Msnowe's Blog

Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on March 17, 2010

Someone’s still in the kitchen, tinkering with some Dinah story?

Myth telling, by nature, is variational. There are multiple interpretations or ways of telling for any one myth. For example, look at the expanding stories that spread across time and cultures when you think of the practically mirror-imaged gods of the ancient Greeks versus the ancient Romans. They use different names, and the stories have different details, but we invoke them interchangeably. Zeus, for all intents and purposes, is Jupiter. Similarly, the bible uses four different gospels, all essentially saying the same thing, but some gospels omit details that others include, etc., and so on. Oral tradition made a story’s malleability all the more apt, like a game of telephone, and to some extent, people are still willing to accept the odd reordering of classic stories for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s an ancient human necessity, a multiplicity of story options, rising out of our primordial goo.

Somehow, somewhere along the line, the meaning of the word “myth” as a religious narrative was eclipsed by an overarching sense of a mythical story’s inherent falsehood, and it became synonymous with “lie.” Somewhere, it stopped being primarily pedagogical and started being cute, ridiculous, bawdy, too simplistic, you name it–a multitude of sins. “Religion,” on the other hand, still smacks of the real, the serious, the important. But isn’t the bible just a big contributor volume (side note: that would’ve been a pain in the ass to commission editorially) of myths? Yeah, that’s blasphemous, but it’s true–modern biblical hermeneutics has shifted away from biblical literalism, i.e. “this Old Testament story is true, every last, sacred bit,” and towards a more practical approach to allegorical interpretations. It’s less about the order of events or veracity, and more about what you are able to glean from the stories themselves–their message. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be enjoyable, or intimidating, or humbling.

So in comes m.snowe with her ruminations on The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, a little over a decade too late for the hubbub surrounding it’s release. This book combines all of the topics discussed above: myth-making, bible interpretation, human interest in retelling, remodeling a message for a modern audience. This book does a little bit of everything, in a thankfully god-less way—lady storytelling, bloodshed, cool Egyptians, caravans, you name it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not preachy. The book intimately and intensely subjects you to the harshness of childbirth and the powerlessness of women, especially in the time of the tribe of Abraham. It actually would’ve been even better to have seen some more up-close and personal descriptions (Dinah is a midwife after all), but we’ll settle for the scene where she takes a dagger to her own vagina to save her only child.

The story itself is compelling, if not a bit predictable (that is, if you remember the bible story) but what it does brilliantly, just by the nature of its perspective, is provide a female look at an old-as-dirt myth. It gives a female voice and presence to a story so many people know. It doesn’t do a bad job.
Then what is still irking me about it? Could it be the overt preachy-ness? Does Diamant’s need to rewrite, her hope to alter opinion impinge on her reader’s enjoyment of the story? Why shake the dust off and reconfigure an old tale, when you can create a new, just as endearing one, free from the taint of biblical definition?  Those are some things you’ll have to ask yourself, when you read it. Because despite its flaws, you should.

In a way, The Red Tent never escapes itself, despite its feminist bent, it never expands past the tent it builds for itself–women are still separate and sequestered in the book and by the book–m.snowe would be hard-pressed to find any male readers of this novel. Like the “feminine products” aisle of any drug store, it’s easy to see how this book might be shoved onto a back shelf, away from the glossy display caps up by the register. V. Woolf asked that writers strive towards androgyny–because true equality lies in the lack of care or question of gender, but this book assumes you are a woman without asking. Lovely. But if solely women’s hearts and minds were all that needed to change, then we wouldn’t be scrounging for equal pay and recognition in all things (I hope). This isn’t about building a fortress where “no boys are allowed,” it’s about opening up the tent, and creating a common ground where differences are celebrated, not segregated.

Monday Postage for Friday

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on October 19, 2009

The fiction Lady-Rating returns (on a Monday).

Do you have what it takes, fictionally?

Do you have what it takes, fictionally?

First, apologies–m.snowe has been neglecting this Friday post  idea. But to remedy that on a Monday morning, here we go with a new book to analyze in terms of its female characters, or the presence/lack of any type of feminist ideas.

Today’s Lady-Rating, for American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

americangods_big

Do ladies ever strike twice?

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Reasoning: First let m.snowe say that she enjoyed this book immensely. It was an easy read, and presented ideas and creative vignettes that were extremely original and thought-provoking. There was an underlying message or preachyness to the book, but it really didn’t distract or take away from m.snowe’s enjoyment of the story. But here’s the problem–most of the lady bits are tangential. The protagonist, Shadow, is actually quite a redeeming character, and it’s clear that he respects and enjoys the company of women (yeah, in that way too). And women do play a crucial role in the movement of the story–Gaiman’s premise of broke-down gods living in America is not neglectful of lady gods–Easter, Mama Ji, the Zorya sisters, etc., and so on. And Shadow’s dead wife is also a key character. But honestly, sometimes m.snowe felt like the ladies were either there to add flourish or intrigue, or merely drive the story–which is fine, but the women don’t get the kind of character development that the men sometimes do. Despite the variety of names these lady-gods are given, it might not be completely unfair to say they are all really Muses. They guide and assist Shadow on his way, and the real players are men–Shadow, Wednesday, Mister World.

But let m.snowe make it clear–she loved this book, and found herself reading passages that were completely unique, and many times wished she could’ve come up with such strange and beautiful stories. The small stories that breakaway from the main action were just out-of-place enough to work, yet intrinsically tied to the plot, even if you couldn’t fully puzzle out why. A scene of a reverse birth was shocking (at least, it was to m.snowe!), and the frank suspension of reality somehow works. In fact, it was mildly disappointing to see that the end was connected to the solving of a “real life” murder mystery, because it hurled the story back into reality, taking the reader out of the world of strange possibilities that Gaiman navigates so fluidly. If only Shadow or Wednesday had a lady counterpart, this story would’ve tipped the lady-rating scales to a seven or eight. But m.snowe recommends you read it anyway.

New Friday Postage: Lady-Rating

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on August 14, 2009

The fiction Lady-Rating.

Can your writing run with the big girls?

Can your writing run with the big girls?

“Yeah, she’s a 7, maybe an 8.”

Let’s turn this shit on it’s head. m.snowe was sadly subjected to, and heard stories of others subjected to the whole grade school, junior high, and high school ratings system. Oh yes, boys would rate the girls on a scale of one to ten, and sometimes there would be illustrations. Enough of that! Then what, might you ask, is the Fiction Lady-Rating? It’s the arbitrary name m.snowe has created in order to rate certain pieces of fiction in terms of their female characters, or the presence/lack of any type of feminist ideas. Obviously, this can’t help but be a bit subjective—but m.snowe will try her best to rate with fairness and insight. (obviously, a rating of 0 is absolutely horrid and represents either a complete lack of female characters or feminist ideas, 10 is the best, with strong female characters and/or feminist ideals.)

It’s m.snowe’s hope that at least one book, new or old, can be rated every Friday, and that any other posts going forward that necessitate a rating will have one appended to it at the bottom, holding down it’s skirt.

So here’s today’s Lady-Rating, for The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Quest? Not for Ladies.

Quest? Not for Ladies.

Rating: 1 out of 10.

Reasoning: Despite m.snowe’s love for this classic piece of literature, big J.R.R.T. was not exactly female-friendly fare. Even his Lord of the Rings books have female characters few and far between, and they almost always serve as love interests, or evil enchantresses. Tolkien, a renowned scholar, claimed Beowulf was his biggest influence when writing The Hobbit–and obviously, there is a lack of females or feminist themes in that (although, at least Grendel’s mum makes an appearance!). Clearly, for Tolkien, great adventures and fighting dragons was just not for women. To be fair Tolkien should be placed in his time–The Hobbit was written before 1936, and he was a staunchly religious man–both of these are factors in his works which make him less apt to have leading ladies. But perhaps because of his later works that do include some ladies who are slightly stronger than shrunken violets, m.snowe is wont to give him a rating of 1 instead of the old goose egg.