Sunday, May 5, 2013

Devil Music Web Comic?

I wrote a novel!

It's about a half-demon named Cain Pseudomantis who becomes a hair-metal rocker in 1980's Los Angeles along with his three super-powered human friends. It's pulse-pounding, hair-raising, a whole slew of similar book reviewer's favorite catchphrases, can't read it yet. I'm still searching for a publisher.

I'm also hoping to create a supplemental web comic to chronicle the further antics and drama of the band. I'm in the process of writing up the first batch of comic strip material.

Of course, web comics aren't just text; I'll need to throw a few pictures in there too. They won't be my pictures. I can't draw. That is why I'm looking to hire a part-time web comic artist on contract for the first year. I would like to have one (1) web comic created and posted per week.

Application Submission Process

To apply, please send an email to me at with:

  • "Web Comic Artist Application - Your Name" as the subject
  • A short (2-3 sentences is fine) introduction to you and your work
  • A link to or standard images (JPEG, PNG, GIF) of your portfolio
  • A description of your past experience with producing web comic art, if any (i.e. resume. You can attach an actual resume if you want, but if you don't have one lying around, something less formal is fine)

If I like what I see, then I will commission you to do some test work. If that also goes well then we can work out the contract for the first year (52 pieces). The test work will be:

  • a 1200px by 1800px 2-character image, one character in front of the other, fully colored, no background
  • a test comic strip

I am looking for a cell-shaded, moderately realistic style.  Think along the lines of GU Comics, Ctrl+Alt+Del,
or Questionable Content.

I'll update this post when my search is complete.

P.S. This is also posted:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dr. Seuss Panic Attack: Jibboo, Be Not Proud...

Once upon a time, when I was but an impressionable little child, I was innocently flipping through a Dr. Seuss book when I came face-to-face with death.

Don't believe me?

Remember this question?

"And what would you do if you met a JIBBOO?"

This enigmatic, vaguely racist-sounding query comes from the book Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! and it is accompanied by one of the most terrifying pictures it has ever been my misfortune to encounter in a children's book.

I won't post it here.  Yes, I still find it that unsettling.  Google it if you want to give yourself nightmares for a week.

No mere description will ever capture the utter creepiness of this image, but I'll try: Imagine a street running through an abandoned town.  This street is lined with the empty, decaying shells of ghostly white houses, and a pale sliver of moon glints weakly down from the night sky.  At the far end of the road stands the dark silhouette of a young boy, frozen with fear.

He is frozen with fear because of the thing that awaits him at the other end of the street.

The Jibboo--gaunt, stark-black, beaked like a vulture*--has him in its sights.  It advances on the boy, this boy who is the in-story avatar for the child-reader, with its long neck thrust eagerly forward.  It raises a long spidery arm in ghastly greeting.  There is nowhere for the boy to hide himself from its cold embrace; he is as naked and exposed in this blasted landscape as the single sickly dying plant that struggles out of the otherwise bare dirt road.

What makes this scene especially frightening is its radical shift in tone from the rest of the book. The "story" is actually a series of imagination-inspired vignettes, and all of the previous flights of fancy involved things like floating swimming pools and cute purple elephants.  The only other remotely scary things in these pages are the grumpy walruses glowering at Peter the Postman as he delivers mail to the igloo village, and even they look more like your curmudgeonly old neighbor than a genuine threat.

Then, with the flip of a page, you're staring directly into a gut-wrenching existential crisis.

And then, just to crank up the jarring factor to eleven, the narrative promptly returns to cotton-candy-sweet thoughts of pretty white horses galloping through candy cane forests.  I guess because Dr. Seuss understood that if you stare into the horror of your own mortality long enough, it stares into you.

*Incidentally, when I read The Last Battle--the final entry in the Narnia series--I realized how very much the evil god Tash looks like a de-Seussified version of the Jibboo and got traumatized all over again.  Screw you, C.S. Lewis.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Misspent Easter Sunday

I've noticed a lot of recipes for Cadbury creme egg brownies floating around the internet lately.

As usually happens when I'm confronted with a horrendous idea involving gargantuan doses of sugar and bad taste, I simply had to try it out.

The results were messy, yet colorful and festive looking.

In case you're wondering what's up with the left side of the pan, that was done for Technomancer's benefit.  He's one of those sadly disadvantaged individuals who doesn't appreciate the wondrous bundle of cheap chocolate deliciousness that is the Cadbury creme egg, so out of wifely affection* I made half the brownies with Cadbury mini eggs instead.

These are surprisingly good, and the eggs seem like they'd work with pretty much any brownie recipe.  This is the one I used:

Swedish Brownies (With Cadbury Eggs)

2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
5 generous tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 (real, from an actual chicken) eggs, beaten
6-8 Cadbury creme eggs or 1 package Cadbury mini eggs, if desired

Mix flour, sugar, salt and cocoa powder in a large bowl.  Melt butter in a large saucepan; stir in flour mixture and vanilla.  Add eggs after allowing a minute or two for batter to cool down.  Pour into a greased 8 x 8 pan.

If desired, press Cadbury eggs into batter before baking.  If using creme eggs, carefully cut them in half** and place them cut side up.

Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes.

And thus concludes my so-bad-it's-good-idea moment of the day.

Happy Easter!

*That's fancy talk for "I didn't want to end up eating an entire pan of brownies by myself."

**Cutting a Cadbury creme egg in not so simple as it sounds.  The chocolate shell cracks and warps at the slightest provocation, and the gooey fondant stuff inside wants to go all over the damn place.  Your best bet is probably to use a very sharp knife and cut right along the seam where they fused the two halves of the shell together. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Dr. Seuss Panic Attack: What If God is a Very Gullible and Somewhat Clumsy Elephant?

I never wanted to be an astronaut.

I didn't even daydream about an idealized future career as a death-defying spaceship pilot when I was a kid, though I'm pretty sure plenty of my classmates did.  My generation grew up on Star Wars and the Alien movies.  I had several classmates who owned ET dolls.

I wasn't one of them.  ET creeped the hell out of me.  But that wasn't the reason eight-year-old me wouldn't have accepted a career at NASA if it had been handed over along with a billion dollars, a live unicorn, and a lifetime supply of get-out-of-doing-math-homework-free cards.

The very idea of outer space itself scared me off.

The fear actually wasn't as intense when I was young.  Yes, I really, really disliked the idea that there was a big, black, gaping, lifeless void lurking beyond the comfy little atmosphere of this planet I call home, but I could live with it as long as it continued to stay where it was.  The night sky may have looked dark and spooky, but at least I knew it wasn't going to come down here and try to coax me into a windowless van.

It got worse as I got older and gradually developed the intellectual capacity to fully wrap my mind around how immeasurably huge space is.  How unknown and unpredictable.  How chock-full of horrendous things capable of snuffing out life as we know it on this fragile planet of ours in a heartbeat, without warning.  Sometimes I get to thinking about it, and I end up lying awake in deepening existential horror as my mind uncontrollably crowds itself with images of black holes, free-floating clouds of deadly cosmic radiation, supernovas, giant-ass meteors, and even gianter-ass solar flares.  Then I sleep through most of the next day and have to admit to myself that I didn't get any writing done and the house looks like a disaster area because I spent all night worrying about the possibility that the universe might kill us all with giant space-rocks.  

With all this in mind, what do you suppose child-me made of a certain children's book?

The one about a civilization inhabiting a tiny planet that hurtles at breakneck speed through the boundless ether, without even the small protection of being tethered more or less in one place by the gravity of a dying star.

The one in which a superior being comes to the aid of said civilization, promising to hold, protect and cherish their wayward world for all time.

The one in which said superior being is immediately beset by other, more vicious and small-minded superior beings, who tear the teeming planet away from him and callously cast it into the murky depths like the meaningless speck of dust that it is in their eyes, leaving its people to lie forgotten and abandoned in the darkness for however many years, centuries or millennia it takes for their protector to find them again.

You know which one I'm talking about.  

Yep, that's right.

Dang you, Horton Hears A Who.  Dang you straight to heck.  Not only did you speak to my fear of being an insignificant speck of dust floating through a hostile universe, you also planted the idea in my head that the greater forces controlling this universe may be sentient.  That some of them may be actively hostile.  That they may be DOING THIS SHIT ON PURPOSE.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I might as well take a nap now and get my nightmare about rogue planets out of the way as soon as possible.  I hope you're happy with yourself, you smug-ass, clover-loving pachyderm.          

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Great Mochi Ice Cream Disappointment Of '13: The Store Locator That Wasn't

Yesterday I got a hankering for mochi ice cream.

Unfortunately for me, I live in the United States and mochi ice cream isn't very widespread here.  I used to buy it from a little Asian grocery store in my hometown, but my hometown is now a fourteen-hour drive away and the only Asian grocery near me seemed to be permanently closed the last time I drove past it.  So I searched online for the company that makes the mochi ice cream, hoping to buy directly from the source.

Well, not only does the company's website have an option for direct ordering; they also have a store locator, and it just so happened that it identified a Food Emporium in the next town as a seller of their product.  I'd lucked out!

Or so it seemed.

I found no mochi ice cream at that Food Emporium.  I searched the freezer aisle twice.  I asked people.  It just wasn't there.  Fortunately they did have Cadbury creme eggs and some yummy-looking frozen samosas, so the trip wasn't a total waste of time.

When I got home with my eggs and samosas, I ran upstairs to double-check the website's store locator, thinking maybe I'd managed to write down the address of the wrong Food Emporium. Nope.  The address that popped up on my screen was the same one I'd punched into my GPS half an hour earlier.

Out of curiosity, I then entered my old zip code into the locator, the one I had shared with the Asian grocery where I used to get my mochi ice cream.

That search turned up zero matches.  I expanded it to include a ten-mile-radius, a fifty-mile-radius, a hundred-mile-radius...nothing, nada, zip.  Despite the fact that the mochi-ice-cream-selling Asian grocery was and still is less than two miles from my parents' house.

Then, as I sat scratching my head and wondering if maybe enough people in Kalamazoo somehow buy so damn much mochi ice cream that it's worth the Asian grocery owner's while to bootleg it, a tiny orange SUBMIT button at the bottom corner of the store locator screen caught my eye.  I read the message above it:

Mochi Spotter
Help us track them down by entering the address of where you saw them so we can tell others!


Are these people saying they don't know where their product is sold? Are they actually asking their customers to tell them where their own product is sold so they can tell their customers where their product is sold 

That's some major Catch-22 malarkey right there.

I mean, how does this even happen? How can a company not know where the stuff that they manufacture and sell is going? Unless they just dump big crates of it at the docks in New York and LA and let back-alley dealers sell it like heroin, they must have some sort of distribution department that keeps track of shipments and orders.  

They must also staff this department with former CIA agents who compulsively redact everything they write down.  I can't think of any other reason an actual legitimate business would ask complete strangers on the Internet which stores sell their stuff.  Congratulations, Nameless Mochi Ice Cream Purveyor.  I won't reveal your identity because I'm nice like that, but I would like you to know that you have officially broken my brain.

An injury made more painful by the lack of delicious mochi ice cream.  Which I'm frankly reluctant to order from you because I'm afraid that you'll try to get it to me by asking Internet strangers how to find my house. 


Friday, March 1, 2013

Dr. Seuss Panic Attack: The Once-ler

I've been haunted since childhood by a face I never saw.

Specifically, the face belonging to this pair of disembodied arms:

I imagine the Lorax movie that came out last year brought relief to a lot of people who read the book as children and uneasily wondered why the Once-ler never showed himself.  It brought none to me.  The backstory I'd already imagined for this enigmatic character is cemented too firmly in my mind to be replaced by simple Hollywood fluff, however well-animated that fluff may be.

A teacher read this story to my second grade class.  Like my classmates, I looked at those arms-those scrawny, gnarled, sickly-looking arms-and wondered what sort of person or thing could possibly be attached to them.  But while my classmates probably latched onto the green fur and imagined a creature that resembled the Grinch, my mind went to a much darker place.

I decided that the Once-ler must be afflicted by some sort of horrific disfiguring disease.

The more I thought about it the more sense it made.  The story begins with a flashback of the Once-ler roaming the world, hiding his face in shame beneath the protective canopy of a covered wagon.  When he first encounters the lovely Truffula trees, he is entranced.  Those soft colorful tufts draw him like a moth to the flame; he must have these beautiful trees for his own, every single one of them, for to possess them is to regain the beauty that nature stole from him.

Yet the disease that afflicts him has twisted his mind as well as his body.  His intense love of the trees is inextricably entwined with a fierce hateful envy of their physical perfection.  This darker side of him festers and grows as the Lorax shows up again and again to remind him that the trees do not truly belong to him.  In his rage he defiles as many trees as he can, hacking through their trunks with axes and twisting their tufts into hideous shapes.*  All the while he continues to lurk in the shadows of doorways and desks like a robber-baron version of the Phantom of the Opera, still too ashamed to show his face to his customers despite the growing success of his business.

Then, suddenly, it's all over.  The last Truffula tree is cut down and the Lorax disappears into the sky.  The Once-ler is left alone in the pollution-choked valley, having finally succeeded in re-shaping the landscape into a wasteland as desolate and blighted as his own body and soul.  And as he looks over his work, he mourns.  Something in him has been lost, some pure and perfect and genuine facet of himself he didn't know he possessed until it died in the muck of rotted wood and industrial waste that surrounds his factory...

Then, as the sun sets on the barren valley, something tiny and round rolls from the tuft of the fallen tree.  A single seed.  Hope courses through him as he snatches it up.  The last traces of his shame and self-hatred melt away as he carries the little living seed to his house like a holy relic; the rest of his life will be spent in nurturing and guarding it, awaiting the day when new life will rise from the ashes of his greed and misplaced anger.

And that was the backstory I came up with for the Once-ler.  Looking back, I think it was one of my earliest exercises in trusting my imagination and looking beyond the obvious while building a character.

Or maybe it was just my brain being weird and twisted enough to see a Greek-tragedy-worthy tale of obsession, ruin, redemption and late-stage syphilis in a preachy 1970's environmentalism fable written for children.

It depends on who you ask.

*I've studied that flaccid, creepy, unidentified-decomposing-medical-specimen-looking thing in the Once-ler's hands a dozen times now, and I still can't figure out how "everyone" could actually need a Thneed, let alone keep one in their houses without having nightmares about it.      

Friday, February 22, 2013

Dr. Seuss Panic Attack: The Pale Green Pants With Nobody Inside Them

Imagine you're a five-year-old flipping through a collection of stories by Dr. Seuss.  You're just chilling out in your pink stretch pants and ruffly little-girl socks, enjoying all the cool-sounding imaginary words and fun illustrations, when suddenly this assaults your senses:

I don't know about you, but when I encountered the last installment* of "The Sneetches and Other Stories," one thought flashed through my mind.  And that thought went something like this:


Reading the story through to the end did little to assuage my fear of the evil vomit-colored possessed pants.  Looking back on my childhood, I've often wondered if my reaction was unfair. After all, the pants didn't actually turn out to be evil.  The tale was a simple fable about the importance of not judging others for being different; the narrator is initially afraid of the pants and tries to avoid them, but then he discovers that they're afraid of him as well.  They both get over their fear and become friends.

Sounds innocent enough, right?

Then I read it again as an adult.

I couldn't help but notice something disturbing, something I think I subconsciously picked up on when I was little but wasn't quite worldly enough to fully recognize for the big red flag it was.

The pants seem to be following the narrator.  And they seem to be putting themselves through a good deal of inconvenience  to do so.

He first encounters them while walking through the woods at night.  Startling, I'm sure, but that could at least be a coincidence.  

The next time he sees them, they almost mow him down on a city street.  On a bicycle.  Despite the fact that, even in a Dr. Seuss book, it must be extremely difficult for a disembodied pair of pants to ride a bike.  What with their lack of hands and feet and all.

Then the narrator tries to calm his nerves with a nice fishing trip, only to see the pants rowing ominously toward him on the river, even though a boat must be as hard for animated monster-pants to pilot as a bike.  That marks the third time the pants just "happened" to be where the narrator is. It was also when I began to suspect that none of these run-ins were accidents.

The big climactic encounter confirmed my suspicions.  The narrator goes out one night** to pick "a peck of Snide."  The text doesn't make it clear what Snide is or why he needs it, but I like to think that he planned to somehow distill it into a powerful pepper-spray-like substance and take care of those pesky creep-trousers once and for all.  Anyway, the narrator makes it clear that the Snide-field is a very big place: "almost nine miles wide," to be exact.  So of course, he unsuspectingly reaches into a Snide bush and finds himself touching...

The. Pale. Green. Pants.

Nine whole miles of Snide-field, and those damn pants just had to be right there beside him.

They're always there.

Seriously, there's no way that any of this is coincidental.  There's no avoiding the ugly truth: our dear narrator is being stalked.  The only time he briefly has a moment's peace is when he eludes the pants by hiding in a Brickle bush for two nights straight.  I doubt he can make that work again, though; since the pants were present at his Snide-picking session they probably saw him emerging from his hiding place.

And by the end of the story he's played directly into their nonexistent hands.  He approaches them without fear and says "Hi" when he passes them in the street.  He's given them his trust.

Trust that will indubitably be used against him when the evil haunted pants-people of the night finally rise up and take over the world.  

*The story's official title is "What Was I Scared Of?," but it's been forever cemented in my mind as "That Creepy Friggin' Pale-Green-Pants-With-Nobody-Inside-Them Story."

**I did wonder why the narrator kept going out at night, even though it seemed pretty obvious that the pants are more active after dark.  The best I could come up with is the possibility that the species of bear (or bunny, or chinchilla, or whatever) the narrator belongs to is naturally nocturnal in its habits.  That, or he's a sucker for punishment.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lady Evil's Guide to Not-So-Good Housekeeping (Now With More Hyenas)

Technomancer keeps complaining that he can't find anything in my study.

I have no idea what he's talking about.  I can find stuff in my study just fine.  Say I need my thesaurus.*  It's right where I left it, in that pile of books and binders and papers by the table.  No, no, not the one on the table with the radio on top of it.  I'm talking about the one on the floor beside the table, the one with all the old fiber arts supplies catalogs sticking out.  It's the second item in the stack.  See? That wasn't hard.

Technomancer also complains that I let the dishes pile up, but he's exaggerating a bit.  I just did the dishes three days ago.  The dirty stuff currently sitting on the counter is barely enough for one dishwasher load. 

As you've probably guessed by now, my husband and I hold somewhat differing views on what constitutes a well-kept household.  He seems to have this strange idea in his head that everything needs to be "put away," "in order," "not festering like an old rat carcass in the kitchen sink" and all that fancy-pants jazz.  I take a more laid-back approach.**  But we can't keep living at odds. Marriage requires compromise.  

Technomancer has to learn to be less of a neatnik, and I have to learn to be less messy.

It's not going to be easy.  I've been a slob so long that it's almost ingrained into my DNA by now. Some of my fondest childhood memories are bound up in my champion slovenliness.  I remember how I used to swipe random toys from my younger siblings and hide them in my room.  Then I would take twine and wind it around all my furniture in an elaborate spider-web-like pattern to make a fun obstacle course for them to crawl through as they searched for their dolls or trucks or beanie babies in the impenetrable crust of clutter on my floor.  If they knocked down some of the twine, they had to go back to the door and start over from the beginning.  Good times, good times.

I've been working on reversing my habit of leaving things wherever for a few months now.  It's slow going, but I've been making progress.  The real problem is the dishes.  I've hated dish-duty since I was a kid and it was my household chore.  It wasn't the actual dishes themselves as the rinsing that got to me, probably because my brother would always deliberately spit on his plate to make it more disgusting to rinse.  I don't think he appreciated our little game of me stealing his shit and then making him humiliate himself to get it back.

And that, children, is why crusty dishes tend to pile up whenever I hold primary responsibility for cleaning the kitchen.  If it's a choice between rinsing dirty dishes and literally anything else--filling out tax forms, getting a pelvic exam, swine flu, you name it--those dishes are going to keep sitting there.  But since it bothers Technomancer, I have no choice.  I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and do something about it.

Fortunately for both of us, I thought I had conveniently stumbled upon a solution today while messing around online.

This article describes the unique approach the people of the Ethiopian city of Harar have taken to dealing with refuse in their streets.  Basically they entice the local hyenas into the city with food scraps after dark and let them eat every bit of edible garbage in sight.  And you know what? I'm mad that the people of Harar thought of this before I did.  A house hyena or two could strip all those ketchup splotches and cheese rinds off the plates in no time, and I bet they'd bring our garbage collection bill way down too.

The home security potential is a good angle as well.  Imagine you're a burglar.  You've just broken into my house at 2 AM.  Suddenly you hear an eerie, chuckling howl.  You turn around and see a pair of flat and murderous eyes fixed on you.  Needle-sharp white teeth glint in the dim light as it stalks steadily closer to you.  I bet you'd cut and run without touching anything.  Good luck not getting caught in the giant spider web of twine I rigged up in my study.  Technomancer says I can keep my study as messy as I want now.  That's his part of the compromise.

Then I told Technomancer that we needed to fill the house with hyenas to keep the dishes clean, and he looked at me like I was out of my mind.  I swear, there's just no pleasing some people. 

*Yes, I still own a hard-copy thesaurus.  No, it's not made of papyrus and written in ancient Greek. Yes, I know digital media is the wave of the future and all that crap, but sometimes I just like holding a real book in my hands, dammit.  Get off my lawn.

**Is it attracting pests? If yes = clean it.  If no = ignore and continue to mess around on the internet.



Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow Day

This morning I climbed a mountain to get my mail.

Before I explain that, let's go back a bit.  See, we here in the northeast United States are still recovering from the huge snowstorm that dumped two feet of cold white stuff on us this weekend.

I admit that there was much moaning and groaning in this household when the Meteorological Alarmist Squad* started reporting on the impending blizzard.  Technomancer got annoyed and stressed because he has a big work project that's already behind schedule due on Thursday.  I swore and stomped around a lot because it seemed almost certain that the storm would knock out our power, and I hate being without power with a white-hot passion usually reserved for politicians who think that women can't get pregnant from rape.  Unfortunately for us, hightailing it to Michigan to get out of the storm's path wasn't an option this time.  I went to the grocery store, grabbed up as many emergency supplies as I could carry, and hunkered down in the house with Technomancer to wait it out.

The storm came and went on Friday night, and miraculously we did not lose power for once.  But we still weren't going anywhere.  See that picture up there? Our driveway is buried somewhere under that smooth and unbroken lake of snow, and neither of us owns a Hummer.

The plow guy didn't make it to us until late Sunday.  In the meantime we kept ourselves amused as best we could; Technomancer played video games and worked on his project, and I started weaving a new piece on my loom and dug around in the back of my pantry to see if I had any weird or exotic food that I could try and post about.  There was nothing terribly unusual in there, though I did make non-alcoholic** Jello shots from some cranberry Jello and mandarin oranges I found.

Come Monday the driveway was finally plowed and I had no excuse not to bring in the mail anymore.  I threw on my big coat, struggled into my boots, and trudged all the way down our long, steep, winding and (at that moment) rather icy driveway, thinking uncharitable thoughts all the way about how cold and bulky and time-consuming and generally inconvenient a season winter is.          

Our mailbox was half-buried under a big pile of plowed snow, which I had to clamber up to get to the box.  I worried with each step that the snow would give way and suck me in up to my not-snowpants-clad knees, but it was surprisingly firm.  And while I stood there, stooping to retrieve the mail while balanced precariously on a tower of snow with cars whizzing by, I remembered something.

Mid-winter in the early Nineties.  The parking lot behind the elementary school.  It's snowed more than usual that year, and the plows have piled it all around the edges of the parking lot.  We kids technically aren't supposed to play there, but the parking lot is in full view of the playground.  Those lumpy glittering mounds of pure possibility are too much of a draw, too great a force to resist.  I'm one of the first to sneak away from the swings and monkeybars.  The world reels away beneath me as I scramble up the sheer face of the tallest part of the pile.  Nothing can stop me.  I am a mountaineer charting a vast unexplored glacier in Antarctica,  a snow leopard prowling the ridges of the Himalayas.  I'm walking the thin edge of the ice-grey sky.

That's how it felt again for that moment as I stood on my little mountain of snow with cars zooming along beneath me.  All the little annoyances and indignities of living through winter melted away.  I was the Queen of Snowdrifts, looking down on my subjects.

Then, because the universe is a big asshole sometimes, it started pouring nasty cold rain on me.  I made a mental note to put alcohol in the next batch of impromptu Jello shots.

*The Weather Channel.  I used to like them a lot better, but they've become so weird and shouty and sensationalist lately.  If TV channels were people, I think the Weather Channel would be the stodgy and respectable banker who sustained a tragic brain injury that turned him into a psychotic rambling New York subway evangelist.

**I know, I know, they're not real shots that way.  But Technomancer wouldn't help me eat them if I put alcohol in them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Amazon Roulette, Holiday Clearance Edition: Candied Cherries

I found a pile of those tubs 'o red-and-green candied cherries at the grocery store while I was shopping last week.  They were left over from Christmas and significantly marked down.  The pile was also quite big; it covered two layers of shelving, and the cherry-tubs were stacked so high on the top shelf that I had to stand on my toes to grab one.

Actually, I grabbed two--one red and one green--because I am self-destructive and very skilled at ignoring obvious signs of unpleasant things to come.

Once I got the cherries home I put off trying them for a week, choosing instead to contemplate the ineffable mysteries of the candied cherry: mysteries such as, "So who the heck keeps the candied cherry industry in business anyway?"  I know that they're a standard ingredient in fruitcake, and the tubs came with little label-sized recipe cards for candied cherry cookies and rice krispie treats with candied cherries pasted to them.  But those cards seem to be an updated version of those slapdash promotional "cookbooks" that food companies put out in the 1950's, where the sheer number of recipes some ad exec could cram the product into to prove that it was really versatile was way more important to the company than how the recipes actually tasted.  Also, I'm pretty sure I've never met anyone who's admitted to actually eating fruitcake.

Come to think of it, Technomancer is the only person I know who admits to having bought candied cherries at all.  He says that he and his mom used them one year to make "some kind of yellow cake that I think tasted all right."  He asserts that they taste better when mixed into something, but since it did not seem likely that he would be able to provide me with more details of the cake--we're talking about a man who forgot his own birthday several years in a row here--I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to try them plain.

I immediately regretted my decision.

I mean, look at these things:

Have you ever seen so-called "food" that looked more like cheap plastic in your life? Also, I found the weird, milky-looking, congealed...stuff in the bottom of the tub with the green cherries very disturbing indeed.

I opened the tubs and selected a cherry from each, and my stomach immediately started to consider defecting to another body:

They were even more disturbing when viewed individually.  Translucent, slimy and unappealingly dry at the same time, and with a texture that I can only describe as what I imagine a none-too-fresh sliver of pickled human heart must feel like.  If it weren't for the puckered crater left on the surface of each cherry where the pit was punched out in the factory, I would start to question whether these were cherries at all.

It took me a full minute to work up the courage to eat them.  Somehow I managed to convince myself that it was too late to turn back now and took a dainty bite of the red one.

My entire mouth was instantly flooded with the foulest, most awful medicinal flavor it has ever been my misfortune to experience.  It didn't taste like cherries at all.  It tasted like really bad cherry-flavored cough syrup.  As if that wasn't bad enough, the disgusting slimy-dry fleshy texture felt a hundred times grosser once I was feeling it with my mouth instead of my fingers.

The green cherry was a bit better--which came as a surprise to me because the color of it is so horrifying and unnatural that I was expecting it to be much, much worse.  As it turned out, I had half made up my mind to eat the whole cherry before the cough-syrupy aftertaste kicked in and my entire digestive system shut down in protest.

So now I know exactly what I've been missing out on by not eating these classic holiday treats: absolutely nothing.  These are not fit for human consumption.  Hell, they're probably not even cherries.  I don't know exactly what they really are, but my bets are on a condensed physical manifestation of all of humanity's vilest sins.  Or Cthulhu eggs.  Yeah, I'm actually pretty sure that they're Cthulhu eggs.

On the plus side, I think I've figured out why fruitcake is traditionally soaked in rum.  See, while the alcohol won't kill the dark life stirring in these little globs of pure evil, it will get fruitcake eaters tipsy enough to dull the pain as dozens of unspeakable monster-gods burst forth from their ruptured abdomens to rain madness down on the world.  Though I doubt that anyone who equates eating a cake studded with sinister neon-green pseudo-food with a wholesome holiday activity deserves the consideration.        

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hans Christian Andersen Beatdown: The Snow Queen, Fourth Round

Today is Hans Christian Andersen's lucky day.  I'm in a great mood from discovering a local health food store that carries amazingly delicious blueberry-flax granola, so as we wrap up this story I might just go easy on him.

Sixth Story.  The Lapland Woman and the Finland Woman

Gerda and the Reindeer take shelter for the night at a hovel belonging to "an old Lapland woman, who was dressing fish by the light of an oil lamp."  The Lapland woman listens to their story and warns them that they still have a long way to go before they reach Finland.  She writes a message on a dried haberdine and sends them along to her friend the Finland woman.

By the way, a haberdine is an Atlantic cod.  The word most often refers to one that's been salted and dried.  Another one to add to my Bananagrams arsenal.

The Finland woman's house is even more of a hovel, so much so that Gerda has to knock on the chimney because there is no door.  But the Finland woman receives them graciously, helps Gerda out of her gloves and boots and puts some ice on the Reindeer's head to help him cope with the house's warmth (wait a minute--if the house has no door, how did they get a reindeer inside? Heck, how did Gerda get inside?  Did she climb down the chimney, or was there a window she could squeeze through?) and reads the message on the dried fish.

I do like this passage:

"She read it three times: she then knew it by heart; so she put the fish into the cupboard--for it might very well be eaten, and she never threw anything away."

Grandpa? Is that you in another life?

I like details like that; simple little gestures that speak volumes about a character without being in-your-face about it.

The Finland woman seems to be what Medieval peasants would have tactfully called a "wise woman" (i.e. a witch who specializes in healing and fertility magic) and as such is the first person in the story able and willing to tell Gerda what the problem is: Kay still has those darn splinters in his eye and heart, and he won't start acting like a human being again until they're removed.  She also reveals that Gerda can save him, but only if she does it by herself:

"Two miles hence the garden of the Snow Queen begins; thither you may carry the little girl.  Set her down by the large bush with red berries, standing in the snow; don't stay talking, but hasten back as soon as possible."

Gerda and the Reindeer start off right away.  Unfortunately HCA doesn't seem to think Gerda has suffered enough yet; they are in such a hurry to leave that they forget Gerda's gloves and boots, and instead of taking the time to go back and get them they run straight to the bush with red berries and leave Gerda standing barefoot in the snow.  Oh, and on top of everything else, she gets attacked by the Snow Queen's army of snowflake-monsters:

"They had the most wondrous shapes; some looked like large ugly porcupines; some like snakes knotted together, with their heads sticking out; and others, again, like small fat bears, with the hair standing on end..."

But it's all good, because Gerda recites the Lord's Prayer, and a gang of angels appears to beat up the snowflake-monsters and magically help Gerda tolerate the cold better.

Oh sure, now the angels decide to get off their mean, holier-than-thou feathered butts and help.  There must be absolutely nothing on TV in heaven tonight.

Seventh Story. What Took Place in the Palace of the Snow Queen, and what Happened Afterward

This last part has some of the best description and the coolest setting in the whole story.

It also has some of the bits that annoy me most.

On the one hand, I love Andersen's conception of the Snow Queen's palace:

"The walls of the palace were of driving snow, and the windows and doors of cutting winds.  There were more than a hundred halls there...The largest was many miles in extent; all were lighted up by the powerful Aurora Borealis, and all were so large, so empty, so icy cold, and so resplendent!...In the middle of the endless, empty hall of snow, there was a frozen lake; it was cracked in a thousand pieces, but each piece was so like the others, that it seemed the work of a cunning artificer.  In the middle of this lake sat the Snow Queen when she was at home..."

This passage is so evocative.  I can vividly see this huge tomb-like palace of dead-white snow lit by the unearthly glow of the northern lights.  I can feel the cold and desolation and danger.  Or I could, if this weren't plunked down smack dab in the middle of it:

"Mirth never reigned there; there was never even a little bear-ball, with the storm for music, while the polar bears went on their hindlegs and showed off their steps.  Never a little tea-party of white young lady foxes..."

Damn it, HCA.  There's a time and a place to be cute and cozy and cartoony, and there are also times and places when being cute and cozy and cartoony ruins the mood.

Then we get to the climax of the story.  Gerda finally finds Kay, but it seems that rescuing him will be difficult considering the state he's in:

"Little Kay was quite blue, yes nearly black with cold; but he did not observe it, for she had kissed away all feeling of cold from his body, and his heart was a lump of ice.  He was dragging along some flat pointed pieces of ice, which he lay together in all possible ways, for he wanted to make something with them..."

When Gerda comes running into the room and calls his name, he doesn't recognize her.  He keeps listlessly dragging his puzzle pieces around the floor like a little zombie, intent on spelling the word "eternity" with them because the Snow Queen has promised him wonderful prizes if he manages it...the catch being that the pieces of ice are shaped in such a way that it's impossible to do this.  That is wonderfully creepy.

Gerda accidentally manages to bring Kay's memory back when she realizes that he doesn't remember her and starts crying.  Her tears melt the splinter in Kay's heart, whereupon he starts crying himself and melts the splinter in his eye.

So now Gerda has found Kay and helped bring him back to his senses.  That means they're ready to face the Snow Queen together, right? I mean, surely she won't give up her little zombified ice-slave without a fight.


Actually she does.

In fact, the Snow Queen doesn't even appear in the final chapter.  She's ducked out to stir up some flurries in the mountains of Italy and left Kay behind, and Gerda sneaks into the palace while she's gone.  Then, after they've exhausted themselves dancing for joy, the children lie down in the middle of the discarded ice-puzzle and discover that their bodies are the missing pieces needed to solve it.  Then they triumphantly sneak out of the palace before she gets back.  Oh well, discretion is the better part of valor, I suppose.  Or of heroes who skulk anticlimactically out the back door, thus depriving readers of an exciting showdown with the big bad.  I  get those two mixed up a lot.

The Reindeer meets them at the bush where he left Gerda and carries them to the Finland woman and the Lapland woman, who warm the children up and give them provisions for the journey home.  Then they set out again and SHRIIIEEEEKKK OMG YOU GUYS THE ROBBER-MAIDEN IS BACK:

"...out of the wood came, riding on a magnificent horse...a young damsel with a bright-red cap on her head, and armed with pistols.  It was the little robber maiden, who, tired of being at home, had determined to make a journey to the north...She recognized Gerda immediately, and Gerda knew her too.  It was a joyful meeting.
'You are a fine fellow for tramping about,' said she to little Kay; 'I should like to know, faith, if you deserve that one should run from one end of the world to the other for your sake?'"

AAAAAHHHH she's throwing a stiff middle finger to convention and riding out into the world to have adventures like a champ, and when she meets Gerda again she's all like, "My best friend ran all the way to Finland to save your sorry ass, boy, so you'd better treat her right" to Kay, and everything is sunshine and rainbows and...


(Pats hair.)

As you can probably tell, I liked this part a lot.

This part, not so much:

"'Oh! The Raven is dead,' she answered.  'His tame sweetheart is a widow, and wears a bit of black worsted around her leg; she laments most piteously, but it's all mere talk and stuff!"

That was...unnecessary.  I guess Andersen couldn't write a passable happy ending until he got that urge to kill something innocent out of his system.

Gerda and Kay take their leave of the robber-maiden and make it home to their families, realizing once they get there that they've grown up on the journey, while still retaining a sense of childlike wonder.

Conclusion:  I distinctly remember a scene at the end of this tale where Kay and Gerda explicitly faced the Snow Queen and won.  Maybe it was a TV special or play that I saw at a very young age and only partially absorbed.  I don't know.  The point is, I was expecting it to be there, and found myself feeling a bit jarred and cheated when it wasn't.

There are some aspects of it that haven't aged well.  I'm pretty sure I found some of the cutesier elements grating even when I was a kid, and the whole thing about the source of Gerda's strength being the fact that she's "a sweet and innocent child" doesn't quite sit right with me.  It almost seems to downplay her persistence in the face of adversity, her unwavering determination to find her lost friend no matter what scary obstacles she encountered on the way.  Also, I'm pretty sure the little match-girl was a sweet and innocent child too, and she freaking froze to death in an alley.

That said, there was also plenty of good stuff here.  I loved the imagery of the Snow Queen's palace, the creepy dreamlike feel of some of Gerda's journey, and of course the character of the robber-maiden.  It's also fairly impressive that this story features a heroine who sets out into the world by herself, with nothing except her dedication to saving her friend to sustain her, and instead of being punished for running off, is openly praised for her knack at getting "through the world barefooted," as the Finland woman would say.

All in all, I'd say HCA wins this one.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Amazon Roulette, Round V: Quail Eggs

I asked Technomancer if he'd like to help out with this post.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  I found these quail eggs at the grocery store.  Want to try one?

Technomancer:  (Looks at eggs like they're a bucket of rancid cat vomit.)  Ummm...why did you buy those?

Me:  Well...I've never had them before, and they weren't too expensive.

Technomancer:  You've never had a giant slab of rotting whale blubber either.  If the grocery store had giant slabs of rotting whale blubber, and was selling them for a reasonable price, would you buy and eat one?

Me:  Hmm...probably not.  I don't think I could carry one out to the car by myself.

And so it came to pass* that Technomancer bowed out, and I ate the quail eggs all by myself.  But he didn't particularly need to bow out, because really, they're just eggs.

Really and truly.  The white has the same flavor and consistency as a chicken's egg white; I thought the yolk seemed creamier and a bit milder than a chicken's egg yolk, but the taste was still essentially the same.  The appearance of the things is what makes them so amusing:

That's a quarter hanging out up there with the loose egg, for size comparison.

I was also quite pleasantly surprised to discover how well they match the countertops:


Preparation is pretty simple.  Basically you boil them for five minutes, and then soak them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and loosen the shells.

That's a bag of frozen broccoli under my "ice" bath.  I realized about three minutes into the boiling that there was no ice in the freezer.

These eggs have pretty thin shells.  I was a bit concerned about breakage when I first started handling them, but they held up pretty well, with only one (slightly) broken one out of a package of fifteen.  They also have a fairly thick membrane under that shell, which made peeling surprisingly hard and left me with very few peeled eggs photogenic enough to appear in the final illustration:

There's that quarter again.

So what's the verdict?  Weeeellllll....I do love me a good hard boiled egg now and then, and these were delicious with a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper, but there's a reason I've only ever seen a single quail egg on a plate at once, as part of a garnish to a fancy meal.  It's an awful lot of work for a payoff that's a mere third the size of a chicken egg and is easily gobbled down in a single bite.

On the other hand, the yolk seems to make up a more hefty percentage of these eggs' contents than a chicken yolk.  As someone who's been known to rescue yolks from recipes that call only for whites so she can boil and eat them, that's a very good thing indeed.

*I should probably just stop prefacing invitations for Technomancer to try something with statements like, "So I bought this on the internet..." or "I've never tried this before but it was on sale at the Asian market..."  It seems to put him on edge somehow.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hans Christian Andersen Beatdown: The Snow Queen, Third Round

Note: For my last two posts on this story, I was mostly working from a fairly condensed version I found in a book at my in-laws' house.  I didn't feel comfortable borrowing the book, though, since it's an out-of-print antique, part of a set, and my in-laws live literally on the other side of the country, so I would have worried about something happening to it in transit.  Now that I'm home again, I'll have to make do with this full version from  It has some interesting stuff the short version doesn't have, but it is also very florid.  Expect longer quotes from now on, with more ellipses riddling them.

Fifth Story: The Little Robber-Maiden

As I suspected in my last post, Gerda's flashy golden carriage turns out to be a very bad idea.  As she drives through a dark wood, a band of robbers (predictably) attacks her, chases away the servants the Prince and Princess sent along with her, and proceeds to steal all her stuff.

But these aren't just any robbers.  They have a cannibal bearded lady among their number.  For realsies:

"'How plump, how beautiful she is! She must have been fed on nut kernels,' said the old female robber, who had a long, scrubby beard, and bushy eyebrows that hung down over her eyes.  'She is as good as a fatted lamb! How nice she will be!'  And then she drew out a knife, the blade of which shone so that it was quite dreadful to behold."

But it's all good, because now we get to meet THE BEST HCA CHARACTER EVER:

"'Oh!' cried the woman at the same moment, for she had been bitten in the ear by her own little daughter, who hung at her back; and who was so wild and unmanageable, that it was quite amusing to see her."

The robber-woman's daughter distracts her mother to keep her from killing Gerda, since she has her heart set on keeping Gerda around as a companion.  At her demand, "for she was very spoiled and very headstrong," the robbers relent and take Gerda back to the ruined castle they use as their base of operations:

"They were in the midst of the courtyard of a robber's castle.  It was full of cracks from top to bottom; and out of the openings magpies and rooks were flying; and the great bull-dogs, each of which looked as if he could swallow a man, jumped up, but they did not bark, for that was forbidden."

I wish I knew how to make a dog understand that barking was forbidden.  I could see where it would be a very useful trick if you're a robber and want fierce dogs to guard your loot but don't want their barking to attract unwanted attention to your hideout, or if you just find the sound of a dog barking to be pull-your-hair-out annoying like I do.

Also, I wonder if Andersen was thinking of a mastiff or some other ginormous hunting dog and whoever translated the story got it wrong.  When I read this scene and pictured an English bulldog in my mind, I didn't really think, "totally looks like it can swallow a man whole" so much as, "totally looks like it could do some fairly significant damage to a man's ankles and lower calf, if it can catch him on its tent-peg-like little stub-legs."

But anyway, we've gotten off track.  Back to the Best Character in the Andersenverse.

While the adult robbers drink and roast up some wild game for dinner, the robber-maiden introduces Gerda to her many pets:

"They had something to eat and drink; and then they went into a corner, where straw and carpets were lying.  Beside them, on laths and perches, sat nearly a hundred pigeons, all asleep, seemingly; but yet they moved a little when the robber maiden came.  'They are all mine,' said she, at the same time seizing one that was next to her by the legs and shaking it so that its wings fluttered.  'Kiss it,' cried the little girl, and flung the pigeon in Gerda's face."

Tee hee, one of my sisters used to do something like that when she was younger.  She would suddenly shove a picture or a toy right up against the bridge of your nose while loudly telling you to look at it, whip it away two seconds later, and then yell at you for not looking at it properly.  Good times, good times.

The robber-maiden also has a larger, more exotic pet:

"...and she laid hold of the horns of a reindeer, that had a bright copper ring round its neck, and was tethered to the spot.  'We are obliged to lock this fellow in too, or he would make his escape.  Every evening I tickle his neck with my sharp knife; he is so frightened at it!' and the little girl drew forth a long knife, from a crack in the wall, and let it glide over the Reindeer's neck.  The poor animal kicked; the girl laughed, and pulled Gerda into bed with her."

Fearful because the robber-maiden sleeps with said knife in her hand as "there is no knowing what may happen," Gerda cannot sleep and passes the time by asking the captive animals if they have seen Kay.  Fortunately for her, they know where the Snow Queen dwells:

"'She is no doubt gone to Lapland [said the Wood-pigeon]; for there is always ice and snow there.  Only ask the Reindeer, who is tethered there.'
 'Ice and snow is there! There it is, glorious and beautiful!' said the Reindeer.  "One can spring about in the large shining valleys! The Snow Queen has her summer-tent there; but her fixed abode is high up toward the north pole, on the island called Spitzbergen.*'"

Gerda relays this information to the robber-maiden in the morning.  The two of them wait until the male robbers go out for the day and the robber-woman falls asleep by the fireside.  Then the robber-maiden provides Gerda with warm clothes and food for the journey, helps her onto the Reindeer's back, and sends her on her way to Lapland to rescue Kay:  

"'I can't bear to see you fretting,' said the little robber maiden.  'This is just the time when you ought to look pleased.  Here are two loaves and a ham for you, so that you won't starve.'  The bread and the meat were fastened to the Reindeer's back; the little maiden opened the door, called in all the dogs, and then with her knife cut the rope that fastened the animal, and said to him, 'Now, off with you; but take good care of the little girl!'"

Then Gerda rides the Reindeer off into the forest under the northern lights, leaving the robber-maiden behind...too soon, in my opinion.

I was completely blown away when I encountered this character.  I didn't remember this chapter from my childhood at all (it's possible that whoever read the story to me skipped or glossed over it to avoid giving me ideas) so the robber-maiden was an utterly unexpected treat.  Not just because she's so much more vivid and lively than any of Andersen's rosy-cheeked hyper-pure heroines, either.

What I really love about her is that she actually acts like a real kid--impulsive, boisterous, loud-laughing, unabashedly covetous of pretty shiny things, a bit too rough in her attempts to love her animals, capable both of threatening to kill her friends and of generously giving up food, clothes and her prized pet reindeer to help them out in a tight spot.  It feels more natural when she does these things, too; while Inger's torturing of insects in The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf felt almost like she was doing it because the author thought she should, so she could be punished for it, the robber-maiden's terrorizing of her pets seems to be more of an outgrowth of her wild, untamed personality.  Also, this:

"She now jumped out of bed, flew to her mother; with her arms round her neck, and pulling her by the beard, said, 'Good morrow, my sweet nanny-goat of a mother.'  And her mother took hold of her nose, and pinched it till it was red and blue; but this was all done out of pure love." at once the most hilarious and the most genuine and honest-feeling portrayal of parent-child affection I've encountered in any of Andersen's work.

I almost wish there had been two reindeer tethered up in the robber's castle, so that the robber-maiden could ride off with Gerda and they could have all sorts of cool and weird adventures on their quest to rescue Kay from the Snow-Queen.

I'll stop here for now, in case I encounter anything reprehensible in the last two installments of the story.  After reading this chapter, I don't think I can be angry with Andersen for a while.

*Fun fact of the day: Spitzbergen is a real place.  Not only is it the biggest island of Norway's Svalbard archipelago; it's also the only permanently populated one.  It supports typically arctic wildlife such as reindeer, polar bears and arctic foxes.  Wikipedia doesn't say whether the reindeer are capable of understanding and speaking human languages, or whether the Snow Queen's palace is a popular tourist destination.



Friday, January 4, 2013

Hans Christian Andersen Beatdown: The Snow Queen, Second Round

Remember how the heroines of the previous HCA stories I read never actually got to do anything about their fate?

How what tiny actions they were allowed to take basically served the purpose of killing time until the cold embrace of death finally freed them from the relentless lifelong punishment heaped on them for relatively minor infractions? You know, that thing HCA just sort of does?

That's not exactly what happens next in this story.

I can't begin to tell you what a relief that is.

Third Story: Of the Flower Garden At the Old Woman's Who Understood Witchcraft

"But what became of little Gerda when Kay did not return? Where could he be? Nobody knew.  All the other boys could tell her was that they had seen him tie his sledge to another large and splendid one, which drove down the street and out of the town.  Little Gerda wept long and bitterly."

But she doesn't sit around feeling sorry for herself for long.  Unlike Andersen's other heroines, Gerda has a plan.  She puts on her best shoes and goes down to the river, thinking that Kay might have fallen in:

"'Is it true that you have taken my little playfellow?' she asked.  'I will make you a present of my red shoes, if you will give him back to me.'"

It's a rather...odd...plan.  I'm not sure what the river would want with a pair of little girl's shoes, even if it were holding drowning victims for ransom.  But at least she's trying to do something, dammit.

Gerda thinks she sees the waves of the river nodding as she makes the offer, so she tosses her shoes into the water.  When the current carries them back to shore she thinks she hasn't thrown them in far enough, and swipes a nearby boat to take them further out.  But the boat drifts away in the current with her inside it, and she seems not to know how to swim:

"Little Gerda began to cry; but no one heard her except the Sparrows.  So she sat quite still with only her stockings on.  Her little red shoes swam behind, but they could not catch the boat; it went so much faster than they."

She floats on, comforting herself with the thought that the river might take her to Kay, until she passes a strange cottage guarded by two wooden soldiers:

"Gerda called to them, for she thought they were alive; but they, of course, did not answer.  As the stream drove the boat quite near the land, she called out louder still and then an old woman came out of the cottage, leaning upon a crooked stick.  She wore a large broad-brimmed hat which was painted with the most beautiful flowers."

The old woman rescues Gerda from the river and gives her shelter in the cottage.  And here we come to a part of the story that really bothered me when I read it as a child, though I couldn't quite articulate why back then.

Revisiting it as an adult, I think the problem lies in the fact that we're not supposed to sympathize with the old woman.  After all, she is a witch who uses magic to make Gerda temporarily forget about Kay.  Once Gerda's memory returns thanks to the roses in the cottage's garden and she resumes her quest, we never see or hear about the old woman again.  She serves no purpose in the story except as a minor bump in the road of Gerda's quest to find Kay.

But here's the thing.  The old woman doesn't want to keep Gerda so she can eat her, or enslave her, or any of the usual evil stepmother/old witch in the forest nasty deeds.  She wants to keep Gerda because she has "often longed for such a dear little girl." She's going about it in exactly the wrong way, of course; but there is no indication in the text that the old woman is motivated by anything more sinister than a desire to have a daughter of her own and to do whatever she can to make said daughter happy.

She wants to keep Gerda because she's lonely.

And who wouldn't be, in her position? She lives in a cottage far removed from the village; Gerda seems to have traveled quite a distance before stumbling upon it.  The wooden soldiers seem to be the only thing resembling regular human contact she has, and they're, you know, made of wood.  Hell, the soldiers might be there in the first place because regular human contact flat-out isn't available to this woman; it isn't quite clear what time this story takes place in, but I'm pretty sure that old women who were a bit "off" socially or were suspected of possessing "suspicious abilities" were in significant danger of meeting a gruesome fiery end, or at the very least being beaten and run out of town.  She may already have been beaten and run out of town.  Maybe she wants Gerda so badly because she already does have a daughter out there somewhere, a daughter now forbidden to associate with her ever since the old woman's former husband discovered his wife's odd talents, drove her out of the house, and dedicated the rest of his life to bullying and beating "the sin of witchcraft" out of his little girl lest she end up like her freak of a mother...

Okay, now I've made myself sad.  I won't dwell any more on this part of the story except to note that Gerda has a very long-winded, disjointed and surreal conversation with the flowers in the old woman's garden that most abridged versions of the story seem to leave out.  It's worth reading, if you're up for a spot of brain-hurt.

Fourth Story: The Prince and Princess

Once Gerda continues her quest, she meets a helpful raven who thinks he might have seen Kay:

"The Raven nodded very gravely, and said, 'It may be--it may be!'
 'What! do you really think so?' cried the little girl, and she nearly smothered the Raven with kisses.
 'Gently, gently,' said the Raven.  'I think I know; I think that it may be little Kay.  But now he has           forgotten you for the Princess.'"

Gerda continues on anyway, confident that a little thing like a fabulously wealthy girlfriend with a royal title won't get in the way of winning back her man.  Certainly can't fault her for lack of confidence and bravado, which isn't such a bad thing for a girl-hero from an author who doesn't really do spunky, driven girl-heroes very well.

With the help of the friendly Raven's girlfriend (henfriend? What are female ravens called, anyway?), a tame pet who lives in the palace, Gerda manages to sneak into the very bedroom of the Prince and Princess.

"At last they came to a room where the ceiling was made of great leaves of glass; from this were hung by golden ropes two beds, each shaped like a lily.  One was white, and in this lay the princess; the other was red, and it was here that Gerda hoped to find little Kay.  She bent back one of the red leaves, and saw a brown neck--O, that was Kay! She called him quite loudly by name, and held the lamp toward him--he awoke, turned his head, and--it was not little Kay at all!"

Turns out the Raven saw him at a distance, and thought he kinda roughly fit the description Gerda gave of Kay...and that was good enough.  Oops. that Gerda's broken and entered into the palace and inadvertently harassed the Prince, she's going to have a real adventure, right? I hope those friendly ravens are handy with a set of lockpicks, or she'll be in the dungeon for a long time.

Except this happens instead:

"'Poor little thing!' said the Prince and Princess, and they put Gerda to bed...The next day she was dressed from head to foot in silk and velvet.  They offered to let her stay at the palace, and lead a happy life; but she would not.  She begged to have a little carriage with a horse in front, and a small pair of shoes, so that she should go forth in the wide world and look for Kay."

The Prince and Princess are apparently the nicest monarchs in human history.  They give her the things she asks for, in a supremely grand and impractical way; the carriage is made of pure gold and lined on the inside with sugar plums and gingerbread, and the coachman and footmen are outfitted with gold crowns.  So, basically flashy ostentatious gold everywhere.  Sounds like the whole getup would be awfully tempting for highwaymen and robbers...  

(Peeks ahead at material for next post)

Fifth Story: The Little Robber-Maiden 


Hmm.  Maybe the Prince and Princess aren't so nice after all.  Maybe they've just come up with a clever way of saving dungeon space.