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Review: Trigger Warning

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and DisturbancesTrigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan. Let’s just get that out of the way. I cried when he signed my copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane because I was so excited.

But this book barely got its 3rd star from me. If you’re already a fan of Gaiman, there is very little in this short story collection that you haven’t already read somewhere else, or for free via his blog. It’s a collection of short stories with no coherent reason behind them, no theme, no real organization. It feels, honestly, like a book put together because someone–and probably not the author?–said it would be great to be able to sell more books.

I find that a little frustrating.

That said, there were three stories out of this collection that really made the whole thing worthwhile. If you buy it and feel like me, just skip to the end of the book: that’s where the good stuff is hidden.

First, we have a delightful little short story from the witch’s perspective in “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s dark, mysterious, and does a great job following close to the theme and tone of the real Grimm fairy tale. It’s very quick, but really enjoyable.

The second story is also about “Sleeping Beauty.” This one, “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” has since been made into an illustrated book. It may be the best story in the collection: it re-imagines both “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White” so that the women can be the heroes and live in neighboring kingdoms. I don’t want to reveal too much, but let’s just say if you love either the Disney version, the original story, or the “10th Kingdom” TV serial, you will most certainly adore this story. It’s just fantastic.

The final feather in this hat is “Black Dog”–an additional story featuring Shadow Moon, the main character in American Gods. Even if you found American Gods to be a challenging book for you, I think you’ll like this story, which is straightforward, touches on some delicious little-known history, and is really scary. Gaiman owes me about two hours of sleep for this story–I stayed up past my bedtime to get to the big ending, and then couldn’t stop thinking about it!

It’s that last story that changed my mind on whether the book as a whole was a good purchase. I don’t know that I’ll ever read large chunks of it again, but the ones I loved, I LOVED, so that makes it worth it to me.

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Put the ‘Mal’ in Maleficent

Disney offered up a brightly wrapped package of Angelina Jolie in a family-friendly live-action updated version of Maleficent. And while it was fun, kids would probably like it, and it was visually awesome…it wasn’t exactly a “classic” tale that will endure forever.

Heck, while the original Sleeping Beauty movie isn’t one of the best, it holds strong as a fairy tale and has some of the all-time best villainess scenes: classic.

But trying to make an obviously Big Bad into a Good Gal is … tough. I’m not sure it works in every case, or even if it ought to be done. I mean, the musical “Wicked” does a great job of it (but I personally found the book to be an unnecessarily dark/sexualized story that didn’t need to be told). Maleficent… would have been a great movie if it didn’t try to interlock with the original.

So I’d like to see someone else (ok, probably still Disney…) tackle a proper Maleficent redo, one that appropriately tied in with the original without changing it.

SPOILERS BELOW

So what is the problem with this incarnation?

The curse is totally changed. In the original, Maleficent curses the baby to prick her finger by sunset on her 16th birthday, causing her to die. It is only through the intervention of the Good Fairies that the curse is transmuted to “sleep-like death.”


(forgive the bad voice acting. The words are the same, though it isn’t the real actors. Disney being so tough on copyright makes it hard to find the original.)

But this one, in an effort to make our pal Maleficent not as evil, the curse is always “sleep-like death,” and we never even find out what the third fairy blesses Aurora with! (What kind of weak-sauce curse is sleep? I mean, yeah, inconvenient, but not nearly as bad as it couldda been!)

Other things that are changed:

  • The Good Fairies are not just adorably ill-equipped to be human, they are downright incompetent and therefore deadly. In this iteration, it makes exactly zero sense that the king would entrust his cursed baby to them. Aurora’s near-death experiences would probably make a good drinking game.
  • King Stefan is a bad dude. Like, not “could be interpreted as bad from a certain perspective”–just… bad. He’s probably in need of the creepy asylum guy from Beauty and the Beast. Maybe that guy can come pick him up?
  • Maleficent is not the dragon. Instead, she has a companion who changes into the dragon. Color me disappointed. More dragons, please?
  • The true-love kisser situation. I get it; it’s modernized, and we now (for good reason!) have a lot of discomfort with kissing sleeping maidens you just met. I don’t even mind the change here, but it’s a big one.
  • The whole kingdom isn’t put to sleep. I’m probably the only one disappointed by this, but I thought it was pretty cool that the whole kingdom was affected by Maleficent’s curse, and the short-circuiting of it in this film was a letdown. The kid’s been gone for 16 years; people aren’t the least bit harmed by this magic.

Alright, so they changed a lot of things: Maleficent doesn’t just embroider the original, it tore it up and started something similar but totally different.

So what would I like to see?

First, full-on no-holds barred EVIL Maleficent. I’m ok with evil folks having reasons for evil; that’s nice nuance. But make my toes curl! Scare me a little.

Second, she’s a dragon. The wings thing was neat and all, but no, I want her to be a big old scary dragon who likes to hang out in human form for some reason, except those darned horns won’t change.

Third…let’s get gritty. In my world, the kingdom’s main export is its fine fabrics and woven goods. The spinning wheel is Big Business, so this curse (to death, let’s not sugarcoat it) cleverly both imperils Aurora AND the economy of the entire kingdom. If he wants to save his daughter, the king has to destroy his people’s livelihood. If he doesn’t banish the spinners, he has doomed his daughter.

Makes the curse a whole lot more sinister, right?

So King Stefan banishes the spinning wheels, choosing to try to save his beloved daughter. But almost immediately the effects of his choice are felt, and his kingdom plummets into poverty. People start to curse the name of his daughter, and he fears for her life even more, so he sends her away to live in the woods, entrusted in the care of three fairies– a different class from Maleficent, and therefore safe from her magic.

Adopting a bit of the trope from the new Maleficent movie, maybe then we could have Maleficent come in and observe her handiwork. But I would have REALLY liked it if the curse itself is what changed Malificent’s heart: in the recent wording, Maleficent says “all who encounter her will love her…” I’d like that to extend to Maleficent, as well. So she’s hanging out, lurking around the kid, and the curse forces her to love the baby. In increasing exposure, she is helpless not to fall into her thrall.

I’d like to see where that story could go.

Like I said, a fun movie with INCREDIBLE costume design, but there were a lot of problems and plot holes (your big defense is a hallway full of spikes that you can easily dodge? Ok, Stefan, I’m thinking you weren’t really ready to be king there, buddy).

So if someone could get this version together for me–maybe Jolie can even reprise her role?–that would be swell.

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