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"Believe everything."

American Gods: 10th Anniversary

The first thing you should know is that this isn't a review of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. American Gods is a book that changed the shape of fantasy literature when it came out ten years ago. One might as well try and hold lightning as review a book like that, especially ten years on.

Nor have I taken refuge in my medievalist training, and attempted a textual comparison between this, the Author's Preferred Text, which contains about 12,000 words more (about 50 pages) than the original edition. I had contemplated that, and then decided that while such an endeavour might make for a practical academic exercise, it would competely miss the point.

The point of American Gods is not the practical. It is belief.

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The American Tolkien

A Dance With DragonsIn his review of George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons for Time magazine, Lev Grossman repeats the claim that he made in 2005: that Martin is "the American Tolkien."  Grossman writes that Martin "has produced — is producing, since the series isn't over — the great fantasy epic of our era.  It's an epic for a more profane, more jaded, more ambivalent age than the one Tolkien lived in."  Unlike Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings epic where good and evil are clearly delineated, Grossman argues, in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga "it's impossible to know whom to root for."

In many regards, Grossman is right.  The moral and political complexities of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series set it apart from the much simpler world of Middle-earth where Elves are good, orcs are evil, and you know that you're rooting for the hobbits to make it to Mount Doom.  And if Grossman's claim had been that Martin is a Tolkien for our age--an age of constantly shifting alliances, moral questions where absolute right and wrong answers are elusive, and a sense that you never know where you belong--well, then I would have agreed with him.

But instead, Grossman claimed that Martin is "the American Tolkien."  And with that, I disagree.

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Bringing the fantastic to life: Jen Parrish's relics

Parrish Relics

The first beloved toy that I remember is my Fisher Price castle, whose most important resident was a smiling pink dragon with aqua ruffles and yellow dots.  Ever since those days fantasy has played a big role in my work, from stories remembered to visuals from museums and books. The Gothic arched window that the maiden looks out of from her loom; jeweled treasures found in crumbling locked chests, holding magical powers of strength and courage; talking animals--all of these made a big impact on my visual inspiration growing up.

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A book that is my heart of flesh

Tam LinI think perhaps if you are a reader, you will have books that are more than favorites. Not many, but a select set of books that you could give to someone as an introduction to who you truly are. Books that have gone beyond story, and become sacred text.

One of those books for me is Pamela Dean's Tam Lin.

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Judging a Book by Its Cover: The Snow Queen

In this column, Tia Mansouri is going to take a piece of fiction with a notable or elaborate cover and analyze it before she reads it, then compare what she expected to what actually happens and critique how she thinks the end result turned out. This month she's covering Snow Queen, by Joan D. Vinge. The cover art is by Leo and Diane Dillon, who in the illustration world are kind of a big deal, so needless to say she was excited to read the book. (Not to mention the book won the Hugo!)  We were excited too, since her book fits in very well with our theme this week of re-told fairy tales, inspired by the release of Jim C. Hines' The Snow Queen's Shadow.


The Snow QueenThe Cover: I am immediately drawn to the center of the piece, where four women’s faces align. I imagined the story would involve a strong theme of change and ascension, as the lower details invoke nature and flowers and progress higher into the pure white figure - presumably the Snow Queen herself. Because the elaborate mask shown could be either in the process of being put on the figure at the very bottom, who I assume to be the protagonist, or being taken off, I then wondered whether perhaps it is meant to be the other way around, and the Queen at the top is changing into the young girl at the bottom. The rather stylized shadow immediately to the left of the four figures has a certain Darth Vader aesthetic and I'd wager it possess a dark meaning for all of the women depicted.

Another stylized rendering of what I assume to be a city is at the bottom right, with very retro-future pod structures. There is also a woman in a space helmet, set as a counterpoint to the face inside the shadow man. A stylistic choice that charms me is how the hair and outfit of the Snow Queen further blend into the stars of the sky as a connection to space, and the leaves creating a green net for the figure at the bottom blend into the sea and the planet. The three main take home points I get from the image: this is a book about women, a book concerning masks and image, and a book about levels, be they societal, atmospheric, or existential, and the changes that bring characters from one to the next.

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