July 24, 2006

This and That

Strange things in my email:

We've noticed that customers who have purchased A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle also purchased books by Martina Mackova. For this reason, you might like to know that Martina Mackova's Phytoremediation and Rhizoremediation: Theoratical Background (Focus on Biotechnology) will be released soon. You can pre-order your copy by following the link below.

Um, Amazon? You're SO not getting the book connections here. Phytoremediation!? Still, have to give them their props; they're still trying to keep my business... but after all the carnage I've seen them do to independent bookstores, I'm making a conscious choice to buy books elsewhere. Go independents!
I am taking five cool minutes to say hello and let you know about the Carnival of Children's Literature going on at Big A little a. This is a MAJOR undertaking, where a children's blogger does a roundup of all of the fantastic commentary on kidlit going on all over the web. Since Blogger is being an absolute pain, I haven't been able to comment to them what a fantastic job I think she did, but bravo Ms. Kelly, and thanks for all of the links!

Because race continues to be a daily occurrence, I'm going to make an occasional point of talking about race and racial issues in YA and children's fiction, calling attention to those who deserve kudos, etc. The carnival links above netted me a new blog to read I Write For Young Adults, So Take That (which is as good and snarky a title as I've ever loved), and highlighted in On Being Black in Fiction, the article by Pam Noles that talked about the shameful way that the Sci-Fi channel handled The Legend of Earthsea miniseries.

If you're not a sci-fi geek like me, maybe you're not familiar with the charmed and delicious worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin and the novel wonder that is Earthsea. (Become familiar! You won't regret it!!!) In 2004 the Sci-fi channel (and notice no link! I'm still furious with them, and have boycotted the channel.) hijacked her Earthsea novels into a movie... I was so bitterly disappointed I could almost have cried. (I spent the whole time wailing "But that's not how it happened!" to my TV.) The characters, who were brown-skinned in the book, were cast almost uniformly and bewilderingly with Caucasian actors. This completely negated the flipflop that LeGuin created -- that Earthsea was made up of brown people, and that the pale skinned ones were the ones enslaved and shunned, that the brown-skinned people needed to learn to see them as human, etc. etc. It gave readers the chance to ponder a different world, it gave a chance for sci-fi fans of color to finally have a world in which they were represented, and it was ruined in film for a reason I cannot yet comprehend (except for the obvious, my opinion that BOOKS SHOULD ALMOST NEVER BE MADE INTO MOVIES. Ahem. Well, it's only my opinion...).

When we saw the movie, we wondered why LeGuin allowed the wreckage. It reassured me to discover that LeGuin hated it, called it "Earthsea in Clorox" and generally made sure that her readers knew that this was something taken away from her. Though the producers of the film said that they followed the "intent" of the novel (please.) LeGuin straight up said they ruined it.

This is, of course, old news, but it reminded me of some additional books in the fantasy genre whose brave writers, while perhaps not brown-skinned themselves, dared to include brown skinned characters in cool roles in their books. I especially love Nancy Farmer's book, The Ear, The Eye and The Arm, and the warriors and blacksmiths who use magic in Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic books. It can be done and done well! Rejoice!

Incidentally, Studio Ghibli is taking a stab at doing the Earthsea books justice, releasing the Japanese version called Gedo Senki. As the few black manga characters I've ever seen are either evil and male or just incidental characters in crowd scenes, I was interested to see if they would include brown characters for Earthsea. No such luck. Goro Miyazaki's an amazingly gifted artist, and really captures the feel of Earthsea, as the trailer shows. Still, manga is not the place to find positive characters of African or Indian descent... maybe someday.


Pooja Makhijani said...

Tadmack, have you read Zahrah the Windseeker Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu? It's Okorafor-Mbachu's first YA novel and it's not perfect, but worth a look-see.

The Buried Editor said...

It's not just the SciFi channel that has never bothered to see LeGuin's characters correctly. Nearly every cover for the book that I've ever seen, where you can actually see Ged, he appears to just have a good tan. As a good example, I would look at the cover for the Tomb of Atuan done by Simon Pulse. I would never have guessed that Ged was suppossed to be darkskinned.

Seren said...

AND HOW, tadmack. After the debacle of the adaptation -- which I KNEW was going to be a debacle (me watching the preview: "Shawn F'ing ASHMORE?!?"), but still I watched -- I needed a support group for all the pain. Thanks for providing that here.

I remember reading "Earthsea" for the first time and realizing how quietly and assuredly she was commenting on race and gender, and how all the other fantasy/scifi I'd been reading was insanely solipsistically white. (As a woman reading, I was already pretty tuned into the misogyny -- ouch.)

I want to know what particular set of loansharks were after LeGuin that she had to sell the rights to SciFi and/or how advanced her dementia really is. Oh so so so wrong.

(Also, while I'm on it, am I the only one who read "Harry Potter" and went, "Oh, somebody else read 'Wizard of Earthsea.' Cribbing much?")

DaviMack said...

I'm SO glad to have read this, and to have followed the links to hear what Ursula had to say. I must say that I've always loved LeGuin (and L'Engle, incidentally, of course) so was particularly disturbed at the outright bastardization of her work. The message I took away (as I so often do) was, "bend over, literate human, and submit to the preference of the ravening hordes."

I wonder if anyone has actually studied the phenomena enough to know whether a) "people" prefer the dreck, or b) "people" buy the dreck because it's there, but would prefer to have something decently put together?

I have not boycotted the SciFi folks, per se, but I have noticed them slipping down into the realm of SpikeTV and away from the realm of StarTrek, if you know what I mean? They were actually OK with their rendition of the Dune novels. (Not great, just OK) They stuck to the original text enough so that the TV version of had to be edited for TV (ironic, for a TV channel), while the DVD one had the incestuous relationship between the children well and truly in there. That, I think, was the last of their decent productions ... and it's been three years now since that one was released.

Bah. Hollyweed doesn't know the difference between SciFi and Fantasy ... or Horror, for that matter. We're just consumers. Consume and be happy, darn it!

TadMack said...

Pooja - I haven't read the Windseeker yet -- I'm putting it on my list, thanks! Always interested in the new voices!

Editor - I know, I know! With my first book I learned how little say a fledgling author has, even with a tiny press, on cover art, but LeGuin is in the big time -- you'd think...?

I'm finding that publishing is steered by the marketing department... if a novel has a dark skinned character on the cover, it's for dark skinned people, then, isn't it? End of story...sigh.

Seren - I needed a support group, too! Oy!! And yeah, I'd always realized that fantasy was hugely male-oriented, (because women never have adventures, please!) but the Caucasian thing seemed to go without comment for...ever. What burns me still is that the producer/directors of the Earthsea mess INSIST that it was all cast "colorblind." What I think is that they were afraid that getting too many people of color together in a plot would lead turn it into a Spike Lee film somehow.


And YES!! I caught the Earthsea thing in Potter too! -- and so many other tiny little "borrowings"... Hmmmm.

DMack - I still didn't like DUNE enough to forgive the SciFi channel anything, but I take your point... We buy the dreck because it is there, because you have to sift through a lot of crap before you find any diamonds.


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