The Misselthwaite Archives: A Secret Glade in Portland

We had a trio of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books on the shelf from as early as I can remember – A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and The Secret Garden. I read all three when I was pretty young, and saw at least two movie adaptations of each one. All three books feature child protagonists who’ve lost at least one parent. In A Little Princess, Sara Crewe is known for her brave forbearance and her devotion to princessly virtues throughout her riches-to-rags story. In Little Lord Fauntleroy, Cedric Erroll remains the sweet-natured, charismatic apple of his mother’s eye as he goes from being a street urchin in Brooklyn to an English aristocrat.

The Secret Garden stands out among Burnett’s works (and classic children’s literature in general) in that ten-year-old Mary Lennox, orphaned while overseas with her parents, is a total bitch. She’s unlikeable, and I love her for it. Mary has the kind of behavioral issues you’d expect from a kid raised by neglectful narcissists whose idea of “parenting” is giving the kid whatever it takes to shut her up. Not to mention this child has gone through the trauma of finding her parents’ disease-ravaged bodies and being the only one left alive in her home.

So, when I was asked to review The Misselthwaite Archives, I was pleased to see that #MisselArch’s Mary is traumatized, depressed, and a total bitch. Though, as you can see, she’s not ten.

Sophie Giberson as Mary Lennox. Image via The Misselthwaite Archives.

In this adaptation, 17-year-old Mary is sent to live at her widowed uncle’s home in Misselthwaite, a small, preppy town somewhere in Oregon. Teen angst and Portlandia snark suit this character beautifully.

As does the series’ framing device. Most of Mary’s talking-to-the-camera videos are letters to Dr. F.H. Burnett, the therapist she left behind when she moved to Misselthwaite. Others are study exercises with her perpetually cheerful tutor, Phoebe Sower (Martha Sowerby’s counterpart). Phoebe is the one who first introduces Mary to the legend of The Glade. She also introduces Mary to her little brother, Declan.

Dickon Sowerby was one of my biggest “How is a modern webseries going to handle this character?” characters. With his entourage of enchanted woodland creatures, Book Dickon is pretty much a boy Disney Princess. It’s easy and predictable to take him in a Manic Pixie Dream Guy direction. The 1987 film went full Purity Sue/Too Good For This Sinful Earth, telling us in an epilogue that Dickon died in the first World War. (I like to imagine that version of Dickon actually ran away with Walter Blythe and they lived feyly ever after, but I digress.)

#MisselArch goes the opposite way with Declan Sower. He’s a wildlife sanctuary intern who’s brilliant at ecology and animal care, but shy and awkward with humans. He’s as good-natured as his perky sister, but quiet and thoughtful in a way that connects better with Mary’s withdrawn snarkitude. In fact, Declan connects so well with Mary that every video he appears in is inevitably followed by “I ship it!!!!” comments. I have to agree. I’ve always loved Mary for feeling like a real kid, and for once, Dickon feels as real as she does.

Bryce Earhart as Declan Sower. Image via The Misselthwaite Archives.

My biggest question, though, was how #MisselArch would handle Colin Craven. I can’t tell you the answer without a ton of SPOILERS. You’ve been warned. Continue reading “The Misselthwaite Archives: A Secret Glade in Portland”

Frigga, Sif, Darcy, and Jane

A few random, spoilery musings on the women of Thor: The Dark World.

Frigga, played by Rene Russo. Image via Who’s Who

I cannot overstate Frigga’s awesomeness. Frigga pwns everyone forever. I shall henceforth consider the epithet friggin’ an oath invoking the wrath of Frigga. I’m terrible about crying over movies, books, tv shows, songs, gifs, etc., but I couldn’t cry over Frigga’s death. It was just too awesome. I felt like she died exactly how she wanted to, with a sword in hand, defending her realm and her family. To quote another famous space Viking, it was a good day to die.

Sif, played by Jaimie Alexander. Image via GeekTyrant

I love Sif. Why does Sif have to love Thor? I mean, I know she and Jane Foster are both canon love interests in the comics, but why? Why does there have to be a love triangle at all? When two very different women who want very different things out of life are written as rivals for the same man, it reinforces the idea that all women ultimately want the same thing out of life. That thing being mating privileges with the Alpha Male. Can’t we just enjoy seeing a beautiful female warrior and a beautiful female scientist in the same movie without essentially making the hero declare one more desirable than the other? I have absolutely no problem with strong women wanting relationships (with men, even!), but there’s no lack of powerful male hotties in this story. Why bother making Sif and Jane compete when there’s enough to go around?

Darcy Lewis, played by Kat Dennings. Image via Marvel Wiki

Oh, Darcy. Characters like her are why comic relief sidekicks are often my favorites. Especially when those sidekicks demand and procure their own sidekick. And then make out with that sidekick on an interdimensional battlefield because why not?

Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman. Image via GeekTyrant

What I am about to say is my personal, visceral, subjective, emotional response to Jane’s characterization based on how I’ve been feeling lately. It is irrespective of tropes or conventions or social history. Here goes.

Jane is smart, curious, educated, accomplished, self-assured, and for most of the movie, ill. The movie lets her be all of these things at once. The Aether is in control until it can be destroyed. The most Jane can do is cooperate with the people who have the power to destroy it, Jane herself not being one of them. Her rational acknowledgement of this isn’t treated as “letting her illness beat her.” She’s still herself. Ever the scientist, she investigates the alien technology in the Asgardian hospital while she’s on the exam table, and learns all she can about the city and its people in between being examined, sleeping, and pursuing a treatment (that might kill her). But those three things do take most of her time, and she can’t help that. As someone who can identify with all of the above, it felt really good to see a woman like this at the center of an epic. Sure, Thor is the real protagonist and Jane is “just” his love interest, but…Jane is Thor’s love interest. Thor would literally move heaven and earth to save Jane even though she can’t reciprocate. I love the scene where Jane unsuccessfully tries to drag Thor out of the falling ship’s path and finally just throws herself on top of him. It’s so earnest, and so comically futile. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. And yet, Jane’s weakness doesn’t take away her agency. Thor protects and cares for her, but he doesn’t patronize or dominate her. Jane chooses to go along with Thor’s plan to destroy the Aether. She chooses to let Frigga, Sif, and other stronger people put themselves on the line for her. Which they all do willingly because Jane matters, if not intrinsically then at least in the sense that her best interests align with theirs. Is Jane Foster a damsel in distress? She does technically fit the trope. But I found this damsel engaging, encouraging, and dare I say, empowering.