A riveting read and proof positive of the old adage that truth is vastly stranger than fiction: the true story of a young woman who defected from North Korea to China “by accident” right before her 18th birthday and, after ten years of trials and tribulations, eventually ended up in South Korea and, later, in the U.S., where she testified about her experience, and more generally on the topic of dictatorial regimes and human rights abuses, before various bodies of the U.S. government and the United Nations. At times her story is so heartstoppingly riveting that you want to doubt whether all this truly happened, but apparently it did — and the book is worth a read for her unquestionably personal and in-depth inside perspective on Norh Korea and China alone.
One of my very first literary heroine was a little witch who manages to get the better of all the bigger, older witches after having been put down by them — the heroine of Otfried Preußler’s Little Witch. (In fact, I loved that book enough to write my very first fan letter to the author about it … and I still love it enough to have put it on MR’s “1001” list.)
Ever since, I’ve come to be interested in them because women are almost always maligned as “witches” when people are afraid of them because they — the women in question — happen to be better at something (or are merely perceived as being better at something) than others. That’s true for the poor ladies of centuries past who just happened to know their herbs a bit better than their neighbors, potentially even better than the local monastery’s herbalist, and who, after having helped countless community members with every ailment from headaches to abortion, were duly burned at the stake for their troubles the second they even inadvertently stepped on someone’s toes. And it’s still true for women who happen to be better at their jobs nowadays than their (mostly, but not necessarily male) colleagues. Other slurs plainly denigrate — “witch” (and to a certain extent also “bitch”) implies an irrational element of fear. In light of that, the transformation of witches — or their perception — from the worst of evil bogey(wo)men conceivable to a positive identification with the “women’s power” movement is a thing to behold; not least in literature.
Which, incidentally, is just one more reason why I love Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. And along the same lines, who wouldn’t love Mr. Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and her coven?
Though, speaking of Pratchett, he has also created just about the only werewolf I can get behind (and for similar reasons) — Angua of the Night Watch.
And, well, yeah, in terms of stories that were films before they were books, Ladyhawke of course … which isn’t so much a horror as a “doomed lovers” story, obviously.
Vampires, though? Hmm. I mean, on the one hand, give me Dracula rather than Edward Cullen any day of the week (and I’m saying that as a confirmed non-horror reader). On the other hand, I read Anne Rice’s vampire novels — until she turned BBA, that is — for just about everything but the horror aspect; in fact, if she’d ramped up that one I’d have been gone in a flash. (Incidentally, Rice once revealed in an interview that Lestat’s character was inspired by Rutger Hauer’s portrayal of Etienne de Navarre in Ladyhawke. Go figure.)
And zombies? Leave me alone and get the hell out of here. They creep me out so badly I won’t even go anywhere near them in a supposedly humorous context (like the “white trash zombie” novels that are currently all the rage).
Tasks for Saturnalia: Wear a mask, take a picture and post it. Leave a small gift for someone you know anonymously – a small bit of chocolate or apple, a funny poem or joke. Tell us about it in a post. –OR– Tell us: If you could time-travel back to ancient Rome, where would you want to go and whom (both fictional and / or nonfictional persons) would you like to meet?
BrokenTune has already mentioned two people I really rather would have liked to meet as well, Cicero and Ovid. In addition to the reasons she mentions, I probably also would have liked to pick Cicero’s brain on some of his trial strategies (in addition to being Rome’s most famous orator, he was also a first class lawyer, who scored some of the most celebrated victories in all of legal history) — and I’d have liked to ask Ovid how he ever came up with the madcap idea for his Metamorphoses.
In addition to these two, I’d have liked to:
Chat history, historical sources and research, and veracity and authentication, with Livy, Vergil, and Suetonius;
Find out what Plutarch would have thought about the fact that some of his writings provided the source material for the plays of a famous English playwright named William Shakespeare a millennium and a half after he himself had put quill to parchment (or to scroll, or whatever), and how, proud Greek that he was, he really felt about living under Roman rule;
Ask Seneca about the experience of advising a lunatic like Nero (other than: scary as hell, that is), how many times he was close to committing suicide out of sheer desperation before Nero actually made him do so, what kept him going nevertheless — and how in the world he managed to write plays, and pretty impressive ones at that, in addition to what would seem to have been a full time political day job (also, whether he really was the author of the Apocolocyntosis divi Claudii, and how he came up with that one in the first place);
and find out from Marcus Aurelius how he implemented his philosophical maxims in his day to day duties as an emperor, particular in making unpleasant (or even harsh) decision in warfare and in the administration of justice.
As for fictional characters from that time, though not actually living in Rome, whom I’d like to meet — well, you know, there came a time in 50 A.D. when Gaul was entirely occupied by the Romans. Umm, entirely? Well, no, not entirely … One small village of indomitable Gauls still held out against the invaders. And life was not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrisoned the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium …