’s role as Tiffany’s mentor was essential. Granny dies in this book in a very low key way.  Her interaction with one of the main character’s in Pratchett’s series, Death, was important to the theme that Pratchett developed on what a good person, and a good life, actually is. Knowing that Death was coming for her, some of Granny’s considerate last acts were deep cleaning her home, thanking her bees, feeding her goats and chickens, and bathing herself. Death comes to take Granny’s soul.

Her visitor was no stranger, and the land she knew she was going to was a land she had helped many others to step through to over the years. For a witch stands on the very edge of everything between the light and the dark, between life and death, making choices, making decisions so that others can pretend that no decisions have even been made.  Sometimes they need to help some poor soul through the final hours, help them find the door, not to get lost in the dark (28).

Death and Granny converse. He asks her why she was content to live in “‘this tiny little country’” when she “‘could have been anything and anybody in the world?’” (29). Granny replied that she “‘never wanted the world—just a part of it, a small part that I could keep safe, that I could keep away from the storms. Not the ones in the sky, you understand: there are other kinds’” (29).

Death states:

“WE ARE ALL FLOATING IN THE WINDS OF TIME.  BUT YOUR CANDLE, MISTRESS WEATHERWAX, WILL FLICKER FOR SOME TIME BEFORE IT GOES OUT—A LITTLE REWARD FOR A LIFE WELL LIVED, FOR I CAN SEE THE BALANCE AND YOU HAVE LEFT THE WORLD MUCH BETTER THAN YOU FOUND IT. AND IF YOU ASK ME, NOBODY COULD DO ANY BETTER THAN THAT” (30).

For two pages, characters from the entire DiscWorld series become aware that Granny Weatherwax has died and mourn her loss in their unique ways. This illustrates how the effects of her life ripple outward.  However, this book is about Tiffany becoming an adult.

Shoes, generally, are a theme throughout Pratchett’s work. The book begins with a mention of Tiffany’s boots, an important symbol.

Today, for some reason, [Tiffany] had felt the need to come up to the stones. Like any sensible witch, she wore strong boots that could march through anything—good, sensible boots. But they did not stop her feeling her land, feeling what it told her. It had begun with a tickle, an itch that crept into her feet and demanded to be heard, urging her to tramp over the downs, to visit the circle. Even while she was sticking her hand up a sheep’s bottom to sort out a nasty case of colic.  Why she had to go to the stones, Tiffany did not know, but no witch ignored what could be a summons. And the circles stood as protection. Protection for her land. Protection for what could come through (4).

Tiffany gets outside confirmation that her feeling was correct. When Granny dies, the expectation is that Tiffany will lead the witches, although witches don’t officially have leaders. Granny leaves “all of it” to Tiffany, except her cat, who had a mind of her own. Tiffany thinks, “‘How can I possibly tread in the footsteps of Granny Weatherwax?  She is…was…unfollowable (43).

Pratchett’s thoughts on leadership are readily apparent, as Nanny Ogg, another witch in the series, says to Tiffany, “‘It’s you Tiff. Esme’s left you her cottage.  But more’n that.  You must step into the shoes of Granny Weatherwax or else’n someone less qualified with try an’ do it” (55). We have a responsibility to lead.

Although Tiffany has many doubts, Nanny expressed strongly (based on the previous books in the series) why Tiffany has earned the position by her own actions and merits. Tiffany tries to manage her own homestead in the Chalk, while trying both literally and figuratively to fill Granny’s boots and handle Granny’s Homestead. The book explores that being an individuated adult does not mean literally becoming the same as your elders.  It means finding your own path, your own loves, your own strengths, your own limits, and your own home. Tiffany wears her own boots, not Granny’s.

In the end, Pratchett’s major theme and symbol for the book, and the series, is the shepherd’s crown.  Tiffany’s ancestor, a shepherd, finds a shell. In the prologue, a sea creature developed a shell and survived. “…[T]here the creature lived on things even smaller than itself and grew until it became king” (1). It died when the water evaporated. Time passed until the day when “it was found by a shepherd minding his flock on the hills that had become known as the chalk” (2).  The shepherd was Tiffany’s ancestor, who saved the shell because it looked like a crown.  It passed down in the family until it was in Tiffany’s possession. Tiffany uses it to remind herself that she is of the chalk. Later in the book, a creature says to Tiffany:

“And I am the shepherd’s crown. Deep in my heart is the flint.  And I have many uses.  Some call me the sea urchin, others the thunderstone, but here, now, in this place, call me the shepherd’s crown.  I seek a true shepherd.  Where can a true shepherd be found?” (237).

At first, Tiffany thinks of her father. But then, she hears a voice, “‘Tiffany Aching is the first among shepherds, for she puts others before herself. . . .”(238).

The shepherd’s crown is in contrast to the usual idea of hereditary authority coming through a crown. (Other books in the series have discussed authority, power, and the crown.) However, the people that Pratchett argues do the most good in this final book for others are the people like Tiffany. They are quite powerful. However, they don’t thirst for power. But they do have power, and they use it when necessary. The witches fight for their communities and battle for them. Pratchett didn’t shy away from fighting when the community was threatened. But they also cut old men’s toenails. They do what is necessary for their flock.

Pratchett also explored differences between men and women’s experiences in the village communities. This might make some people uncomfortable, but I thought that he made a good point. A goat herder that joins them who has talents similar to the witches, including a goat familiar. Tiffany’s first big divergence as a leader was to welcome him as a witch. (This paralleled a previous Pratchett story where a woman became a wizard.) The older men in the community welcomed him and shared their invention with him. It is likely that they would not have felt as comfortable sharing the weapon with a woman, even a witch. The character was a vegetarian and looked at the world differently. In the end, he takes over Granny’s homestead. Tiffany returns to her own, and makes her own moving tiny home. She learns carpentry so that she can make her own home.  I think this is a major statement that Pratchett is making.  (It reminds me of the argument in “Shop Class as Soul Craft,” a book that a friend recommended to me years ago.  The book discussed the value and meaning of different types of work, especially that which people often devalue: making things.)

Ultimately, I think that Pratchett was arguing that we are connected intimately with our ancestors and our land.  It’s a relationship that we shouldn’t ignore. We can change, we can grow, but we should also acknowledge our roots. We build relationships over decades. We all like to feel useful. Even if we no longer live where our ancestors did, we should strive to understand and benefit our local community.  This includes people, wildlife, and the community itself.

I felt like Pratchett eased my grieving process over his death through showing the characters grieving the loss of Granny Weatherwax.  Although I didn’t know him, his creativity and values have shaped my life.

The whole forest sang now sang for Granny Weatherwax….

Where is Granny now? Tiffany wondered. Could a part of her still be…here? She jumped as something touched her on the shoulder, but it was just a leaf. Then, deep inside, she knew the answer to her question: Where is Granny Weatherwax?

It was: She is here—and everywhere (54).

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Fairy Tales and Feminist Themes in Neil Gaiman’s “The Sleeper and the Spindle”

[Kingdom shattering spoilers ahead. Beware.]

The queen felt something stirring in her heart. She remembered her stepmother, then. Her stepmother liked to be adored. Learning how to be strong, to feel her own emotions and not another’s, had been hard; but once you learned the trick of it, you did not forget. And she did not wish to rule continents (Gaiman 59).

The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman’s refreshing, modern take on fairy tales illustrates at least two massively important feminist messages: (1) women must first discover that their own emotions belong to them, and (2) women must learn to make choices based on their own feelings, not to please their families, lovers, or society. Before I discuss my thoughts on the importance of the book, I have to state how much I loved the process of experiencing the book. The translucent dust jacket is a work of art, in and of itself, etched with black roses and golden vines, which are relevant to the plot. The sleeping woman on the cover looks slightly out of focus, perhaps as if she is behind glass.  However, if you remove the jacket, she comes into focus. In fact, this mirrors what happens in the book since the sleeping “princess” is revealed to be the power hungry witch. The illustrator, Chris Riddell’s, attention to detail is amazing, and I reread the book to specifically appreciate the art. For example, I noticed the detail that the queen, the hero of the story, has a comforter on her bed with golden skulls. However, the reason I picked the book up in the first place was that I adore Neil Gaiman’s fairy tales from Stardust to Coraline to The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Fairy tales are important and relevant for society.

Due to the fact that I write fiction, I have read many of Gaiman’s thoughts on storytelling, including his thoughts on fairy tales. This piece he wrote for the Guardian on Stardust discusses a bit of the history of fairy tales: why they are loved, why they fell out of favor with adults, and their return.  I feel that Neil Gaiman’s works have, in concert with the works of others, led to a revival and renaissance of fairy tales, as discussed in this recent interview of Gaiman by Gaby Woods. I personally loved fairy tales well before reading Stardust. As a girl, I discovered a book at my grandmother’s house that included many fairy stories. I adored The Light Princess. Every time I visited my grandmother, all through my teens and twenties, I read the story. Now, the old, tattered green book is a part of my own collection.

I love fairy tales because they help us make sense of our world, our society, and the dangers (and magnificence) inherent in being alive. Potentially, they play a role in socializing and entertaining both children and adults. This means it’s imperative to have fairy tales written for and reflecting the age that we live in. We live in an uncertain age of anomie, or a breaking down of norms and stability. We’re dealing with globalization, changes in technology, greed, thirst for power, war, changing gender roles, and unobtainable beauty standards, just to name a few. Gaiman included this G.K. Chesterton quote in Coraline, “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”  We need to understand the dangers we face, the potential solutions to those dangers, and that we have the agency to make choices to help. In this time period and in the future, how should individuals act?  How should communities act? What are our responsibilities to ourselves and to one another? Fairy tales allow us to consider these questions.

Turning specifically to Gaiman’s work, The Sleeper and the Spindle, he states in an interview, “‘You don’t need princes to save you…I don’t have a lot of patience for stories in which women are rescued by men.”  The main character, the queen, lived in one kingdom and was running her affairs of state, including getting married in a week. In the past, she had defeated her abusive stepmother. Her friends, the dwarves, traveled to the neighboring kingdom to get her a proper gift. While in the neighboring kingdom, they discover that a sleep spell is taking over and spreading. They return to their queen and inform her of the danger.  She decided to go investigate the situation herself due to her experience with sleep spells, temporarily putting off her marriage and placing her responsibilities in capable hands of her first minister. Eventually, she and the dwarves make it to the castle where the spell is emanating from, and they eventually get inside. They find a beautiful woman they believe is the bespelled princess.  However, this woman is actually a witch who had been stealing the life and dreams of the actual princess, who had become quite elderly.

Reading The Sleeper and the Spindle led me to reflect on gender roles. Often, girls are taught that their own emotions, especially of anger, are invalid. They are expected to be exactly what their caregivers need them to be. For children dealing with a narcissistic caregiver, it is an incredibly powerful moment to realize that your emotions are your own.  If you do not learn the lesson, then your entire life, your entire thread, will be co-opted and corrupted by someone else. The true danger that this fairy tale warns us of is giving away our power to make choices for our own lives.

The heroic queen woke up from a spell that her stepmother had placed on her at a young age prior to the beginning of this story.  Although she escaped her stepmother, she was still living life the way society expected her to—running a kingdom and getting married. This despite the fact that she didn’t seem to have major inclinations to do either thing. So many people get caught up in these traps: fulfilling cultural or parental expectations instead of venturing onto the new paths for themselves. In the end, the dwarf says to the queen:

“And your wedding will be late, but it will happen soon after your return, and the people will celebrate, and there will be joy unbounded through the kingdom…”

…There are choices, she thought, when she had sat long enough. There are always choices.

She made one…

…They walked to the east, all four of them, away from the sunset and the lands they knew, and into the night (66).

It is a difficult balance to strike between the needs we have as individual people and the needs of the community.  However, for young (and not so young) women, we need to learn the lesson that our lives belong to us: not to our parents, not to our teachers, and not to our lovers. This lesson is hard when you’ve been taught your whole life that being a woman requires giving to others all the time. The concept in sociology of supermom is relevant here. A “good” woman in the United States is supposed to be a perfect giver in all the arenas she participates including work, family, volunteer organizations, etc. These norms are slowly changing as women are starting, through hard work (and possibly therapy) to see that they deserve to be be a whole person, not just one who only fulfills others needs.

The queen had to learn how to feel her own emotions first.  Once she learned that lesson, she could then go on to realize that she could make her own choices based on how she felt. In Arlie Hochschild’s book, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, she posits that when we ignore our emotional systems for our workplaces that we can be harmed.  Our emotions are valuable: they allow us to know when we are being mistreated or when something is (or isn’t) right for us. If you are divorced from your emotional system for long enough, you can start to feel numb, alienated, and at distance from yourself, as if in a deep sleep, like the fairy tales often allude to.

The queen attempts to wake up the princess like men do with a kiss, but it turns out that the witch was actually the one sleeping.  She had cast a spell and stolen the youth of the princess via her dreams and sleep.  In the end, the princess, stabs the witch with the spindle that had been stealing the princess’ life force. I think this is a powerful metaphor. An older woman was stealing the life of a young person by stealing her dreams. And we need to be cautious to avoid becoming like the witch in this tale.  We shouldn’t seek power, beauty, and youth as the main goals of our lives. Again, Gaiman warns against craving, as I discuss in this previous post on Buddhism in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. One of the major dangers of our time is the craving for unobtainable things: youth, beauty, and power.

We need to be teaching young women that they own their emotions and that they are in control of their own lives. This doesn’t mean that women have no responsibility to community, quite the contrary. I get the sense that the queen was going adventuring to help other people. But she was going to help people on her own terms, not the one’s her society had forced on her.  She also gave up the chance to become the witch, to dominate the will of her society, just because of her title. We need to trail blaze new paths.

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Naming, Race, and Gender in the “Stuff You Missed in History Class” Podcast: A Focus on Ballerina Maria Tallchief

I often listen to podcasts during my commute, and today, I listened to a podcast from “Stuff You Missed in History Class” that I’m planning to use as material for my social diversity class.  Before getting into the specifics, I want to note that many of these podcasts supplement undergraduate sociology classes fabulously because they are relatively short, as well as covering fascinating historical figures. Often, these figures face, and sometimes overcome, adversity relating to inequality in their societies.  Many of the podcasts also work well for illustrating how norms and values change depending on both location and time period. The podcasts allow for students to connect the individual experiences of these figures to the societal context that influenced their lives. They’re great for illustrating C. Wright Mill’s concept of sociological imagination.  (I also listen to these podcasts to get story ideas for my creative writing, although that is less relevant to this post.  I recommend that writers listen to these for character and setting ideas.)

A recent episode covered Maria Tallchief, the first prima ballerina in the United States, who happened to be Native American, a part of the Osage Nation.  She traveled the world and won many awards.  I find that it helps when teaching concepts to my students to bring in people’s narratives.  One of the concepts that I cover is that of naming.  We discuss naming at an individual, personal level, as well as at a societal level. For example, my students discuss times when they’ve had difficulties with their first or last names due to ethnicity (e.g. teachers refusing to learn to pronounce their names).  Others will discuss family tensions over whether or not to change a her last name when she marries.  Then, we discuss how categories of people choose to change their names over time, often to avoid stigma.  For example, today, we often use persons with disabilities instead of a term like handicapped. This will likely change in the future.

Although named Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief, according to the podcast, children (and others) had a difficult time with her last name. They constantly wanted to know which one was really her last name.  Although she was not an immigrant, her experience reflected one that many immigrants to the U.S. face. Many immigrants would shorten or change their last names to fit into the racial hierarchy in the U.S. Her choice likely related to her performing career. This podcast would also work in terms of showing the story of a relatively recent minority woman’s success in her career field. Her family was wealthy so it’d also be interesting to discuss how that may have impacted their ability to have her in dance schools from such an early age. (This blogpost will tell you more so you can decide if you want to listen to the podcast.)

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Graphic Novels: Are They Just for Kids?

Over the past month, I’ve had several conversations with different people about either graphic novels, manga, or comics.  When I mentioned reading graphic novels to a couple of my sociology students after class, one of them said, “Aren’t those for kids?”  Of course, this belief is quite common.  I’ve decided that the next time someone asks me this, I’m going to respond to go read “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, and then we’ll talk.  During my first year at the University of Georgia, I took an honors English class with a teacher originally from Germany.  At the time, I was a bit bitter because I wasn’t performing as well as usual in the class.

Later in the semester, we read the Pulitzer prize winning graphic novel, “Maus.”  The book transformed me in multiple ways.  First, I realized the importance of graphic novels and refuse to accept the idea that it’s impossible for graphic novels to be “serious literature.”  Second, it deepened my understanding of the Holocaust and led to me exploring that horrific period through other works.  Third, my analysis of it became an obsession.  I discuss critical thinking skills in my department at work all the time, and the assignment on “Maus” changed my life.

This short, twelve minute audio of Spielgleman is paired with slides from the graphic novel.  I highly suggest that you watch it, as it explains the origins of “Maus,” as well as many of the choices that Spigeleman made in creating it.  I’ve already reviewed several graphic novels and illustrated books like the Owly series.  Recently, I’ve started a graphic novel series called “Locke & Key.”  It is Lovecraftian and set in Massachusetts.  I’m planning a separate post on it, but the conversations with other people made me realize that I still feel like I have to justify reading graphic novels occasionally.  “Locke & Key” begins with a brutal murder of the father in a family, and it has also won awards.  Certainly, it’s not for children.

While discussing language and culture today in class, I passed around a volume of manga that a friend brought me from Japan years ago, as well as an english translation of Kenshin.  Many of the students seemed really excited to see these materials.  I’m really curious if there is an data on people’s changing perceptions of graphic novels.  Do people view them more seriously today?  Is there still a stigma associated with the genre, as some people don’t view them as for adults?  I wonder.

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Disability, Culture, and Stigmatization in “Darkborn”

Over spring break, I finished reading “Darkborn” by Alison Sinclair. It’s the first book in a trilogy, although I haven’t had a chance to start the next book yet. “Darkborn” is a fantasy adventure with strong elements of romance.  The culture she explores in the book is fascinating.  Although the society being aristocratic is not unusual in fantasy, the focus on a culture in which vision impairments are the norm is unusual.

In United States’ culture, a person with a vision impairment is thought to have a disability. Although our laws have been attempting to help reduce inequalities faced by persons with physical disabilities, individuals with vision impairments face many structural barriers in our society.  (This blog post will point you to a  video from the UK that attempts to explore “disability” through examining what the world would be like if the majority of people had disabilities.  It works well to generate discussion on the structures surrounding persons with disabilities.)  In recent years, several students with vision impairments have been in my sociology classes. I’ve learned a great deal about accessibility in terms of making class materials available for accessible technology like screen readers. Despite these changes, my students often still face inequality and stigmatization in many areas of their lives.  I was excited and a bit nervous to see this explored in a fantasy book.

Centuries before the plot begins in “Darkborn,” a curse happened that caused the Darkborn to be unable to be exposed to light and the Lightborn to be unable to be exposed to darkness. They essentially live in two parallel cultures. Each culture developed different values and norms surrounding magic. The Darkborn reject magic while the Lightborn accept it. While the Darkborn are blind, their society has been designed around this aspect of the physiologies. In fact, they have a magical ability that allows them to use what seems like sonar. This means that they have some abilities that persons with vision would not have.  (At first, I found myself wanting more visual descriptions in the prose.  Of course, this was good writing on the part of Sinclair.)

The protagonist, Telmaine, is an extremely talented mage, although she does not realize the extent of her powers. She has been passing as a non-mage her entire life. She’s from a noble family, and she carefully hides her abilities due to stigmatization. Her family is disturbed when she marries Balthasar Hearne, who is not only from a less powerful family than Telmaine, but he also has a sister who practices magic. The people practicing as mages are ostracized, vilified, and segregated.

Although Telmaine is from rigid patriarchy, she rises to the occasion when her family is threatened.  (While a wife and mother fighting for her family matches traditional gender roles in the US, it is not typical to use the means that Telmaine does.  She doesn’t wait for a man to save her or her daughter.  She takes matters into her own hands.)

In fact, I appreciated Sinclair’s writing of Telmaine.  The love triangle that she becomes embroiled in actually makes sense.  Her attraction to both of her potential partners is understandable, and she (and her partners) grapple with their feelings in the book.  Unlike some of the books I’ve been reading lately, this book does not explore LGBT experiences.

Although I did not love this book the way I did “Curse of Chalion,” its meditation on stigmatization, passing, patriarchy, and culture was intriguing.  Unlike some fantasy, I didn’t get any sense of the light and the dark relating directly to a dichotomy of good and evil.  (In fact, Alison Sinclair discusses why this is the case at the bottom of this page.)  The Darkborn culture seems complex, and I suspect that the Lightborn culture is quite complex, too.  I particularly look forward to seeing how the Lightborn culture differs.

Cover analysis.  Although I usually don’t analyze the covers of books on my blog, I had to comment on this one.  The cover is lovely, but I found it incongruous.  In the edition that I’m reading, Telmaine has her blue eyes focused directly on the reader.  It looks like she is making eye contact, which does not make sense to me given Darkborn and their culture.  Is this just me?

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“Looking-Glass Self” in Skyfall: The Identity of James Bond”

[Spoiler heavy zone]

Two nights ago, I went to see the latest James Bond movie, “Skyfall.”  I’d just started my Thanksgiving break, and  I was hoping for a fast-paced action movie with good cinematography.  I felt even the introduction was worth the price of admission.  Although I enjoy watching Bond movies, I often feel uncomfortable with the overt (and covert) sexism.  Particularly, the aggrandizement of traditional masculine gender roles like violence to solve problems bothers me, as well as the objectification of women.  Despite all of this, I usually enjoy going to see Bond movies.  Today is not the day that I’m going to explore my hypocrisy on my blog.

“Skyfall” justifies the need for spies and the entire spy industry in today’s world, but the spy “industry” needs to adapt.  The parallel between Bond and the overall spy business is evident.  One of the major questions in the movie is despite psychological and physical limitations, can Bond continue to be efficient in a career field that needs to adapt to changes in globalization, technology, and warfare?  The “enemy” has drastically changed.  However, I like the fact that the villain of this movie was created by the British government itself, as opposed to an operative from another traditional, national enemy, or a terrorist, say, from the Middle East.  It makes sense people having to make monstrous decisions who are abandoned might eventually become villanous.

The movie had gorgeous psychological symbolism in it, which, as my spouse and I discussed may go back to “Casino Royale.”   When a character, Silva, asks Bond about his hobby, Bond quips, “resurrection.”  Yet, this is very accurate.  I can think of at least three cases of Bond being symbolically resurrected, and I’ll bet that there are more.  Bond gets shot by his partner and  falls into water.  He’s presumed dead, but I think that it is important that we never witness him emerge from the water.  However, he is alive and taking a break, reminding me of being in paradise or purgatory.  He returns to the UK when he sees the main plot of the movie shaping up on television.  After returning to the home he grew up in, Skyfall, he winds up destroying his home in flames and eventually falls through the ice.  (Before this, he runs through underground tunnels attached to his house.  This also seems very psychological in terms of the subconscious.)

Personally, when he emerges from the ice feels like his actual resurrection to me.  Another interesting symbolic motif in the film is the continual use of mirrors and reflections of Bond. This reminds me of Cooley’s idea of the looking-glass self.  Our self image comes from how we think that others see us (Conley).  This cute wikipedia image is an example of this.  This idea is important in this movie because Bond “dies”, and he has to determine who he is again.  He is “James Bond,” which apparently is truly his name.  It’s neat to see the interactions happen between Bond and the gamekeeper, Kincade, that knew him as a child.  This person would be one living person that shaped his identity before he was an agent. Kincade obviously had a relationship with young Bond, but he doesn’t fully know his adult identity.  M makes a comment about orphans making the best agents.  While one might assume this is due to their lack of social connections, I believe it’s because without parents and other caregivers, it’s easier to shape the identity of a person into an agent.  In this movie, it seems that the people helping Bond to solidify his identity are is “Mother”, M, his symbolic brother, Silva, and even other characters like the new “Q,” and his new partner.

MI-6 also goes through many of these same transformations.  It is blown up and damaged at the beginning so they change headquarters. (A similar chase seen occurs under the tunnels attached to the new location.)  Then, it is under assault from the government for being ineffective and useless due to globalization.  It is under the same threat and has to go through the same identity reconstruction process that Bond did.  At the end, there is a changing of the guard that make it evident that the institution is continuing, but their identity has been permanently changed.  I look forward to seeing where the franchise and the characters go from here.

What symbolism have I missed?  Do you think that I’m right about the imagery in the movie?

 

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