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The Bridge-Dwellers of Neverwhere and Who Fears Death: An Uncanny Realization

Who Fears DeathDuring a recent medical mission trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I encountered the term “bridge-dweller.” Before this trip, I lived in the United States, completely belonging to this society and not actively addressing other worlds around me. But that all changed. After two weeks abroad, I recognized these other peoples and worlds, and I somehow could not return to life completely narrowed to the United States. Yet I clearly did not belong to the world of the Costa Ricans or Nicaraguans either. I am, and will forevermore be, a “bridge-dweller.”

Both Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death feature protagonists who themselves are “bridge-dwellers.” Both novels contain main characters who are rejected from their own societies; Richard, from Neverwhere, and Onyesonwu, from Who Fears Death, both exist in between two diametrically opposed cultures, and yet belong to neither of them. NeverwhereThis allows for these characters to interact with other societies and cultures, never completely dwelling on one side or the other, but bridging the gap between the two. As a result, both characters are poised to challenge discrimination and injustice; in the case of Onyesonwu, she faces both racial and sexual prejudice, while Richard’s experiences highlight discrimination based on wealth and social status.

A critical difference in the analysis of these two narratives, however, comes through the endings. Who Fears Death provides a satisfying conclusion for the reader, the admirable traits of the main character shine through, and some degree of social order has been attained. In stark contrast, Neverwhere concludes with Richard, one of very few who is capable of enacting great community change, failing to address these appalling social discriminations. Due to Richard’s inaction, the reader is then obligated to examine real world consequences, and is compelled to act herself as the “bridge-dweller.”


Judging a Book by Its Cover: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryIn this installment of Judging a Book by Its Cover, Tia Mansouri deviates slightly from the format of her original column on Joan Vinge's Snow QueenInstead of analyzing the cover of a book before she reads it, she takes a closer look at a new cover of a very familiar, well-loved book--Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Released today, the Penguin Deluxe edition of the novel features cover art by Ivan Brunetti and an introduction by Lev Grossman.

"I insist upon my rooms being beautiful! I can't abide ugliness in factories!" - Willy Wonka

When I heard of Penguin's re-release of several children's classics, I was surprised to find Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was selected to be re-done. As a kid, I found Quentin Blake's illustrations to be practically inseparable from Dahl's words. But illustration is about seeing words through the viewpoint of another's eyes, and despite how well known Blake's art is, Dahl's book has had enough visual incarnations not to let any one depiction be the definitive standard. The more I look at Brunetti's cover, the more I like it for being unlike Blake's style and entirely suited for Dahl's story. What Brunetti reminds us with his cover is that the point of what we visualize doesn't need to be the characters themselves, but how each of them interacts with the wonder and whimsy of Mr. Wonka's factory itself.


Is it all in your head?

DollhouseLast spring, I finally got around to watching the second season of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse on Netflix streaming, while I was also watching the fourth season of Chuck in real time.  I really enjoy both shows, but this experience of watching them together drew my attention to something that I'm not sure I would have noticed otherwise.

The main characters of both shows, Chuck and Echo, both flash.


Fantasy Conventions and the Power of Community

I never knew that fantasy writing conventions existed until I landed a literary agent. We met in his office one crisp, fall day in New York City, and during a lovely lunch, he said, “you’ll have to go on the con circuit, of course.” The what? As an academic, my life had been shadowed by literature conferences that I barely, if ever, attended. I only remember that everyone wore black or some other dark clothing, and no one smiled. Don’t get me wrong, lovely, wonderful people attend academic conferences, but it wasn’t until I attended my first fantasy convention that I found my writing family. CONDFW was held in Dallas, which was less than two hours away and a super cheap plan ticket. I didn’t know what to wear or how to network. I only knew that I had cool, gothic-looking business cards made up especially for the occasion.

Why Fantasy Matters: A Personal Apologia

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2)I

I wore my new Ghanaian dress to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. It wasn’t a costume, I admit; but it was a beautiful, show-offy, peacock sort of dress. You might call it my Sunday best, except that it was midnight on a Friday.

Afterwards, I drove home at 3am with a headache from crying, trying to blink my salted contacts back into place. The themes of death, absence, and longing had been so beautifully handled in the movie, and I was trying to articulate to myself why it had hit me so hard. The usual apologia for fantasy is this: that it reflects the real world. I understand that argument. But it doesn't sit well with me. “Seeing my own world in a new way” didn't account for what I was feeling. I realized that the reason I personally read, see, and write fantasy is not because it helps me understand the real world; rather, it’s because fantasy confirms my intuition that this world is not the real one.

If you have a brain, sirens should be going off. They might, for me, if I’d read the previous sentence and not known the author. (Hi, self.) But I seem sane in other areas. I pay taxes. I have lots of friends, who also pay taxes. I earned degrees in science from excellent schools.



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