Princess Mononoke Review by Alexandra Seidel

Princess Mononoke
Reviewed by Alexandra Seidel

Princess Mononoke was released 1997 in Japan (1999 inNorth America) and has since received much praise from critics. It was created by Miyazaki Hayato of Studio Ghibli.

This review contains as few spoilers as possible so you can still enjoy the movie in case you haven’t seen it yet.

Here is what Princess Mononoke is: raw and beautiful, painful to watch at times, bitter, cathartic. It is set in medieval Japan, the Muromachi period to be precise. The viewer sees the old clash with the new, human evolution, especially the development of mining and firearms, are pitted against unrestrained nature. What is interesting about Mononoke is that the forces of nature come to us in the traditional shapes that Japanese folklore has long assigned them, gods and spirits who inhabit and give life to trees and living creatures as well as the land itself. In Japanese, these are referred to as “mononoke.”

InMiyazaki’s creation, these mononoke though are decidedly not apart from the world of humans, and they are certainly concerned about what happens in this world. Their concern however turns to active hostility as humans continue to disregard them. In the middle of the conflict between the ancient spirits of the land and the human’s desire to move forward no matter the cost, we find San, a young woman who was adopted into a family of spirit wolves. As such, she represents the old way of life, for she is the person who is most closely connected with the mononoke. In the human corner, if you will, there is Lady Eboshi, a forceful woman who is made great by her compassion for the pariahs of society. She is the kind of person whose vision is a better life for all people, no matter where they come from. These two extremes are bridged in the movie by the young Ashitaka who is himself an outsider. It is through his eyes that we can see the good, but also the faults in both sides, and just like him, we find ourselves hoping that there is a way to resolve the conflict without everything going up in flames, without terribly losses for both sides.

Princess Mononoke may not be the most current anime production there is, but the issues raised here are issues that every generation has to discover anew for itself: part with the old and look only ahead or honor custom and ritual. Only the problem is, things are never that easy, and this is what Monononke shows us in its relentless visual language, so if you are up for that and have not yet seen Princess Mononoke, I recommend that you have at it.

Alexandra Seidel is a Rhysling nominated poet, writer, and editor. She has a powerful affection for the unreal and strange, the weird, the wicked, and naturally, the beautiful. She loves speculative writing because all these things come together there with the power to create universes. Oh, she also likes tigers, who doesn’t.

Alexa’s work has appeared in Jabberwocky, Strange Horizons, Goblin Fruit, and elsewhere. Her first book, “All Our Dark Lovers,” is forthcoming in 2013 from Morrigan Books. She is the poetry editor for Niteblade and the managing editor of Fantastique Unfettered. You can read her blog (which she really tries to update once or twice a month) at or follow her on Twitter @Alexa_Seidel.

Tad Williams’ The War of the Flowers by Miya Kressin

Tad Williams’ The War of the Flowers

by Miya Kressin

What would you do to stay alive? Would you abandon your world, your friends? Would you leave everything behind because what was in front of you was far less deadly than where you were, even if “tamer” or even “less frightening” could never apply? Would you destroy half your race just to create a world safe for you? Would you steal a child?

“We are none of us promised anything but the last breath we take, Theo Vilmos.” ~Mud Bug Button

For power? Would you kill friends or family? If you had the ability, would you use ancient magics banned by your society to destroy them? Would you destroy your way of life and force your way into unknown waters for the sake of a chance at being the new royalty? Would you create a changeling?

What about for love? Would you let your dreams die to keep your loved one? Would you try so hard only to find you were going the wrong way? Would you give up your world for love? Your family? Would you sentence a child to die for just a chance at saving your love? Would you make a bargain with your soul — or at least your body — as the wager?

“If you swear an oath here then you had better fulfill it or you will definitely reap the consequences and they will be unpleasant in some particularly apt way.” ~Remover of Inconvenient Obstacles

Bargains are dangerous everywhere, but none more so than Faerie. Your word is your life. At times, someone else’s word is your life. Promises have far reaching consequences — some bad, others equally good. Being ignorant of the wager you make does not change the fact that you made it. Perhaps you crossed a creek without asking permission of its guardians and found yourself owing a favor to the nymphs.

Or maybe you were just clueless in general until your life was on the line. That was Theo’s story. Theo Vilmos starts off as thirty-year-old lead singer who can’t even claim to being a “has been.”  He’s a never-was who squandered his talent. Before life took its toll on Theo, he was known for his potential. But, potential and talent alone won’t get you where you need to be if you don’t have the drive to reach for your dreams and get your hands dirty with the hard work to get there.

After two devastating blows dropped him to an all-time low, Theo left his mother’s house as it had never felt like home and the city behind to rent a cabin up in the forested mountains and take time to think. In his quiet moments, he began reading the odd memoir written by his mother’s late uncle who believed he had visited the magical world of Faerie.  From the moment he began the odd hunt to find what an inherited safety deposit box key may hold for him (an odd novel that seemed as much memoir as it was fantasy,) Theo lost his tremulous hold on the mortal world.

In Tad Williams’ The War of the Flowers, multiple stories are spun onto the same intricate thread, stories I will attempt to share glimpses of without also giving spoilers. Love, power, and survival dance together to a beautiful dirge foretelling the destruction of an entire realm, and the reader is left uncertain if it will be the mortal world or Faerie. Maybe it should be Faerie. The magical realm is nothing like the childhood images of happy, winged creatures dancing through fields of flowers. Their own legends tell of a time like that before the King and Queen left, leaving another sort of flower important.

The Flowers are families comprising a sub-race of fae who are in charge of the politics, power (our idea of magic is their science,) and the social hierarchy. The closer a creature is to looking mortal, the higher one ranks in the political games, going so far as to cut off wings and dye their hair or eyebrows to appear more human.

“Oh, the color? It’s nothing—they were always white like this. I decided to stop dyeing them, that’s all. To stop pretending I wasn’t a Thornapple.” ~Poppy Thornapple.

The first fae Theo met, however, were nothing like the Flowers, nor were they as pleasant. While Applecore is a sprite—a tiny, winged being capable of casting magic charms like most other fae—she is far from the Tinkerbell character we’ve long associated with those like her. With a mouth like a sailor and an even sharper temper, ‘Core is loyal even if she’s bitchy.

“Tell you what, boyo, I’m trying to save your life and you’re not helping. Maybe I should take one of these sticks and lodge it up your back passage. That’d make you walk slow enough.” ~Applecore

A sharp-tongued sprite was far from his worse worries however. It was the irrha, a “corruption of moonlight”dark spirit sent by the Flowers to bring Theo across without consent, who freezes you to the spot, pushing you to keep reading to ensure that the protagonist isn’t caught. You’re first introduced to the irrha when it kills a mortal and steals its deformed body in its mindless attempt to catch the Theovilmos creature.

In his attempts to avoid this irrha, Theo and Applecore begin a journey through Faerie that not only takes them to the City (the only city) but also takes them on a journey into the soul of a man who is not quite what he seems. Events set into motion before he was born became the ones that would eventually lead to changing his home world into one that would never be the same. In a story where our world and Faerie have made several intimate exchanges of souls, identifying one’s true state becomes harder and harder.

“Black iron, you’re a mortal!”

“No. Well, sort of. It’s a long story. Do you want to hear it?” ~Poppy and Theo

While wandering New Erewhon, Theo is taken to the nautilus shell shaped City, where he wanders from the outlying counties named for trees (Rowan and Birch are two of the most often named) and into spiraled city districts. Entering in Sunrise, Theo and Applecore go on a journey through Morning Sky and Forenoon and all the way into Eventide and Moonlight. It is the eventual journey to the Midnight realm as he meets the voice of his nightmares where Theo must make a decision between life, love, and power. Which will he choose?  If you could only have one, or prevent another from having them at great personal cost, which would you choose? What bargain would you make?

The War of the Flowers, where you shouldn’t make a bargain unless you’re guaranteed the desired outcome and are willing to pay any price.

Miya Kressin is an author, mother, caffeine addict, wife, and fiber artist- though not necessarily in that order. When not playing with her three daughters  (a 7 y/o and twin 4 y/os,) Miya can be found writing or working her way through a stack of random crafts and art projects if she can get pulled away from her gaming fun.

Her novel The Changeling’s Champion was released by The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House in 2010 and has since been picked up for a second edition by Exciting Press. Exciting Press has also picked up her fantasy trilogy The Island.

#12 & #13: Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away

Two of Miyazaki’s most beloved and adored movies today: Mononoke and Spirited Away. So much love.


To all those celebrating Litha today, check out Jodi Lee’s wonderful post from last year: “Litha — Night of the Fae“.

Midsummer love to all. And on a more secular note… - Let's enjoy a day that's longer than others for reasons that don't involve having a terrible hangover

War for the Oaks Review by Meghan Brunner

War for the Oaks Review

by Meghan Brunner

Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks is often considered the founding work of Urban Fantasy (aka Modern Fantasy or Magical Realism), and it’s easy to see why. Aside from being a damn good read, it takes all the elements you’d expect from a fairy tale and weaves them skillfully with lovingly rendered descriptions of downtown Minneapolis. The places are real; you can visit them, they look and feel just as she says, and as a consequence you can very easily believe that everything Bull describes happened right there and just like that.

As the title suggests, the tale centers around conflict, in this case between the seelie and unseelie Courts for control of Minneapolis. (The oaks, however, are metaphorical; if any are mentioned in the book, it is only in passing. It’s not even certain that oaks are the predominant tree in Minneapolis, though it can easily be argued that “War for the Ashes” would have a far different connotation and “War for the Maples” just doesn’t sound as cool.)

The Fae’s primary problem is that, as immortals, they are notoriously hard to kill and often make war for sport. To ensure that both sides abide by the outcome of the battles, they must bind a human to the cause, thus bringing bring the power of mortality to the battlefield and elevating the dispute from the typical bloodless territorial squabble. Enter Eddi McCandry, out-of-work wannabe rockstar and reluctant hero drafted to a cause that, she hadn’t realized existed. Her life turns into a strange duality: under attack by the unseelie court, who are none too fond of this bloodshed-in-battle idea; under guard by a seelie phouka who is mischievous and eloquent by turns, all the while she’s trying to start a new band so she can do mundane things like pay the rent and buy groceries. The two aspects of her life refuse to stay separate, though. Try as she might, she can’t keep her friends free of the conflict, and not only does her musical life begin to seep into her interactions with the Fae, the Fae begin to creep into her band as well.

As one might expect with a book written about a band, there are a lot of descriptions of the music. It’s easy to start skimming the text as soon as someone picks up a guitar, but the subtle changes in description are the primary means by which the author conveys development in not only the dynamic between the band members, but in Eddi’s mood and newfound abilities. More distracting is the frequent dropping of song titles, which can be off-putting to anyone not familiar with pop hits of the 1980’s. Eddi’s original lyrics are rendered in full, but without the tune to go with them, they feel a little flat. (Thankfully there’s a cure for that: the author recorded them with the now-defunct band Cats Laughing, and through the wonders of Amazon MP3, they can be found on their album Another Way to Travel and are quite good. It’s easy to see why the Fae picked Eddi.)

There are also a lot of descriptions of clothing; nearly every character receives an account of what they’re wearing whenever they show up (or change clothes mid-scene). To those who are interested in fashion, this is a nice touch; to others it might seem excessive. In either case, most of the clothes are very dated, which anchors the tale firmly to the 1980’s. No airy “long-ago-and-far-away” for this story.

Where the author shines most is her description of magic. Her rendering of the denizens of both courts is wholly believable, and somehow she makes them seem ancient, yet not at all out-of-place in the modern setting in which they find themselves. With the host of legends at her disposal, Bull picks just enough detail from just enough different Fae creatures to lend a sense of the diversity of their ilk without becoming overwhelming. Nor are they the cute critters you’d find in Disney movies and romantic poems; at her first meeting, Eddi describes them as creatures with their roots in horror films… and those are the good guys. Bull also gives a good primer on the hows and whys of Fae culture; if you’ve ever wondered why you shouldn’t thank them or what you ought to require as surety before going alone to speak with the Queen of Air and Darkness, you’ll have your answer right from the horse’s (er, phouka’s) mouth.

Neither is her magic limited to the immortal members of her cast. The city itself is alive, and Bull’s descriptions of it are breathtakingly beautiful. You can feel the change in current of a place from day to night, imagine how one performance spot has an entirely different energy than another, smell the greenery of the Conservatory by moonlight. Even if you’ve lived there for years, reading her descriptions makes you see the city with new eyes. In her essay “Wonders of the Invisible World” in Double Feature, Bull comments:

Minnehaha Falls and Central Park are not interchangeable, in substance or spirit. Walking down Hennepin Avenue on a Friday evening calls up a different set of emotions and attitudes than walking down any given street in Manhattan. And the mix of attitudes and influences-parks and punks, the New Riverside Café and 7th Street Entry, a wildly active music scene in well-mannered, well-ordered metropolitan surroundings-only happens here. People outside the Twin Cities may say what they like. I can’t think why the high courts of Faerie would want to live anywhere else.

And after reading War for the Oaks, the reader can’t help but agree.

***Author’s note: War for the Oaks was translated into a screen play, which I believe is included in newer versions of the book. It was partially filmed with local talent and the trailers are on YouTube for the curious, although they’re very B-fantasy due to constraints of both budget and the technology of the time. It is perhaps a mercy that it was never finished, as special effects have advanced to a point where it could now be filmed in a style that’s much more true to the book’s lovely descriptions. Hopefully someone in Hollywood will pick it up and do it justice. With the recent popularity of fantasy in cinematography, there’s certainly the audience for it.

In 1994 Meghan Brunner auditioned for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival—and things haven’t been the same for her since. Over a decade later, with two books and a Unicorn Award*, she’s still picking up speed… and loving it.

*lifetime achievement award for entertainers at the MN Renaissance Festival

Find her free short story, “The Tithe”, earlier in Fae Awareness Month 2012.

#11: Little Otik/Greedy Guts

Because things weren’t getting disturbing enough around here, today we’re watching Little Otik, aka Greedy Guts. Not even sure how to explain this one…

The Golden Compass Review by Sasha L. Miller

The Golden Compass

by Sasha L. Miller

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is based off the book of the same name, part of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I went into this movie having not read the book, so this review is based completely off the movie itself. The setting is a world parallel to ours, where people’s souls reside outside their bodies, in an animal spirit form called a daemon. When a person is a child, their daemon has the ability to shift forms; when they grow into an adult, the daemon settles and takes a single form.

The Magisterium, the ruling powers that be. They’re the movie’s villains, and are willing to do whatever need be to keep their hold on powers. This spans from attempts to poison dissenters to nefarious research that uh, spoilers.

The main character is a girl named Lyra Belacqua. She’s an orphan who is living at a college, placed there by her uncle Asriel, who is affiliated in some capacity with the college. She’s spunky and rebellious, doesn’t do as she’s told, hates to study, and loves to run amok outside the college walls with her best friend Roger and a gang of Gyptian children led by a boy named Billy. They tell tales to scare each other of the Gobblers, who steal children in the night.

Lyra, in the course of being a rapscallion, overhears her uncle Asriel ask for funds to research particles known as Dust. Dust is a mysterious influence on the world, and no one seems to know much about it. The Magisterium has aligned itself against the existence and influence of Dust, while the scholars at the college want to know more. The scholars at one point created a device called an alethiometer—the golden compass—which uses Dust to show the user truth. The Magisterium managed to have all but one of the compasses destroyed, and the last is safely hidden within the college.

Asriel is granted funds and departs. Not long after, a woman named Mrs. Coulter shows up. Despite being affiliated with the Magisterium, she convinces the college to allow her to take Lyra from the college to act as her assistant in a journey north. The head of the college is reluctant, but agrees. He gives Lyra the compass before she leaves, warning her to tell no one she has it. The night before Lyra leaves with Mrs. Coulter, her friends Roger and Billy disappear. Lyra and Mrs. Coulter depart to Mrs. Coulter’s house.

That’s the sum of what happens in the first 20-30 minutes of the movie. The movie continues apace—fast, with lots of information packed into a short period of time. We meet dozens of people:  the Gyptian king, the witch queen, a cowboy aeronaut, talking, armored ice bears (the King and the heir he illegitimately dethroned), mercenaries, and more. We also see lots of interesting magic and technology: the golden compass, first and foremost, spy flies, flying airships, the incision machine, and more there as well.

I can’t speak to the movie’s accuracy, but I think it was decent as a stand-alone. The biggest problem, and I’m sure it’s readily apparent, is that there’s A LOT going on, and not enough time to give all the individual aspects the attention they deserve. Dust is the big, interweaving focus of the movie, but even at the end, we don’t know much about it. I feel like all the secondary characters—the Gyptians, the witches, etc.—weren’t given nearly the depth they deserved, and the movie seemed like it was rushing to get everything in.

If you’re a fan of gorgeous visuals and fantasy, with a generally solid story backing it up, this is a good movie. It’s certainly pushed me to add the books to my ‘to read’ list, since I have no doubt that the story is even better without the time constraints of the movie parsing it down. Lyra is a wonderful protagonist, who learns and loves and is brave and strong in the face of her fears.

I spend most of my time writing, reading, or playing with all things website design. Writing is a passion I found late in life (read: college), but it’s stuck with me in a way that nothing else has. I love telling stories, creating worlds and characters and families and relationships. I mostly stick to fantasy, because I love structuring magic systems, and I always stick to romance, because I love seeing people get their happy endings. –Sasha L. Miller

Troll Hunter Review by Louise Bohmer

Troll Hunter Review
by Louise Bohmer

Director: André Ovredal
Release date: October 29, 2010
Rating: PG-13 (USA)
Running time: 104 minutes

Troll Hunter

The premise of Troll Hunter appealed to the fae (and monster) loving child in me right away. A young film crew set out to track a bear poacher named Hans, but they discover there is far more than Winnie the Pooh lurking in these woods.

It’s a mockumentary–something I’m admittedly getting tired of, so I had some reservations. The film starts off a bit slow. I thought the buildup was well done overall, but I did grow impatient for some troll glimpses. Still the early scenes are creepy and effective in stirring childlike imagination back to life. Those who have wandered a rural forest at night will know what I mean.

There’s a conspiracy to hide the existence of trolls, and these unwitting university students have just stumbled right on top of it. Hans’ poaching reputation is a ruse, and bears are brought in from as far as Croatia to provide a cover story when rampaging trolls break out of territory lines, slaughtering humans, livestock, and causing general havoc. Hans works for the TST, better known as the Troll Security Team.

But he’s getting tired of this dirty, grim work. He’s not so cool with killing trolls anymore. So he decides to expose this Norway folklore as truth, by taking the film crew along on a covert hunting excursion.

After a ride in Hans’ Land Rover, and a thorough bath in troll stink, our filmmakers journey deep into these Norwegian woods to hunt a raglefant–a towering, one-armed monstrosity that lives under a bridge. Let’s just say viewers will never look at Three Billy Goats Gruff in the same way again.

Hans hunts these beasts with a bulky UV gun. No bullets for this weapon. It shoots out a strong beam of UV light instead because, as we all know, trolls turn to stone when light touches them, or they explode. Later, the film gives a scientific explanation for this, via a veterinarian who works with Hans in the TST. Trolls’ bodies can’t turn Vitamin D from sunlight into calcium the way we can, so when they’re exposed to intense UV rays their stomachs bloat as gas fills it and blood vessels until they explode. The older trolls calcify from sunlight. Since their veins are too thin, apparently the enlarging happens in their bones, and they turn to limestone in no time.

A lot of Norwegian folklore references are sprinkled throughout the film, and references to Norwegian fairy tales. The two species of trolls, mountain and woodland, come from Norway’s folklore. The folk tales collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe are mentioned, but our hunter Hans tells the filmmakers these old fairy tales weren’t entirely accurate. Oh, and if you’re a Christian, you may want to avoid troll territory altogether.

Some of the trolls are seen through night vision, which some viewers might not care for, but other troll encounters are simply spectacular. (I don’t want to say too much, in case I spoil the troll goodness for you.) The scene in the cave is particularly intense, and actually brought back that childhood giddy fear I so love. (Remember watching your favorite horror flicks, clutching a pillow with all your might? That kind of fear.)

Troll Hunter also incorporates subtle, quirky humor, but even this fun movie has its somewhat serious moments, when world issues and Norwegian bureaucracy are pondered. The effects are, at times, amazing, and at the very least they’re great fun. The story developed to explain the existence of trolls will thrill any folklorist, fae enthusiast, or monster lover, and the light humorous vein will have you laughing in the film’s quieter moments.

If you’re a lover of these lumbering, hairy, stinky giants of fae, I highly recommend you check this one out.

Louise Bohmer is a freelance editor and writer based in Sussex, New Brunswick. She edits for Permuted Press, and is an associate editor with KHP Publishers, Inc. Her debut novel–The Black Act–was released by Library of Horror in 2009, but is now out of print. You can read her short fiction inDetritusOld SchoolThe Red Penny Papers, and Courting Morpheus.

#10: The Golden Compass

For today, the first of the movies based on Phillip Pullman’s ever-popular His Dark Materials series, The Golden Compass.

Halfway there!

We’re halfway through Fae Awareness 2012, and I think the point has been made: don’t mess with the Fae, and don’t believe a thing Yeats says. This man, right here:

He’s on their side. Not yours. True facts.

Don’t forget to check out the huge giveaway — and remember that every time you comment on another fae awareness post from this year, it’s another entry. And if you haven’t seen our first short fiction, Meghan Brunner’s “The Tithe”, well, it’s delightful. Scroll on down.

Hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am!

❤ Katey

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