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”

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The March Family Letters: Little 21st Century Women

Click to go to the official website

I was eight years old the first time I read Little Women. I fell in love with the Marches and identified with all four sisters in different ways. I was a writer and loved adventure and couldn’t manage to do what was expected of me like Jo. I was the oldest and could be too cautious and practical for my own good like Meg. I was quiet and withdrawn and loved music like Beth. I was artistic and used words people didn’t understand and was never taken as seriously as I took myself and totally had a thing for Laurie like Amy.

I’d go on to revisit Little Women  and its sequels throughout the years. I learned more about the historical context of the book. The Alcott family’s involvement in Transcendentalist, bohemian circles. Louisa May Alcott’s first-wave feminism. All of this just made the book more fascinating to me. Age and distance have made some of the book’s imperfections more noticeable, but it’s one of those childhood loves that will always have a special place in my heart.

Despite all this, somehow the existence of The March Family Letters escaped my knowledge until this month. To be honest, I was more apprehensive about this one than any of the literary webseries I’ve watched. There are so many ways a modern Little Women could go horribly wrong. Would Jo be a straw feminist or a misogynist? Would Meg be an unsympathetic killjoy in the tradition of grouchy sitcom wives? Would Beth be a Purity Sue, canonized by virtue of disability? Would Amy exist to remind the audience that being a girly girl makes you a terrible person, or at least a really shallow one?

Don’t worry, my inner voice whispered as she wrapped me in a blanket and brought me some hot chocolate. It’s being distributed by Pemberley Digital. Click the playlist.

OMG I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU HOW OBSESSED I AM WITH THIS SHOW. Continue reading “The March Family Letters: Little 21st Century Women”

My Top 10 Posts of 2014

Welcome to my obligatory year-in-review post! As of the precise moment in time that I’m writing this post, these were my 10 most-viewed posts of 2014. A couple of these, including #1, weren’t even written this year. It’s encouraging to know that my posts have staying power, considering I usually write about pop culture and internet culture, which can be particularly fickle. Continue reading “My Top 10 Posts of 2014”

So, I finally binge-watched Carmilla

This was supposed to be my Halloween post. I’ve actually gotten a few requests to review this literary vlog series. I kept putting it off because I knew once I got started, I’d want to watch the whole thing in one sitting. I was right. First, a little background on the source material.

Funeral, illustration by Michael Fitzgerald for Carmilla in The Dark Blue, January 1872. Image via Wikipedia.

Carmilla is a vampire novella by J. Sheridan Le Fanu that predates Dracula by twenty-six years. Aside from its place in the history of the horror literary genre, it’s noteworthy in that it features a tragic romance between the eponymous female vampire and the human female narrator. This isn’t subtext speculation or revisionist history. It’s right there in the 1871 text.

She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die–die, sweetly die–into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.” And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek. – Carmilla, Chapter IV

So, yeah. Basically Carmilla was Twilight for Victorian girls if Edward was a woman and died at the end. It’s one of my favorite classical guilty pleasures. Laura’s intense attraction to Carmilla coupled with her fear and frustration at having these feelings in the first place is written as effectively as any Austen heroine’s. Although Carmilla meets the tragic end that all monsters must in classic Gothic horror, she’s a remarkably sympathetic character. One easily gets the impression that, contrary to Proto Van Helsing’s slander, her feelings for Laura become true love, not the inhuman lust she’s accused of. The end leaves it nearly certain that, despite Laura’s participation in Carmilla’s death, Carmilla’s forbidden love was returned:

It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations–sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing room door. – Carmilla, Chapter XVI

Carmilla the webseries replaces the Gothic castle of the original with a modern-day college campus. If you think “lesbian coed vampires” sounds like a great premise for a porno, you’re going to be disappointed. If you think it’s a great premise for a modern update that keeps all the elements that made the original novella awesome while updating the elements that have thankfully changed with the times, you’re going to love this webseries as much as I do.

carmilla and laura
Natasha Negovanlis as Carmilla, and Elise Bauman as Laura.

My first question about this update was how they’d handle the lesbian stuff. The answer is “Very well.” Although the mostly-female cast is certainly good-looking, the show obviously wasn’t shot or staged for the male gaze. The writing makes you care more about whether Laura and Carmilla will fall in love than whether they’ll make out. Laura’s queerness is taken for granted, not played for angst or drama. The same goes for the other queer characters. I say “queer” because the writing doesn’t specify whether any of these young women are lesbian or bi. No one in-universe seems to care. Nor does anyone find it shocking or incredulous that platonic friendships exist between queer women, or between queer and straight women. (Actually, I’m not sure any of these women are straight. But there are definitely women who are close to each other and don’t seem like they’re ready to make out the second you turn your back, something plenty of shows with supposedly all-hetero casts can’t get right.)

My second question was how they handle the vampire stuff. (SPOILERS AHEAD.) This Carmilla is indeed an actual vampire. Her backstory is nearly the same in this series as in the original novella. And, like any good postmodern monster, she can and does choose whether to use her curse for good or evil. In this incarnation, she’s covertly helping the young women she’s supposed to lure to her dark mistress. Which was always my theory about the original. Think Snape as a double agent for the Death Eaters. Now that I think of it, that’s a pretty good way to sum up this Carmilla. She’s FemSnape.

My third and most important question was whether Carmilla and Laura would live (or un-die) happily ever after in this version. I don’t have a definitive answer for that yet since the series is still running, with updates every Tuesday and Thursday. But the way the first 31 episodes have gone, I’ll be surprised and heartbroken if they don’t.

Want to check it out for yourself? Click here to go to the YouTube page, or watch the complete playlist embedded below. Click here to read the full text of the original novella on Gutenberg, available in-browser or as a free e-reader download.

Cindy: The Kardashians Meet The Addams Family at Disneyworld

Image via Cindy’s official Facebook page. Click to go to the kickstarter.

So, I got an email the other day that began thusly:

Larry Wilson here. I co-wrote and co-produced Beetlejuice, co-wrote The Addams Family, wrote and directed for six seasons of Tales from the Crypt.

“Sure you did,” I thought.

I found you through your blog’s review of The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy

“Okay,” I thought. “That is in fact a thing I wrote. But this could still be a creative spammer or scammer.”

and I’m so excited to share my new project with you. It’s a web series called CINDY (youtube.com/cindyseries), that I think will especially appeal to fans of Peter and Wendy.

“Oooo, linkage! And moar literary webness! I’m listening.”

The character Cindy is a foster child (read: maid, unpaid personal assistant and emotional punching bag.) Her “family” are reality TV superstars who make the Kardashians look warm and fuzzy. Then add a Fairy Godmother with a drug problem, a handsome prince who is over twice Cindy’s age, and a young PA who’s fallen in love with Cindy and is determined to rescue her, even if it ends his TV career before it’s really started.

The result is a web series with every ounce of wit and snark a Beetlejuice or Addams Family fan would expect.

“I believe wit, snark, and an intersection of pop culture and classic fantasy are relevant to the interests of Thalia’s Musings fans.” And, based on the trailers I saw, that’s pretty much what Cindy is.

We just launched a Kickstarter to raise money for the post production of CINDY…

So it came to pass that I composed a blog post to bring Cindy to my readers’ attention. Having not seen any full episodes, I can’t tell you much more about the series than what Larry’s email or the Kickstarter pitch have said about it. But the trailer and teasers were a fun watch, and I think the series will be, too, if it makes it out of post production and onto my computer screen. The Kickstarter has just 8 days left, so if Cindy looks like something you want to add to your YouTube literary obsessions, click here and check it out!

UPDATE: Cindy’s kickstarter surpassed its goal! Looking forward to seeing the finished product on YouTube B-)

My Harriet’s Music Club recap

Harriet’s Music Club was a side project of the concluded-for-now Pemberley Digital show Emma Approved. As some of you may remember, I was one of the first responders to “Harriet’s” call for audience participation. I’m rather proud of myself for having made it through the whole season, so I thought I’d do a post recapping all my covers.

For starters, here’s a playlist of the originals, performed by Dayanne Hutton as Harriet Smith.

“Harriet’s First Song”

This was the song Harriet used to kick off the Music Club. The guy she references is State Senator James Elton, but we all knew her heart belonged to Robert Martin regardless of Emma’s meddling.

I changed Harriet’s lyrics about her ukulele to reflect the fact that I was playing a piano.

Continue reading “My Harriet’s Music Club recap”

Frankenstein, MD – It’s Aliiiiiiiive!

I read Frankenstein about six years ago when I was discovering steampunk. I was expecting to like it in a so-bad-it’s-good way akin to the B-movie neckbolt cliches. I ended up loving it for its engaging characters (including the philosophical, articulate Monster), its thoughtful exploration of enduring themes like familial responsibility and ethics in scientific research, and its legitimate, well-written horror.

So I was ecstatic when I found out about Pemberley Digital’s plans to follow Emma Approved with an adaptation of Frankenstein. And that they were partnering with PBS. And that Victor Frankenstein (the creator, not the creature) was being rewritten as Victoria!

Anna Lore as Victoria Frankenstein, Steve Zaragoza as Iggy DeLacey. Image via Frankenstein MD (click to visit the official site)

Frankenstein, MD premiered last Tuesday with three episodes, followed by a fourth on Friday. It’s ostensibly a PBS science vlog hosted by two promising almost-MDs, Victoria Frankenstein and Ludwig “Iggy” DeLacey. Like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, the writers are taking plenty of liberties with the source material. For example, the vlog does not open with its titular character stranded in the Arctic. It’s a reasonable alteration, I suppose. As is adding a stand-in for Igor the Hunchback Lab Assistant, a character who doesn’t appear in the book, but has become an inextricable part of Frankenstein mythos.

Overall, I’m impressed by how many elements I’m recognizing from the book. The silent cameraman/editor, Robert Walton, is a nod to the book’s framing device of Frankenstein relaying his story to an Arctic explorer of that name. Victoria’s mentor, Dr. Abraham Waldman, was a prominent character in the book. Victoria’s childhood friends Eli Lavenza and Rory Clerval are gender-flipped versions of Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s love interest, and Henry Clerval, Victor’s best friend. Victoria and Iggy’s university, Engle State University, takes its name from the book’s Ingolstadt University.

Most of all, there’s Frankenstein herself. Victoria mirrors Victor in that she’s passionate about pushing the limits of medical science. Nothing gets in the way of her research. Don’t tell her something’s impossible. “Impossible” just means no one’s figured out how to do it yet. Petty things like her subject’s clinical death are no impediment to her. She’ll just shock that bitch back to life. Drug-induced paralysis causing a panic attack? No prob. She’ll bring the subject out of it with MOAR DRUGS! Sure, the higher-ups may question her ethics (and her sanity), but genius and determination will triumph if Victoria has anything to do with it.

In short, Victoria Frankenstein is a mad scientist.

And she is the most adorable mad scientist you will ever see. Great writing, great comedic foiling from the rest of the cast, and a great performance by Anna Lore combine to make Victoria’s megalomaniacal superiority complex come across as hilarious and endearing.

The story has been light-hearted and upbeat so far. I’ll be interested to see how Frankenstein, MD handles the book’s heavier material. The book is full of murder, arson, identity crises, and like I said earlier, legitimate horror. The book closes with (SPOILER) anticipation of both creator’s and creature’s death. In the end, the reader is left contemplating which was the true monster. Pemberley Digital did an impressive job handling the more serious, uncomfortable issues in Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I’m confident that they’ll do the same for Frankenstein, and curious to see how they manage it.

Click here to watch Frankenstein, MD on the official website, or watch the playlist embedded below. If this has inspired you to read Mary Shelley’s original book, click here to get a free ePub, Kindle, or browser ebook at Project Gutenberg.

Thalia’s Musings 3 is here!

The first chapter of Unraveled (Thalia’s Musings, Volume Three) is online at ThaliasMusingsNovels.com!

Unraveled (Thalia's Musings, Volume Three)
Unraveled (Thalia’s Musings, Volume Three)

I’ll be posting a new chapter every Monday for the next seventeen weeks. This blog will keep the same format and content – weekly posts with geeky pop culture fangirling reviews and the occasional commentary on current events. I’ll also be doing short posts like this one linking to the latest Thalia’s Musings chapter every Friday. That way subscribers to this blog will still get updates on the series, but subscribing to Thalia’s Musings is the only way to get updates as soon as the chapters go online.

Miss my usual media review content? Click here for a review I posted yesterday on Royal, the latest book in Anthea Sharp’s Feyland universe.

Green Gables Fables: Anne Shirley, Vlogger

It seems The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has started a trend. Vlogs based on classic literature and starring cute redheaded girls seem to be popping up everywhere. The latest one to suck me in is based on the series that pretty much defined my adolescence, Anne of Green Gables.

Anne Shirley, 17-year-old Canadian foster kid and vlogger

It’s remarkable how very little about the original story is changed in Green Gables Fables. Anne is an orphan who’s spent most of her life in neglectful foster homes. She’s just been taken in by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who’d asked for a boy and got Anne because of a clerical error. Anne clashes with Marilla’s best friend, Rachel Lynde. She goes to a new school and meets lots of new friends and frenemies, including a boy named Gilbert Blythe. She bonds quickly with Matthew and slowly but surely with Marilla. And she’s obsessed with her BFF, Diana Barry.

It all translates really well with a few modern updates. The series, of course, is ostensibly Anne’s vlog. Her epic fight with Rachel Lynde happens over an insensitive tweet. Diana meets Anne through Tumblr, a setting which makes their occasional lapses into Victoriana and referral to each other as “bosom friends” seem oddly believable. The infamous slate broken over Gilbert Blythe’s head is a magnetic locker board (thank God it wasn’t a tablet!).

What really sells this webseries is that it keeps the heart of the books. Anne Shirley is exactly as Anne Shirley should be. She’s a charming, talkative, nerdy, melodramatic, imaginative kid who’s been dealt some really bad luck, but who continually rises from the depths of despair to find kindred spirits who will love her as she is and to make the world a little more like she imagines it.

And she prefers to be called Cordelia.

Want to check out Green Gables Fables? Click here to go to the YouTube channel, or watch the playlist below.