Witches Waiting For Wizards

I watched Oz the Great and Powerful last night and had a few thoughts.

A few notes of preface: I realize that it’s a Disney movie which brings with it an entire host of gender conventions, not all of them positive. I realize, too, that it’s a children’s movie, even considering the efforts of director Sam Raimi to push the movie’s scare factor to the very limit of what was appropriate for its target audience. Seriously, Evanora’s true face? Looks just like the evil gypsy woman from Drag Me to Hell. Also, the shot of the Wicked Witch of the West’s arm reaching up and clawing the table? Classic Raimi.

The mixed reviews kept me from going to the movie theater when it was playing, although to be honest, these days I’ll avoid movie theaters even for movies I really want to see. I just don’t like movie theaters anymore; too expensive, too many irritating people, my favorite theater is still closed, etc. etc, somebody call the wambulance. Also, my home theater set up is pretty kick-ass, and I can drink beer without having to smuggle it in, and I can pause the movie when I need to expel that beer from my system. So, really, home theater is where it’s at these days. Apologies for the digression, let’s talk about the movie.

After I’d finished watching it, I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about it. Did I like it? Was it a good movie? Such indecision is usually a sign for me that there were high points being held back by other issues.

The highlights for me, aside from the visual effects, was Mila Kunis’s performance as Theodora, who (spoilers) manages to combine a little of Wicked’s sympathy of Elphaba as well as Margaret Hamilton’s iconic, delightfully over the top performance as the Wicked Witch in the original movie. Sure, in this movie, Theodora goes from 0 to crazy in about 0.5 seconds and has all the subtlety of a rabid wolverine, but she was still fun to watch.

So, the basic plot in one paragraph or less is that Oscar is a stage magician who lands in Oz. It turns out his stage name is Oz, which means he fulfills a prophecy made by the old, now-deceased king where a wizard will appear and save the land of Oz from the Wicked Witch. Theodora the Good Witch tells all of this to Oscar when they meet. Hilarity ensues since Oscar is more con artist than competent sorcerer.

I think my uncertainty about the movie is that I never really bought into this prophecy thing or why Theodora believed in it so fervently. She’s a true idealist and believes that the prophecied Wizard will make Oz safe from the Wicked Witch. But why is she waiting for a wizard at all? She’s a witch, one of the most powerful beings in Oz! Why isn’t she out fighting the Wicked Witch?

At first, I thought her reluctance to fight was because she didn’t have the same level of power as the other witches, but that notion is very clearly dispelled (hah) when she’s shown throwing a fireball while angry. She definitely has the magical strength. Furthermore, she’s one of two witches in the Emerald City. She and her sister outnumber the alleged Wicked Witch, so they’ve got numbers on their side.

Even though the plot reason is that Theodora isn’t aware that (spoiler) the actual Wicked Witch is her sister, she still thinks she knows who the enemy is. She could and should be out hunting Glinda, who is the alleged Wicked Witch initially.

I kept hoping for some explanation for why Theodora needed the Wizard to save Oz. A scene of Evanora manipulating her or some indication that she doubts her own strength would indicate why she’s not fixing the problem herself, or at least trying to do so. Theodora clearly wants to help and is shown to have the power to do so, since she can throw fireballs around (“as the size of an explosion increases, the number of social situations it is incapable of solving approaches zero“). She doesn’t gain any real agency, however, until she transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West.

Of course, once she turns green, she immediately  flies out and starts kicking ass, exposing Oscar’s lack of actual power for all to see. Why didn’t she have that motivation prior to her fall? Is this a Space Balls-esque “good is dumb” situation?

In the end, I came away feeling that, while the movie was entertaining, it fell short of its own potential. I love, love, love a good tragic villain. I love fallen hero stories. I love redemption arcs and I love villains that throw offers of redemption right back in the hero’s face. There’s so much potential here to do all of those things. Why wasn’t Theodora with Oscar when he went witch-hunting? The movie poster made it seem like it would be Oscar and the three witches on a journey together, but you actually never see all three of them in the same place at any point (other than the end, sort of).

In Black Swan, Mila Kunis proved she has serious acting chops. I think the success of Wicked (both the book and the musical) have shown that, as a culture, we are fascinated by the Wicked Witch of the West. She’s as iconic a character as Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, and so many other great movie villains. This movie could have, and should have, been as much about her as it was about Oscar himself.

Instead, she’s . . . well, she doesn’t really even do enough to qualify as a sidekick. Glinda gets that role later in the movie. It’s disappointing. The bones were in place for a great story, but so much of the screen time was spent on Oscar, the reluctant hero (apparently the new heroic archetype of this decade, much as the anti-hero was for the 90s).

Sam Raimi and his cast still delivered a decent movie . . . but I feel like the potential was here to do a truly great one.

It’s Been A Quiet Week

I took last weekend off to go camping for a few days. I came back intending to write about my experiences camping in the Pinaleno Mountains, but as the days passed, I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to say about it. Words were an inadequate medium for conveying the beauty and tranquility of this place. They still are.

The Pinaleno Mountains are one of Arizona’s “Sky Islands.” If you live anywhere in southern Arizona, you’re familiar with sky islands. The Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson are a sky island range. There’s a big difference between the Catalinas and the Pinalenos, though.

When you drive up the Catalinas, you’re on a paved road the entire way. The speed limit stays around 40ish the entire way. There are guard rails and vista points the entire drive. At the top of the mountain, there’s a small town, a ski resort, and even a restaurant. The cabins resemble small mansions. All the campsites are developed. There are always people around. I think the only time I’ve ever hiked a trail in the Catalinas and didn’t see another person was when I did the Butterfly Trail in January and there was snow on the ground.

The Pinalenos, on the other hand . . .

There are a handful of cabins on the mountain, but most of them are actual cabins. The pavement quits about halfway up the mountain and turns into dirt. There are no guardrails. There is no town. There is no ski resort or restaurant. About half the campsites have fire pits and tables; the rest do not. When we took a day hike on one of the trails, we didn’t see another soul the entire time even though it was August.

The Pinalenos are special. They are more pristine and more primal than the mountains of the Catalinas. Don’t get me wrong, the Catalinas are beautiful. But they are beautiful in the same way that art is beautiful. The beauty of the Catalinas is interwoven with human presence and human development. It does not feel like the wilderness. It feels like a large park without fences.

The Pinalenos feel like wilderness. There is a sense of refuge and sanctuary in that place. It is a true sky island, its ecology serving as relief from both the heat and desiccation of the desert floor and a primal refuge from human development. Its beauty is without parallel. The fact that it is largely untouched makes it special.

I spent two nights on the mountain and when it was over, I didn’t want to leave. I still don’t; I’ve spent most of my time this week thinking about those mountains and when I can go back. It’s not even that hard to put together a trip; the drive is about three hours each way. Easily doable. All of my camping gear is ready to go. I could leave this weekend if I want.

I can’t escape to the mountains every weekend, of course. The state of my apartment is a testament to my inattention on matters close to home. But home isn’t where my mind is right now.

Even as I attend to my chores, my mind is there among the trees and the streams and the meadows. My mind is on that mountain.

A few tribes of Native Americans consider the mountain to be sacred and though I am agnostic on the existence of the divine, there is something undeniably spiritual and fulfilling about that place.

I have often wondered what true believers feel when they stand in their holy places and when they attend their churches or temples. For me, the feeling was always one of obligation; this is what I should be doing, this is what I should be feeling. But if the true believer feels in church as I felt as I walked the trails of that mountain, I think I now understand.

Make no mistake, I do not see this mountain as evidence of the divine. I don’t need the divine to appreciate such a place as this. The mountains themselves are sufficient to earn my appreciation and my awe.

“Religious” ≠ “Christian”. OMFG.

I think the religious right is reading a different Constitution than the rest of us. It’s the only explanation for the shit I’m reading these days. If I had to guess, the conservative version of the Constitution looks something like this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion any religion other than one specific brand of mega-church Evangelicalism, which is totes awesome . . .

Yeah. I think they also use a different dictionary and thesaurus, which I’ll get to in a moment.

Let me preface by saying that I, personally, don’t think taxpayer money should be used to fund private religious schools through vouchers; this, by the way, is coming from somebody who went to a private religious school. With that said, if you are going to fund private religious schools, it’s only fair to follow what the actual Constitution describes and fund religious schools from any religion and not just your own very specific brand of Christianity.

That’s what’s so monocle-dropping awesome about this reaction from Louisiana Republican Valarie Hodges. Upon learning that Governor Bobby Jindal’s voucher program would fund private schools from religions other than Christianity, she had this to say:

We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

The best part is when you consider this in context to her previous position on using public funding for private religious schools:

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said.

Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”

Holy shit, you guys, did you know that the word “religious” ≠ “Christianity?” OMFG, I can’t believe it, either.

Let’s ignore fact that she’s completely wrong about the religion of the Founding Fathers, since it’s actually Deism, which almost everybody with a working brain should know at this point. My reaction to this whole thing is pure schadenfreude and it is delicious.

We’ve watched the religious right erode the separation of church and state at every turn while complaining that Christianity is “oppressed” in this country. And now that they’ve forced the door open to allow their religion to sneak through the church/state wall, they’re pissed when other mainstream religions decide to do the same thing.

There’s a word for this sort of thing and that word is hypocrisy.

Since we evidently don’t live in a world where private schools remain funded by private tuition and private contributions, I hope all of Louisiana’s Muslims, Jews, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Taoists, and whoever I’m forgetting line up and open a shit-ton of new schools using money provided by this voucher program and I hope they do it right next door to all the Evangelical schools.

Riding In The Rain

This post is about riding motorcycles.

You can feel the raindrops breaking against you despite the leather jacket. Each one stings but doesn’t hurt. It feels good. Your hands are wet despite the gloves, which you wonder about until you remember that you’re wearing the gloves with perforations in them because it’s summer.  You know, to keep your hands cool. The soaked leather of your gloves feels good too.

Your focus is on the road in front of you. The oily puddles of rainwater and various coolant, oil, and other sundry liquids make you alert but not nervous. There’s a sense of daring as you ride around some and through others. Any one of them could be too much and then you’ll be on the side of the road, hopefully alive and unhurt, but no guarantees.

Even though you’ve ridden faster before, this is where you feel the edge most keenly. It’s a good feeling. The thrill of pushing right up to that precipice is a good one.

The crack of thunder is louder than your engine. You know it’s not safe to do this, it’s not recommended, but the idea of not doing it seems even worse.

It feels as though this moment was made for you. All of the choices of your life have led up to this time, this place, this road, this storm. You’re riding on the edge of the storm like a surfer riding the crest of a wave.

The sound and the rain and the engine and the road are your entire world at this moment. There is nothing else to think about. Nothing else matters right now. Later, it will, but not right now.

You don’t do this because you believe a lie about invulnerability. You don’t do this because of some fascination with death. No, this is all about life; this is about holding your life in your hands and savoring it and experiencing it with the full realization that it is a fleeting and precious thing. It slips by even faster than the road beneath you, even faster than the rain around you.

You ride the edge of the storm because you are alive and glad of it and when the lightning arcs across the sky in front of you, so brightly that it’s like a newborn sun even through your darkened visor, you don’t feel fear. You feel good. You feel alive and quick and full of promise.

You realize that this moment, this summer storm out on a desert road is a rare moment and you realize that there are too few moments like these and that they are rare and special things.

This one is yours; yours, and no one else’s.

This Week In Tyrannosaurs

I’ve written before about my love for the noble and majestic tyrannosaurus rex. Sure, it’s the Coke of dinosaurs and it’s not edgy or cool to say it’s one’s favorite dinosaur. Everybody knows that serious dinosaur hipsters go for other carnivores like Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, or Carnotaurus, but for me, it’s all about the the T.rexes. I recently got to see a T.rex skeleton for the first time during my trip to the Toronto and it was pretty awesome:

Pictured above: pretty awesome.

Which is why this article about the T.rex’s bite force has me grinning for all sorts of reasons:

Recent computer models predict that the back teeth on an adult T. rex were capable of generating a bite force between 30,000 and 60,000 Newtons. That’s about how much force you’d experience if you found yourself trapped beneath a sitting elephant. It also makes T. rex ‘s bite the most powerful of any creature to ever walk the Earth . . . Ever.

Admittedly, this still puts the T.rex out of the running compared to the Megalodon’s bite force of 100,000 newtons . . . but it sure as hell means that the T.rex could out-bite the larger Spinosaurus with its rather wimpy bite force of 30,000 newtons.

Suck it, Spinosaurus.

Audiobooks And Speech Patterns

I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Part of this is due to my commute; I work in a different town than where I live, which means I’ve got a 50 minute commute each way (and that’s on a good day). Yes, I realize that to people who live in “real cities,” this number sounds like a refreshing dream. I get that. However, this shit is relevant and to me, an hour and a half in the car each day is a long time.

Since you can only listen to your music collection so many times before it turns into the audio equivalent of a used piece of gum, I keep a steady supply of audiobooks on hand to keep me occupied. I realized early on that this plan has the added benefit of helping me pad out the stats on my Goodreads page and also makes me seem like an amazing library employee, because I’m reading so many damn books all the time.

A good audiobook is addictive in a weird way: you’ll start hoping for red lights or traffic jams so you can listen longer. I also listen while walking, or running, or shopping, or eating lunch, or really doing anything where I have a reason to ignore the outside world beyond the bare minimum attention necessary to not get hit by a car.

I’ve noticed a strange side effect from so much immersive listening. For a brief time after I’ve finished the book, I can often find myself speaking like the book’s reader, particularly when I’m talking to somebody about the book.

This was pointed out to me while I was explaining one of my favorite moments in Bill Maher’s The New New Rules about how the fact that the NFL is socialist is the reason why it is an objectively better sport to watch than the MLB due to the latter being capitalist. Since Maher himself was the reader for the audiobook, this meant I had a pretty decent impression going during my retelling of the chapter.

Sadly, the effect fades after a day or so, perhaps because by then, I’ve started another audiobook. It certainly means this little habit isn’t one I can use to entertain friends at parties.

I’m a little concerned by this realization, because my current audiobook is Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, which is awesome and hilarious, but it, too, is read by the author and I’m a bit concerned that by the end of the book, I’m going to have “holy shit, ya’ll” in my lexicon for a few days.

That’s going to be weird.

Travelogue: Toronto Recap

I am writing another post in offline mode while I wait for my connecting flight in the Chicago-O’hare airport. I’m not sure what’s so flawed about my little laptop that it can’t connect to either of the two open networks here in the terminal. It has to be my laptop, right? It’s not like one of the largest airports in the world would have substandard WiFi. I hope.

Let’s see, what can I talk about while I pass the time?

  • Toronto is a great city. A few observations, though: even after three days, the Toronto accent with all of its “oots” was endearingly charming. I can only imagine what American accents must sound like to other English speakers. I know that we all sound neutral to ourselves, but surely, that doesn’t change the sound of the cadence and tone of someone’s accent, does it? American accents seem harsh in comparison. I’ve never heard or read anybody who said they really liked the way Americans speak English, even though listening to one of the more prim British accents is, for me, a reason to fall in love and marry a person. I might have shared too much here.
  • Another observation from Toronto: it’s probably the largest city I’ve been in if we exclude all the airports I’ve been hanging out in recently. It’s sleek and modern, and its skyline reminds me of the movie Inception. Seriously, they have this thing going on where every high-rise condo is built in a pair, so you have sets of twins popping up all over the horizon. It’s kind of cool, but it looks like somebody was playing SimCity and hit Ctrl + V a whole bunch. It really looks like the skyline from Inception. I kept expecting the horizon to fold up like a giant taco, which would have been exciting.
  • I was thinking about writing a blog post about tourists behaving badly, but after I watched a guy try to break off a piece of crystal from a display in the Royal Ontario Museum, I was just too bummed out. On a more egalitarian note, all the dickish tourists I observed were from different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. No one people on this earth seem to have a monopoly on being a jerk. Equality abounds! Consequently, I feel bad for the locals in every tourist spot on the planet. Including myself (hey, people come from all over to check out our Desert Museum).
  • Speaking of the Royal Ontario Museum, that place is kickass. I saw a lot of amazing dinosaur bones, including a tyrannosaurus rex. It was the first time I’d ever seen a tyrannosaurus rex in person! It was very exciting. They had a lot of other great exhibits there, including an Egyptian mummy, but I’m going to be honest: I was there for the dinosaur bones and I was not disappointed.
  • Standing on the glass floor on the CN tower and looking down reminded me that I’m not actually cured of my fear of heights; I’m just really good at dealing with it. The 58 second elevator ride reminded me that the same is true for my claustrophobia. Despite these personal revelations, it was still a great experience, because I felt like a total boss sliding past all the scared people at the edge of the glass floor to go tromp around and stamp my feet to show my complete faith in Canadian engineering and my complete disdain for gravity.
  • I’m kvetching a lot here, but that’s only because I think it’s the cynical stuff that makes for good reading. I’m sure a blog post about all the amazing beers I drank and the amazing architecture I saw and the cool video game exhibit I got to play in, etc. etc. would just make everybody dislike me. So I won’t talk about that, at least not anymore than I already have.
  • In conclusion, Toronto was an amazing city. It was incredibly multicultural, filled with interesting history, great beer, and friendly people. I think it’s something we in the States take for granted, but the relationship between our countries is pretty special. For instance, we share the longest undefended border in the entire world. I don’t think we could ask for better neighbors. Consequently, we should be really grateful that they’re too polite to ask us to move, so that they can have better neighbors. I kid, I kid. . . well, mostly.

That’s about it for now. I’ll post this when I can, which probably won’t be until I get back to Tucson. I still have another hour before my flight boards, but after that it’s going to be four hours of sitting in the same chair, so I think I’m going to get up and move around in an open space while I still have the chance. See you in Tucson!

On Pythons

Regular readers know that I’m a “snake person.” I’ve kept snakes for the majority of my life. I love Maize and Morrigan, my two pet snakes, as much as any dog or cat owner loves their fuzzy companions (although I’m decidedly more realistic about how Maize and Morrigan feel about me, which is to say, they don’t feel anything for me).

I have to talk about this fatal python attack that’s making the news rounds. It’s weird to me that this horrible thing happened in Canada at almost exactly the same time I’m in Canada myself. Just one of those weird things, I guess.

First, I want to say that regardless of how or why it happened, this is a horrible thing to have happened. I feel a tremendous amount of sympathy for the families of those boys and I realize that no level of rationalization or understanding can help heal those wounds. I feel terrible for those poor boys, as well. Constriction is one of the most horrible deaths imaginable, in my opinion. It’s one of the reasons I never feed my snakes live prey. It doesn’t matter that constriction is a constrictor’s natural means of killing. It’s a bad way for anything to go, even something as small as a mouse.

After all, it’s not like the snakes care. They don’t bother to constrict when they don’t need to do so. Arguing that I’m denying these predators the chance to hunt is just anthropomorphic projecting. Snakes don’t feel concepts such as “the thrill of the hunt.” Keep that thought in mind as we work through this.

Regardless, I’m sorry for the family, I’m sorry for the community, and I’m sorry for those boys. It’s a tragedy. No bones about it.

Now, with that said . . .

I’m going to put on my Cynical hat for the rest of this post. Ye be warned, matey. If you’re squeamish, you may wish to stop reading at this point.

I have a very difficult time believing this story as it has been presented to us. Let’s look at the basic sequence of events:

  1. The snake escaped from its enclosure into a vent.
  2. It followed the vent and ended up in the boys’ room.
  3. It proceeded to attack and constrict the two boys while they slept without anybody waking up.

Point one isn’t particularly surprising; snakes are really, really good at escaping. The fact that the owner of the python didn’t have the proper precautions to prevent an escape may or may not be criminal negligence (I don’t have the legal background to say). However, this is something that snakes do whenever they get a chance. All snakes do this.

Point two isn’t surprising, either. The first thing a snake is going to do after escaping is slither towards terrain it considers favorable. Vents are enclosed spaces, which makes snakes feel secure. The vent was probably fairly warm, which also would have drawn the snake to it.A snake going into a vent is likely scary, but not indicative of a hostile snake. This, too, is normal behavior.

Point three is where the examples of normal behavior fall apart. Snakes only attack for two reasons: to kill prey or to defend themselves. That’s it. Snakes don’t kill “for the fun of it” or “just because.” Every snake bites for one of these two reasons. The snake might incorrectly interpret a benign situation as threatening, of course. Mistakes are certainly possible. Usually, however, a snake mistakes a person as a threat when the person is doing something to make the snake feel threatened, either intentionally or unintentionally.

It’s hard to believe that two sleeping boys would make a snake feel threatened, so it makes it seem unlikely that “defense” was the reason that prompted the attack. That leaves the second option: “killing prey.” Getting food. It’s horrible to think about a snake consuming a human being, but there are a few recorded instances where it has happened.

It’s hard to believe that a snake, even a large one, would interpret a human as food. The only thing that makes this more likely is if the snake was starving, in which case it would become a much more opportunistic predator. Unless the owner was incredibly horrible at feeding this snake, however, starvation seems unlikely. Most captive snakes are fed too often rather than not often enough. Seriously, unless you’ve kept a snake, you will have a hard time wrapping your mind around how infrequently they can eat. Sometimes, my python has gone a month between meals for no reason more than “because she didn’t feel like eating.”

So, the python has arrived in the room and it’s either starving (and thus opportunistic) or the boys themselves have done something to make themselves appear as food to the snake. If the owner kept live prey for this python, it’s likely that he had several rabbits or other large rodents on hand. Maybe the boys played with the rabbits and enough scent rubbed off on them. It’s possible.

When a constrictor attempts to kill prey, it has to strike. It leads with a quick bite that secures a grip on the prey and allows the snake to use its powerful body to lift the prey enough to begin wrapping its coils around the victim.

These snakes have very sharp teeth to aid in securing their grip. These sharp teeth produce very painful bites.

I can’t imagine a situation that would have resulted in both boys being killed. If the snake struck and constricted one boy, the screams would have surely woken up the other boy. More likely, they would have woken up everybody in the building. Bites from a large python hurt.

The snake would have had to struck and constricted the first boy, killed him without making a sound, and then repeated the same process on the second boy, again without making a sound. This seems unlikely.

If the snake hadn’t bitten, I’m not sure how it could have gotten its coils around both boys to begin constricting them. It would have literally had to slither under them both to get coils beneath their sleeping bodies, again without waking them. It’s hard to imagine the pressure of a heavy snake on one’s body wouldn’t wake at least one boy which would lead to screaming. Even I would wake up screaming if I found a python in my bed, and I love pythons.

Also unlikely is the gruesome but accurate puzzle of why the snake didn’t consume the first boy before killing the second? A snake almost always engages in the feeding process immediately after completing a kill; the only thing that would cause them to abandon a kill without eating is if another predator posed a threat.

It’s actually incredibly difficult for snakes to consume humans, even children. Our bipedal bodies give us a very unique silhouette in the animal kingdom and our broad shoulders make it impossible for a snake to swallow a human past the head (of course, the human will still be dead in this scenario, so that’s a small comfort). Children are more vulnerable, of course, but still unlikely to suffer this fate.

This situation just doesn’t add up. Why would the snake seek out these boys instead of ignoring them? Why would it attack both of them? Why didn’t it try to eat? Why didn’t anybody hear the scream that would have resulted from a painful python bite?

I’m not saying it’s impossible. Clearly, it’s not, as there are two boys whose lives have been taken from them.

I am, however, saying that Occam’s Razor doesn’t support such a series of improbabilities necessary for this story to happen in the way it has been presented. I am saying that the explanation that a python went out of its way to murder two boys seems very unlikely to me.

Certainly, it seems more unlikely than a scenario in which something else strangled two children and then blamed it on a convenient scapegoat. Consider this:

In the past 100 years, Mr. Marais said experts had traced only three cases of human strangulation deaths by pythons in all of Africa. “It’s an incredibly rare event,” he said from Pretoria, South Africa. It would be even more unusual for two people to be killed in the same incident, he said.

Again, it’s not impossible, but these events are, in my opinion, incredibly improbable.

I imagine that when more details emerge, we’ll hopefully learn the truth. I assume that asphyxiation via snake leaves very different marks on a body compared to more mundane forms of strangulation. I guess we’ll see.

Regardless of how it happened, the snake is dead, too, and I’m sure this will provoke more violence and hatred against an order of reptiles that has suffered far more at our hands than we have to their fangs or coils. Snakes will be blamed for being “dangerous,” even though far more people are killed by dogs every year.

But that won’t matter. It never does. Because in the end, to many people snakes are scary and it’s all to easy to blame something that seems scary.

Jim Hines, Libriomancer, And Admitting That I Was Wrong

You’ll need a bit of background before diving into this post. About a year ago, I read Libriomancer by Jim Hines. It’s a fantasy novel about a librarian who has the ability to pull things out of books: lightsabers, laser guns, the One Ring (probably not a good idea), basically anything that can fit through a book’s dimensions. You’d think I would have loved such a book? Magical librarians? How can that not be awesome?

And, well, it was awesome, for the most part. For most of the book, I was engaged and reading with the sort of hungry pace I usually reserve for Jim Butcher’s work.

However, when I got to the end of the book, there was something that didn’t sit quite well with me and made me feel sufficiently weird that I ended up knocking my review down to four stars. Still a very, very good rating, but not that that sparkling five star I was feeling for most of the book.

Why did I do this? Well, there was this character in the book: Lena. She was a dryad who was created from a book. She was depicted as intensely sexual, beautiful in a non-traditional way (much more curvy than your typical rail-thin love interest) and in the end of the book, she and the main character ended up in a three way M/F/F relationship with Lena’s previous lover serving as the second F.

I admit, that all seemed weird to me. I admit that for all of my progressive thinking, for all that I support and believe that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, should be free to love whomever they desire . . . the idea of this three person relationship felt odd to me. More than that, it felt exploitative. Everything about Lena’s character felt like it was catering to the author’s own personal kinks and tastes. This was just another fantasy author writing out his own personal fantasies. More powerful, sexy women that exist to serve male tastes. Sigh. I decided I wouldn’t read more in the series.

I was wrong. I was wrong about all of that.

Regular readers know that I’m a huge fan of John Scalzi. He’s in my personal geek pantheon; if he’s attending a convention, that’s a reason for me to want to attend that convention. I have signed copies of several of his books. I read his blog. I might have a mancrush on him. Okay, yes, I do have a mancrush on him.

He has a regular feature called The Big Idea where other authors can talk about their new books. Some of them are interesting, some of them aren’t to my taste, some of them have made me go out and get the book as quickly as possible. It’s a cool way for Scalzi to use his blog’s popularity to help other authors find an audience.

So today, a new Big Idea post goes up and it’s about the sequel to Libriomancer. Hmm, I think. Jim Hines. Oh, right, the book with the dryad and the three-way at the end.

But then I started reading. And when I was done reading, I realized that all my earlier impressions had been completely wrong. What I had taken to be more of the same fantasy exploitation of women was the complete opposite, was in fact a critique of those same exploitative depictions. I’m was like the kids in my high school lit class who were outraged when we read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal because they didn’t realize it was satire.

Hines isn’t one of those fantasy authors out there creating more fantasy women to cater to his own male gaze. He’s the opposite. He’s giving talks on sexism in fantasy and posing in sexy dresses to raise awareness for these gender issues. In short, he’s one of us. And I never even realized it.

Reading about what Hines is trying to do with his character, both in the new book and in the first one, made me go back and take a hard look at why I felt the way I did with Libriomancer. It made me wonder why the M/F/F relationship at the end bothered me. What I realized is that I’m not immune to feeling prejudice towards things I don’t understand and this was something I didn’t understand. I was reacting just as a homophobic individual would.

I’m sorry that I judged Hines and his book too quickly. I’m sorry that I didn’t think more critically about the book. But I’m glad, too, because this experience made me reconsider my own thoughts and examine a bit of prejudice I didn’t know I had.

And all of that is good, because it’s how I grow. It’s how I learn.

Jim Hines’ book made me learn and grow. It’s not his fault it took me almost a year to actually figure it all out.

I’ll definitely be picking up his new book when I get home. And I retroactively have added back Libriomancer’s long overdue fifth star.