Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Shaping the Adult

I loved fairy tales as a kid; couldn't get enough of them. Like most little girls I was somewhat drawn to princess stories, though I never wanted to be a princess. I simply think that I was looking for my own gender to connect to, and princesses were what you found most of the time.

 But mostly I was a sucker for the animation. I didn't say I was deep. To this day the one that stands out the most in my memory is "The White Cat" from Dean's A Book of Fairy Tales. I poured over that book and studied every illustration from "Beauty and the Beast" to "The Frog Princess;" those images are an indelible part of my childhood.

I know that book had a huge impact on my grown-up interest in fantasy, though there's always a 'chicken-and-the-egg' kind of question that always swirls around my head when I stop and think about my taste in entertainment as an adult. Was I naturally drawn to fantasy or did I develop an interest just because it was there?

 I didn't grow up in a touchy-feely family. I had three older brothers who liked to play the politically incorrect game of "smear the queer" (we don't use that word anymore-- promise) and taught me how to form my fist to throw a proper punch so I'd have a fighting chance when the fists started flying-- as they will in a house full of testosterone. The TV was generally tuned to "The Dukes of Hazzard" or old Bruce Lee movies. It's probably not a coincidence that I don't tend to pick up Oprah Book Club selections. But somehow the the fairy tale books found their way to my room.

We also moved a lot-- almost every year. And libraries were my refuge. I remember reading Madeleine L' Engle and C. S. Lewis in grade school and discovering Piers Anthony and Terry Brooks right around the time I was entering high school. And "Battlestar Galactica" and "Buck Rodgers." Oh, the Saturday afternoons I spent in front of the TV captivated by those shows. This was, of course, prior to the cartoon channel and gave me an opportunity to see that science fiction was pretty darned cool, even when the main characters are wearing spandex.

 Our taste in entertainment says a lot about our personality. My brothers don't like the same things I do even though we grew up in the same house. It's safe to say they think I'm weird. But there's no doubt their male sensibilities rubbed off on me. I'd rather watch a shoot 'em up movie over a romantic comedy any day. But I find I'm at an interesting place as an adult. It seems that my generation now owns Hollywood and I'm wondering how much my taste is me and how much just seeped into my brain by osmosis.

 Look at the evidence. "Battlestar Galactica" has already had a very successful run as a remake-- and it was gooood. "The Karate Kid" faired well at the box office this year while "Clash of the Titans" quietly slipped under the radar. Less successful entries to the remake bonanza from my childhood have included "The Dukes of Hazzard," "The A-Team," "Charlie's Angels," and "The Bionic Woman." And "Tron Legacy" will bring another 80's movie to the screen once again later on this year. But wait! There's more! "Footloose," "Red Dawn" and "Conan the Barbarian" are already in various stages of development. And I bet I'm forgetting a few other movies to add to the list. I should have made this post about how there are absolutely no new ideas in Hollywood.

 But it's interesting to look back at this list of movies. It is a pretty good representation of my taste in cinematic entertainment-- scary and shallow I know, but this is what the filmmakers responsible for this list are banking on. I can tell myself that those fairy tale books shaped me, but what if I really owe it all to "Short Circuit?" (yeah- this one is on the remake list too) Did I really have a say in what I ended up liking? Would I be looking forward to "Eat, Pray, Love" if I had sisters? Would I (shudder) be really, really into "Twilight?" Or was my taste determined by early exposure to "Thundarr the Barbarian?" Who knows?

But I guess it doesn't really matter. I can't change who I am and I kind of like marching to my own drummer-- especially if the drums are being played by a zombie... (Too many viewings of "Thriller" might be responsible for this random thought)


Charles Gramlich said...

I don't think childhood viewing habits have much to do with it. I ended up watching Grand old opry, Hee Haw, Porter Wagoner, and The champagne singers, but my tastes are more like yours anyway.

Budd said...

SQT-I hope you have been reading fables for some updated fairt tale fun. I thought A-Team was pretty good. I think it is a combination of nurture and nature. Your brain worked a certain way and was fed certian imput resulting in a certain result. Change the input or function a little and you get a slightly different result. So while your taste may seem similar to others, results will vary.

Charles-HeeHaw was the bomb. Did you ever watch Ralph Emory?

BStearns said...

Awesome post (as usual). I think you're right when you say that Hollywood is out of new ideas. It seems that everything is a remake these days. It's really sad when you think about it. As for the chicken and the egg thing I think it is a bit of both. I know I was heavily influenced by my dad's love of SciFi, but he isn't a huge Fantasy fan. I think that if you were a dreamer as a kid, that was a huge factor in your interests. I know that Fantasy allows me to dream and get out of this world. I know as a kid I was always hoping something fantastical would happen, but it never did. I know that's why I read it. But I think I've rambled enough. Keep up the awesome work!


Stewart Sternberg said...

Our adult personae is created by so many influences, but I do think there are things in childhood that stick. Fairytales, well let's think about what they are? Fairy tales are folk myths, and they possess archetypes with which a child can easily and quickly identify. The themes of a fairytale follow the same easy path...a child is too curious, a child questions her elders, a child steps out of gender roles or goes contrary to societal expectations.

Fairy tales are meant to crack the whip. Even the new fairytales. Hell, look at Twilight..no sex before marriage. Or Harry Potter...one who is most mundane is sometimes the most extraordinary.

As writers, being aware of these ideas is critical in understanding how a reader is going to approach our work and what they bring to the table.

SQT said...

@Charles, I don't know. I look back on what I watched when I had the TV to myself and I think it had a lot to do with my adult tastes. "Bewitched" just popped into my head. Boy, did I ever want to be Samantha Stephens.

@Budd, Totally agree that we're the sum of our experiences and default nature. I do wonder how different I would be if I grew up with women though...

@BStearns, Why thank you. :) No one in my family is really into fantasy, which is a shame. My husband isn't really interested either, though he will watch movies with me. I just wish I had a friend to trade books with. But most women I know are into the Oprah book club selections. Gag.

@Stewart, I think those early fairy tale books had a huge impact on me. It wasn't just the stories, but the imagery. It was so fanciful and such an escape. I do think "Twilight" offers the whole package as far as escapism and fantasy go. I just wish it had been done better. I'm not a big fan of teen angst. I'd rather watch an old John Hughes movie for that-- at least they'll make me laugh.

AvDB said...

I just saw these pictures and had to comment, even though it's months later. That fairy tale book is my absolute, all-time favorite. I treated it like gold, read it constantly. I've yet to find better illustrations in any fairy tale book.

My favorite was Rumplestiltskin. The black-background image of him dancing both scared and enticed me. I also wanted to be the brown-haired fairy in Sleeping Beauty.

It's a tough book to find, these days. Tried to get it for a niece a few years back and had zero luck.

Linds said...

SQT - thanks for posting the link.

To me the result of childhood influences is curious and complex. I've always been drawn to fantasy and yet neither of my parents were ever interested in it. We had the Chronicles of Narnia and the Hobbit on the shelves because both authors were Christian. Fairy tale collections because my father liked to collect old children's classics. I remember watching I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched on Nick at Night during the summer.

But I was fourteen before I convinced my father to let me finally read Harry Potter (with four books out), and most fantasy I read up until that point I snuck in, concealing covers so my parents wouldn't ask about stories with 'magic'.

And yet my dad was the one who introduced me to Star Wars when it was released into theaters.

Needless to say it took me little time to wear down my parents to let my little brother read HP and he reads just as much as I do now, though he never did read much of the sort growing up.

On a random note - those illustrations are gorgeous. I don't think I've actually seen that particular book...