Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: fear

Doctor Who and Childhood Fears

Okay. Let’s talk about Doctor Who, you guyze. I’m gonna talk craft/storytelling much more so than plot, but I am gonna show off a big ol’ collection of the show’s monsters, so spoilers? Sort of?

Basics: Doctor Who is technically, at 50 years with some pretty major gaps in between series, the longest running show on television. It’s a legend in British culture and has a huge American fan base, particularly with the reboot in 2005. It began in the 60s as a children’s television show. And now, its target audience from tweens to adults, including a special subset of thirty-year-old women who go absolutely mad for anything with a TARDIS on it. Seriously, like half the cosplay at ComicCon makes sense to me now that I’ve watched Doctor Who. Like the guy wearing a t-shirt that says “The Angels Have the Phonebox.” Subtle. Nice.

ANYWAY. My point here is that one thing Doctor Who does very well which allows it to appeal to such a broad age range is to base its monsters off of childhood fears. Many of the episodes take childhood fears and in one way or another, turn them into physical and specific monsters.

The Dark

For example, let’s take one of the most ubiquitous childhood fears, fear of the dark. In the double episode Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, written by Steven Moffat*, the fear of the dark is personified in a creature called the Vashta Nerada. The Vashta Nerada live in shadows, and eat flesh from bone in seconds should you step into one. If you suddenly have two shadows when you shouldn’t, that means the other shadow is a Vashta Nerada that’s about to eat you.

A Vashta Nerada casts multiple shadows

“Hey, who turned out the lights?”

Fear of the dark/inability to see also comes up in the Weeping Angels episodes. If the room goes dark, then the monsters will descend on you really, really quickly. If you can see them, then you’re fine.

Weeping Angels menace the camera. "The ultimate Red Light/Green Light players"

Scary! …until Steven Moffat made them silly later. But we shall not speak of that.

Both of these remind me of one of the traditional childhood responses to night-time fear, i.e. sitting in bed with a flashlight. We literally get a frightened child in the episode, “Night Terrors,” written by Mark Gatiss. In this episode, a child has manifested his night-time fears so that his closet really is a scary dimension full of creepy dolls.

creepy freakin' doll standing in doorway, lit by flashlight

SERIOUSLY WHO THOUGHT THESE WERE A GOOD IDEA EVER GAH

Which brings us nicely to our next topic…

Masks

Masks, dolls, statues, robots…all of these look like people–but they’re not. Doctor Who has a delicious series of non-human humanoids and mask-wearing monsters, starting with that unforgettable child in “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” by Steven Moffat.

creepy boy in gas mask

“Are You My Mummy?”

However, masked inhuman creatures are an absolute mainstay of Who, including:

 

droids from "The Girl in the Fireplace"

Clockwork droids in the 18th Century!

masked figure from "The Beast Below"

Creep-ass moveable-face statue in the far future!

scarecrows from "The Family of Blood"

…not to mention this guy’s creepy scarecrow minions in the early 20th century.

 

 

 

Bullies

As children get older, they fear things related to school more and more, be they wrathful teachers or bullies.

A defining characteristic of a stereotypical schoolyard bully is a compulsion to fight with those weaker than themselves, while being smaller and weaker on the inside than they’ll ever let on. Sound…familiar?

Dalek

Big scary outside, with death ray and oddly menacing plunger!

Dalek exoskeleton opened up

Liiittle squishy brain alien inside. Bent on exterminating all other life. Like you do.

Sontarans, with and without helmets

So I know Sontarans are great warriors, but they have a pretty major fatal flaw. Also, they’re kinda short.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Monsters/Ghosts/Aliens

Well, duh. That’s what the bits of this show that I haven’t already gone on about are…about… There are more monsters in Doctor Who than you could shake a stick at.

There are ghosts…

ghosts on the street of London

“Army of Ghosts” written by Russell T. Davies

Werewolves…

a werewolf

“Tooth and Claw” written by Russell T. Davies

Vampires…

waifish women in dresses baring long fangs

“The Vampires of Venice” written by Toby Whithouse

Whatever scares you, personally, the most…

a sad clown sits on a hotel bed

“The God Complex” written by Toby Whithouse

And noteably, the spectre of a girl’s abusive father…

drawing of father with grimace, glowing eyes

“Fear Her” written by Matthew Graham

Interestingly, Wikipedia notes about the episode “Fear Her,” pictured above, that “Graham was asked to write an episode primarily for children which would soften the much darker finale that would be broadcast after. […] Though Graham received letters from children who enjoyed the episode, it did not generate a positive response from adult fans and critics.” I’m curious why…perhaps the psychology of the little girl was more accessible to kids. Or perhaps they enjoyed the “drawings coming to life” mechanic, ’cause that’s a pretty common daydream…

Well, Doctor Who has more monsters than I have time, so here I shall end it.

 

 

*So I have a love/hate relationship with Steven Moffat, as a writer and as a spokesperson for the show. Some of my favorite episodes are written by Moffat. I also think he did a crap job as producer and has, to quote Walt Whitman, “a vile opinion of women.”** However, I have neither the space nor the energy to write all the things I think about him and/or the show’s more problematic aspects, and thus I urge you to check out what Morgan Jordahl has to say on the subject.

**Walt Whitman, from the introduction to Leaves of Grass, 1855: “Understand that you can have in your writing no qualities which you do not honestly entertain in yourself. Understand that you cannot keep out of your writing the indication of the shallowness and evil you entertain in yourself. If you love to have a servant stand behind your chair at dinner, it will appear in your writing. Or if you possess a vile opinion of women, or if you grudge anything, or doubt immortality — these will appear by what you leave unsaid, more than by what you say.”

Childhood Fear//Adulthood Fear

Take the following excerpt from an IndieBound interview with Neil Gaiman about his YA book, Coraline:

We’re getting two completely different reactions from two completely different reading audiences, and it’s kind of weird.

Reading audience number one is adults. Adults completely love it and they tell me it gave them nightmares. They found it really scary and disturbing, and they’re not sure it’s a good book for kids, but they loved it. Reading audience number two are kids who read it as an adventure and they love it. They don’t get nightmares, and they don’t find it scary. I think part of that is that kids don’t realize how much trouble Coraline is in — she is in big trouble — and adults read it and think, “I know how much trouble you’re in.”

girl on a bed with teddy bear; monster under bed

photo by Joshua Hoffine

What terrifies adults and children is not the same. A child may be driven mad with fright over a shape in the bedroom in the dark, which in their fertile imagination has become a ravening monster. A flick of the light switch by an adult hand and the monster is revealed to be nothing more than a blanket thrown over the back of a chair, oddly shaped and become monstrous in the darkness. On the flip side, an adult may become afraid or upset at the sight of a dead body; often young children are fascinated, in part because they may not know what’s happening and/or fully understand death. (When I taught preschool, we had to have the conversation about dead pets sometimes, which led inevitably to “yes they are under the ground now, no we cannot go see.”) The things that terrify children may seem inconsequential to adults; the things that terrify adults may seem perfectly natural to children.

Take fairy tales in particular. The violence and horror in, say, the Grimm tales mostly revolves around almost cartoonish punishments of evildoers and oddly implicit sexual violence. There is a wicked stepmother put into a barrel with spikes on the inside. The stepmother in “The Juniper Tree” eats her stepson after beheading him with the lid to a chest. Snow White’s wicked stepmother gets to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she dies. And it’s not much better for fathers: a father is tricked into chopping off his daughter’s hands by the devil, many others want to marry their daughters because the girls look so like their dead mothers. The Grimms carefully edited the tales and gave the most odious actions not to mothers, but to stepmothers. There’s the occasional stepfather, but it’s mostly stepmothers that get the brunt of the wickedness.

Aside from the implied misogyny, the wicked stepmother theme exposes a story that I think sometimes children tell themselves: They’re not my real parents. Somewhere far away, I have perfect parents who are always kind. Somewhere far away, I am a princess. I have a throne to claim, a sword to pull from a stone. This all falls down at some point in adolescence, of course, when we realize that adults are even more flawed than we thought, and that our parents–flaws and all–are actually our parents. (Although this narrative reads differently for the adopted. Here’s one story.) At some point, we discard the childish fantasies of who we thought our parents were and try to sink into reality.

So, long past adolescence and into adulthood, what horrors do fairy tales hold for us? In a reverse scenario of the child afraid of the dark, the light has come on for us adults and we can see the violence, the rape, and the gore in fairy tales for the horrors they are. And the characters who are closest to us in age are not longer the princesses, the goose girls, the plucky youngest sons, not Hansel nor Gretel nor Jack. No, the character who most resemble adults are the mothers, father, and step-parents, along with the occasional sexless mentor figure. A healthy parent who is doing a good job parenting in a rare beast in the Grimm tales. Suddenly, all the relate-able characters are villains who meet with horrible ends. And how does the aging woman deal withe her beautiful daughter becoming a sexual being? How does the widower deal with seeing his dead wife’s eyes in his daughter? How do you cope if you cannot afford to feed your children? There is no good example. Adults, in the tales, are there to be villains for children.

And that, I think, is the most terrifying thought of all. Take me: I am twenty-nine years old, and considering whether or not I ever want to have children. I fear, one way or another, becoming a de facto villain for any child I might have. My parents were in no way fairy tale parents, i.e. they did a pretty good job with us kids and didn’t pass on their more destructive neuroses or, like, leave us in the forest for witches to eat. Nevertheless, like probably every other 29-year-old, I fear turning into my parents. And the thought that I might not notice the day I Become My Mother fills me with as much dread as the scary robot I was convinced lived in our electrical system once did. Both are a fear of something you may or may not be powerless before, a fear that lives in your brain and wriggles out in awkward moments.

In Coraline, the title character is a little girl who discovers a passage in her house that leads to a different version of the world. The other world contains her Other Mother and her Other Father. Her Other Parents seem at first identical except nicer, and with black buttons sewn in place of their eyes. Coraline realized soon enough that her Other Parents are manipulative and want to trap her and sew buttons on her eyes, too. And at its most irrational, my adult brain fears the day when I find black buttons sewn on my eyes, and do not remember how they got there. buttoneyes

 

PS: For more of Goddard grad and all-round radsauce Liz Latty’s writing, check out her blog.

My Horrible Dystopian Future, etc, of the day

All right, Freedomlandians, here’s your first look at the Device.

Fear it. Also, note that this is the ad-free version. Thankfully, I’m not the only who noticed that, so from Buzzfeed, here are a couple of more realistic takes on the Google Glasses phenomenon.

 

Do One Thing You Fear

Here’s an assignment I gave myself this week: Do at least one thing you fear, or makes you nervous.

My successes include:
1. Signing up for classes at the Richard Hugo House. I signed up for a fiction critique class with Nancy Kress (to which I will bring a big ol’ chunk of Novel No. 2), and a master class in poetry (scary!) taught by David Waggoner. Hopefully I get into both classes. In any case, I’m excited.
2. I blew bubbles on my commute home, during the bit where I’m stopped on the 520*. I blew bubbles out of my window, and a few inside my car. No one seemed to notice or showed any noticeable reaction, although that is Seattle for you. If the zombie apocalypse came to Seattle, people would probably feign indifference and attempt to go about their daily routines.
3. I took an Intense Cardio “Martial Arts Bootcamp” class at my gym. It was really intense and I was sore later, but I didn’t totally hate it. This is a major step for me, as I generally avoid all things cardio. Actually, speaking of the zombie apocalypse, my secret motivation for running on the treadmill is imagining zombies chasing me. Not saying it’s healthy, just saying it works.

ANYWAY. I pass the challenge on to you! This week, do or try out one thing you fear.

*Dumbest highway ever. It goes between Seattle and Redmond, Washington. It is a special hell.

States of Grace

Last Thursday, I was part of a panel at SoulFood Books with ten other local women authors, most of whom were primarily self-published. It was a great evening and a healing experience on many levels. It reminded me that yes, I am perfectly legit as a self-published author: my experiences of writing and creating are very real and valid. I think it’s easy to question yourself as an artist at any point in your creative life: the voices in the back of your head start playing up, saying stuff like, “Is she for real?” and “Well, this has worked out so far but I’m sure it’s a fluke” and “Well, it’s not like she’s properly published except in literary journals put out by colleges and those don’t count because…” etc etc. In her excellent book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls this Radio KFKD and has some great tips for how to tune it out. Going and hanging out with a group of empowered women authors was a pretty good one, I have to admit.

It was interesting to hear what everyone had to say…one thing that surprised me (not that it should’ve, given that it was a new age bookstore and deep in my wormy little scientists’ child heart I know more spiritual truths than I am willing to admit) was how much everyone talked about the experience of writing as a spiritual experience. There was a lot of talk about being a conduit and having the writing naturally flow through you, of writing as a spiritual experience.

There was also a goodly mentioning of how hard writing is, which was important…otherwise I was starting to wonder if these enlightened and self-empowered ladies ever have days like I do when they can’t even muster the courage to roll their faces across the keyboard, much less write down actual words or sentences.

But at the end of the day, I admit that there is a very important spiritual component to writing. For me and fiction, it’s about surrender. Getting some words down means not obsessing over each one, means not standing on the edge of the abyss and quietly freaking out, but rather diving in and thrashing about until I get somewhere. I am not afraid to write bad prose, and I think that is one of my biggest strengths as a writer. Because if I can write a terrible piece of connective tissue binding two decent scenes together, then I’m one step closer to getting that second draft of the novel. I have faith that my bad prose will eventually turn into good prose, with pruning and revision and dear trusted friends telling me when they don’t care about my characters or have no idea what I’m saying. In the meantime, every day that I sit down and turn to the page is a good day. Nothing bad can come from me writing. It’s a lesson that’s easy to forget (especially when there’s laundry and commuting and sleep to be had).

So. Today counts as a success then.

Also, the video from the SoulFood event will be available soon on ustream….I’ll keep you posted!

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