Rewatching H20: Just Add Water a couple of weeks ago, I started to wonder whether it is in some ways connected to the myth of mermaids living in Australia – considering that it is an Australian children’s show about mermaids!
Firstly, for those who have not seen the series, let me give you a brief summary. It is a series about school girls who turn to mermaids, immediately after having contact with water. Of course, nobody is supposed to know that they are mermaids, therefore life gets very difficult for them and is mainly about them trying to hide their real selves.
So let’s have a look at some Australian myths.
Yawkyawk literally means :”young woman spirit being”. (occultworld.com) The Yawkyawk is a creature with origins in Australian mythology, legend and folklore. The legend of the Yawkyawk states that women can get pregnant, just by visiting a Yawkyawk water hole. It is said that they provide water for plants and sweet water for people to drink. When they are angered, they supposedly start disruptive storms and disrupt marriages. Their true form is believed to be a woman, whose hair is made of algae with a fishtail from her waist downward. Furthermore, they are to be more active at night. There are also some Aboriginal language groups that believe that albino children born to aboriginal parents are a result of mermaid blood in their ancestry. (troublemeg.com)
It should be added, however, that these accounts should be treated with caution as they were most likely not uploaded to the internet by Aboriginal people themselves, but seem to be part of a general cryptozoology community online – perhaps a modern version of colonial collectors of Aboriginal tales and thus somewhat problematic.
Mermaids in H2O
Not only do mermaids in H2O turn into humans and have normal human hair, they also do not help provide water for plants and humans. They have a fishtail once they make contact with water which is a parallel. The mermaids in H20, have their own water hole on Mako Island, which they call the Moon Pool but humans do not get pregnant in that water, they turn into mermaids in that place. The series also features different types of mermaids. The ones that are born as mermaids in the sea, and the main characters of the series, who fall into the moon pool. In conclusion, there are not very many parallels between the myth of the Yawkyawk and H20. The fact that in both, the mermaids have a fishtail and that their own water holes play a big role, even though it is a different one, is in my opinion not enough to call the series based on tales about mermaids told by Aboriginal people; they seem to be conforming to the Eurocentric view on mermaids we know so well from European fairy tales or American films like Disney’s Ariel!
Over the past few years, screenwriters, authors, and directors have been increasingly interested in adapting literary classics, whether it be on screen or paper. The emerging trend to revisit classic literary pieces and even rewriting them, has been quite successful with films like Little Women and West Side Story reaching box office sales.
Recently, American novelist Nghi Vo published her debut novel ‘The Chosen and the Beautiful’ after having been successful with several novellas. The novel is part of the above-mentioned trend because it retells the story of the literary classic The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Considered to be the ‘Great American Novel’, Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece is set in the 1920s where flapper girls, Jazz, economic prosperity, and dazzling parties dominate Western society. Told from the perspective of protagonist and first-person narrator Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby tells the story of mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, and his longing to be reunited with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan. Sounds familiar, right? Any adaptation would need to capture the general atmosphere of The Great Gatsby to succeed, considering how well-known the text is. Well, in her novel The Chosen and the Beautiful, writer Nghi Vo has managed exactly that: preserving the familiar, but adding a queer, non-western vitality to Fitzgerald’s classic narrative.
Unlike Fitzgerald’s story, Vo shifts the focal point from Nick Carraway to Jordan Baker, allowing a female perspective to surface in a world predominantly controlled by men. But that’s only half the story, in Vo’s version Jordan Baker is also a queer Vietnamese person, still trying to figure out her own true identity. These characteristics have brought up the question whether The Chosen and the Beautiful ought to be considered a young adult (literature) rewrite of The Great Gatsby. Vo uses several tropes and components typically used in YA literature that really elaborate Jordan Baker’s story. The nature of her character extenuates her oddity and contrasts social norms set in the 1920s. Within YA texts, gender and sexual identity are big themes that add to the coming-of-age aspect and which are also used in The Chosen and the Beautiful. The reader learns about Jordan’s upbringings and the depth of her character, which is vital for the dynamic structure within the novel. Jordan’s queerness combines a foreign yet so familiar storyline that elevates this classic narrative to a new realm of interest for young adults that can connect and identity themselves with her character.
Today, it is not only refreshing to see classic literary pieces through a queer perspective, it is also important to acknowledge the LGBTQ+ community, which has been neglected in the literary canon significantly, especially when it comes to YA literature. With books like Nghi Vo’s, adolescents can dive deeper into a beautifully written retelling of The Great Gatsby, where female agency, a queer vitality and a non-white perspective are at the centre of attention.
The Australian movie, ”Picnic at Hanging Rock”, is based on the novel under the same name, which was written by Joan Lindsay. The film was released in 1975.
1900, Appleyard College, Victoria, Australia. On Valentine’s Day, the students from the girls’ boarding school set off with their teachers for an excursion at Hanging Rock. Instead of staying in the group like the rest of the students, four girls decide to go to the top of Hanging Rock and begin to climb the branching path. Once there, they lie down in the sun and suddenly walk behind a rock as if in a trance. One of the students, Edith, is looking for the three girls. Since they do not respond to any calls and seem to have disappeared without a trace, Edith runs back to the group in tears and reports what has happened. There, she also finds out that a teacher has disappeared with them. She remembers with difficulty, but what she does know is that all of them were heading towards the top of Hanging Rock.
I did not know what to expect at first. But quickly the film captivated me, even if I must admit that I had a hard time understanding everything correctly at times. This was the first Australian movie I have seen, so it was a bit tricky to completely understand the Australian English right away.
I particularly liked the structure of the film, the costumes, the locations and also the music. The typical Australian setting, the quietness in some scenes and the costumes of the girls, reminiscent of the Victorian era, impressed me greatly.
The movie is classified in the horror and mystery genre, whereas I personally consider the mystery genre to be more appropriate. I did not perceive the movie as a horror movie, even though some parts, like the images of the girls with the wounds on their heads and the blood on their bodies and clothes, were a bit ”brutal”. The mysteriousness runs through the whole movie from the beginning. What I particularly liked is that even at the end (spoiler!) the mystery of Hanging Rock could not be solved, and the characters remained missing.
Nevertheless, I find that the movie did drag on a bit towards the end. For my taste, some scenes perhaps could have been shortened a bit, because in thrilling scenes often followed long-winded passages, which took the tension away.
After watching the movie, I searched a bit on the internet and found out that it has often been discussed whether the movie is based on a true story. There are many who are unsure, and especially Joan Lindsay herself kept silent about it during her lifetime and also hinted at this in the novel in the preface that she wants to leave this decision to the readers (Köster n.p.). Moreover, there are said to be no reports of missing girls at Hanging Rock in Australian police files, and there is even some speculation about whether it may have been aliens who made the girls disappear.
In addition, I found out that the topic of colonization is addressed in the movie. This becomes clear, for example, in the scene where the girls set off for Hanging Rock, even though they are told how dangerous this is. This controlled relationship ”to the natural world represents underlying colonialist anxieties about the power of nature”. The author suggests that ”repression is a byproduct if colonialism” (Lindsay). This is made clear in the movie, showing the girls who have to wear hats, gloves, long dresses, and corsets even in the blazing sun. They are controlled by their teachers/principals non-stop in what they do. It is important to mention here that the way the girls are treated in the film is not at all comparable to what the Aboriginal Australians had to experience. The author nevertheless uses this to highlight that ”colonialism is a brutal and hungry force which requires not just the oppression of those it supplants, but the repression of those it claims to benefit, in order to function” (Lindsay n.p.).
All in all, ”Picnic at Hanging Rock” is a movie worth watching. It is very multi-faceted, and what I found particularly good is that it can be viewed for free on Youtube at any time. In addition, you can read the book about it and if you cannot get enough of Picnic at Hanging Rock also watch the series that was released in 2018!
“Friends can talk about things. They can figure things out. Get past things. Dou you want a friend in your life who you can never disagree with? A friend who you can’t grow with?”
Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, pos. 2808 (kindle)
Humaira Khan and Ishita Dey are nothing alike: While easy-going and amiable Hani socializes with her friends, introverted and ambitious Ishu spends her days studying to prepare for university. Despite being pushed into the same box by their classmates for being the only two Bengali girls in their year, Hani and Ishu have very little in common and do their best to avoid each other on most days.
That is, until Hani’s friends tell her that she can’t possibly be bisexual if she has only dated boys and she hurriedly invents a fake relationship with Ishu. Hesitant at first, Ishu soon agrees to Hani’s fake dating proposal, hoping that it will make her more popular and secure her classmates’ votes in the election of Head Girl.
In this sunshine x grumpy, fake-dating story Jaigirdar brings to life a breezy, heart-warming romance while simultaneously tackling more serious issues like racism, biphobia, toxic friendships and family conflicts. Keeping the tone appropriate for a young readership, she sends her characters on a journey of growth and challenges, putting them through many uncomfortable moments and painful realizations. In the end, however, the positive feelings outweigh the negative ones, making this a story of queer joy rather than queer trauma.
Both of the main characters have their own story in addition to their shared one. Hani starts out as a very accommodating character, constantly assimilating to her toxic white friends who don’t show any respect for her culture, her religion, or her sexuality. She is somewhat caught in between wanting to commit to her Bengali and Muslim community and her fear that her friends will exclude her if she does. Thus, a big part of her character development is learning to stand up for herself, to choose her own happiness over her friends’ opinion, and eventually to leave behind a friendship that she’s held onto since early childhood. Thanks to her relationship with Ishu as well as her loving parents, she realizes that she deserves people who support her culture and sexuality instead of mocking it.
Ishu, on the other hand, is utterly unapologetic. She doesn’t care what others have to say about her culture or her appearance. She does care, however, about her parents’ approval – more than anything else, actually. Especially ever since her older sister announced that she wanted to take a break from med-school to get married, Ishu has felt the responsibility and pressure of being the ‘good daughter’ who achieves exactly what her parents expect from her. Over the course of the book, Ishu realizes that her sister might be right in choosing a different path for her life than she initially promised her family, and finds herself questioning her own plans for the future. The more she sides with her sister Nik, the more criticism she receives from her parents, and on top of that, she has to deal with people at school attempting to ruin her chances in the Head Girl election. In the end, Ishu lets go of her desire to please her parents and learns to put herself first.
Adiba Jaigirdar thus created two contrasting main characters who somehow give each other exactly the type of encouragement the other needs. Through the duo-POV narration style, Jaigirdar shows how differently people connect to their culture and how varied the lived experiences of two brown queer girls can be. Her writing style and choice of words is engaging and easily accessible. Some passages may sound a bit juvenile, but if you consider the targeted age group, the language definitely feels appropriate. What stands out positively are the many Bengali foods, clothes, and traditions that were woven into the main story – as a non-Bengali reader, I really enjoyed learning about this culture through the characters.
One aspect I’d like to discuss critically is the motivation behind the protagonists’ decision to fake-date each other. For one, there is no mention of many other friends or acquaintances Hani has outside of her trio that would speak for her popularity, so it is a bit hard to believe that Ishu actually has a shot at becoming Head Girl just because she’s dating Hani. It would have been nice to see Hani engaging with other people or being part of a larger social circle at school to show that she has an influence on the other students (e.g. by making her part of a sports team or popular school club). Also, as understandable as it is for Hani to want to prove to her straight friends that she is bisexual, and as much as I personally enjoy the fake-dating-trope, I wish there was a moment where she realizes that she should never need to invent a girlfriend to convince people of anything. She doesn’t owe her friends an explanation, much less a whole relationship, to prove her sexuality. Even though Hani did ‘break up’ with her friends at the end of the novel, it felt like it was for other reasons – for framing Ishu, for making her ditch her father, for how they treated her after she came out to them. But she never says anything along the lines of, “And by the way, I literally got a fake girlfriend when I really shouldn’t have to, and you’re still not taking me seriously”, and I think that’s the one thing that could be missing in her otherwise well-rounded character development.
Nonetheless, this is an amazing sapphic love story full of tropes we love. Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is both light-hearted and deep and provides the perfect balance of cheesy romance, coming of age themes, and more serious social issues. Jaigirdar handled the difficult aspects very carefully, responsibly, and thoughtfully, providing a rich variety of perspectives and experiences for the reader to consider. What I also like is that the novel ends on a positive note, but not a perfect one. There are still conflicts for the protagonists to resolve – Ishu is experiencing an estrangement from her parents, Hani has just lost her two best friends – but for now, both girls are happy with their lives and their growth. So, you close the book with a sense of knowing that Hani and Ishu will continue to work on themselves off-page, and I think that’s beautiful.
A review of Dean Atta’s Young Adult Novel The Black Flamingo and its connection to the modern portrayal of self-identity.
by Jessica Klostermayer
I Want to Be a Pink Flamingo Pink. Definitely pink. I want my feathers to match the hue you imagine. I want to blend in David Attenborough would say, “Here we see the most typical flamingo.” Though I don’t want to be the most, just typical.
Atta, p. 194
This passage out of Dean Attas Novel is by far the most relatable to everybody because it describes a scenario every one of us has been through. A point in life where we don’t know who we are, so we try to be like others. With his work Dean Atta created a lovely story around finding one’s own identity and helping to establish and represent multiple sexual orientations within the literature, which can be applied and reflects our society.
The Black Flamingo
The Back flamingo is a YA novel that tells of a half Jamaican, half Greek-Cyprian boy named Micheal, who likes to do girl-like things like playing barbies instead of playing football or doing masculine things. His otherness thrives on the toxic masculinity in his surroundings. Most likely, the fear of the otherness gets projected at him. Throughout School/College, he has to learn where he belongs, making it even more difficult when you pretend to be a person who you aren’t.
About Dean Atta
Comparing the cover and certain pictures of Dean Atta, it becomes evident that there are many similarities between author and character.
Dean Atta is a British poet of greek Cypriot and Caribbean descent. He is one of the 100 most influential people when it comes to representing the LGBTQ Community—doing that through his writing and performing for more than ten years. Especially his poems, as those in the Black Flamingo, found significant impact in representing all kinds of identities and what they have to deal with within our society.
Finding One’s Flamingo
That Dean Atta’s work and those representing something different are still important and needed can also be seen in other fields besides Literature. One thing that immediately popped into my head as I saw the cover of The Black Flamingo was the resemblance of Harry’s styles outfit at the Grammy Awards 2021. A British artist also is known for his support of the LGBTQ community and his attempts to fight against toxic masculinity.
Although Harry Styles has not to face the problems of color and status, he finds ways to address other complex issues through his status. The Perfect example for his thrive against this toxic masculinity found its peak in November 2020, where he was photographed and put on the cover of Vogue in a blue dress. With that, he has faced with criticism. Especially this comment on Twitter from Candace Owens found broad resonance which states that men who wear dresses cannot be strong and “leaders”.
That debate comes along whether masculine and feminine behavior can be pinned to one specific gender or is constructed by society, as Judith Butler would suggest. In particular is that sometimes our community has to face that what we learned earlier on in our life isn’t fixed, and I think with The Black Flamingo Dean Atta contributes to that enlightenment lovingly.
Isaac-Wilson, Stephen. “Dean Atta: Meet the IPhone Poet.” The Guardian, 22 Feb. 2018, www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jan/11/dean-atta-stephen-lawrence-poem.
A Hong Kong-born, Australian-raised writer and illustrator, the Australian bush, Aboriginal mythology and Japanese mangas. An unusual combination that surprisingly works great.
The Dreaming is a 3-book, manga (Japanese comics) inspired, supernatural mystery series written and illustrated by Chinese-Australian comic book artist and graphic novelist, Queenie Chan. The story follows a pair of identical twins, Amber and Jeanie, as they arrive to their new boarding school, the Greenwich Private College, which is remotely located in the Australian bush. With rumors that female students have a habit of going missing in the bushlands, as well as the fact that the vice-principal, who runs the school, despises twins, the girls quickly realize that the school may not be as normal as it first appeared to be.
Reading the story was definitely a very interesting experience. Until now, I haven’t had any previews contact with Indigenous Australian folklore, which added a difficulty when it came to predicting where the story was going and what exactly lurked withing the bush. This, however, made the story even more engaging. Although narratives borrowed from indigenous cultures and used by non-indigenous writers, can be problematic, I wouldn’t say this applies in the case of The Dreaming. The creatures living withing the bushlands weren’t exactly demonized, but rather it was the school that felt alien in the area and seemed to be invading sacred land. Additionally, the founder of the boarding school was originally from England, a detail that perhaps could be linked to the country’s colonial history. If so, one could say that the story’s conclusion served the purpose of catharsis, when (spoiler!) the boarding school burned down and the invader was finally gone. It has to be added, though, that the author herself has expressed regret over the inclusion of indigenous motifs and would not do so again – in an interview soon to be published by the CASTLE youtube channel!
However, I would personally love to see a bit more indigenous representation, as the story does circle around an indigenous myth. When it came to the horror/ thriller aspect, I wasn’t sure what to expect, going in. However, I quickly caught myself holding my breath with each turning page, and I soon started coursing for choosing to begin reading the story late at night. The graphic novel ended with a somewhat open ending, and although I really wished the story to be a bit longer, it really fitted the novel’s atmospheric mood perfectly. Additionally, the art was well done, simplistic, yet very detailed where it needed to be. The panels and text flowed very nicely making it easy to navigate through the story, and the backgrounds were never too crowded to distract from the main focus. What I loved most about the art, were the beautiful illustrations for the chapter pages, whose essence I tried to capture in my illustration accompanying this blog post, as a tribute to the graphic novel.
All in all, I really enjoyed reading this trilogy, and would absolutely recommend it to any readers looking for a quick little spook to spice up their day with, or evening, for the more adventurous readers. The first two volumes are available free, on Queenie Chan’s webpage, whereas the 3rd one needs to be purchased.
In this blog post, I want to focus on the first chapters of the novel Catching Teller Crow and the way in which the chapters highlight the relation between trauma and detective work. Moreover, I want to take a closer look on the way the novel shifts between prose sections and poetry.
In the first chapter of the novel called “The Town“ it becomes apparent that the protagonist, Beth Teller, has died in a car crash. Her ghost or presence is perceptible to her father Michael and to her father only: “I [the girl] tried speaking to her [the girl’s aunt], even though I’d known by then that only Dad could see and hear me (p.9).“ One reading imposes itself: only the father can hear her because he is traumatized by her death and wishes that his daughter were still alive. This naturalistic reading is somewhat at odds with the broader genre under which “Catching Teller Crow“ is rubricated: Australian speculative fiction. A genre in which it is not impossible for ghosts and other supernatural beings to occur. But these two readings – the naturalistic and the speculative one – are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to investigate the effect the dead girl’s presence has on her father psychologically even though one is ready to accept that her presence is real. So, what is the effect of the dead girl’s presence on her father?
Her father is a detective and has lost his wife some years ago. He is inclined to see causation everywhere: “But Dad said that [the observation that correlation is not necessarily causation] was scientist-talk not police-talk, and if two things happened together you’d suspect the first thing had caused the second until it could provide you with an alibi (p.13).“ This tendency to see causation everywhere might be directly linked with the experience of loosing his daughter in the car accident. An event which is contingent and cannot be explained. Especially because no one drove too fast (cf. p.8). Thus, the accident is perceived as just an accident with no satisfactory explanation. Thus, the search of causation might be a compensation for not being able to rationally explain the accident. That his daughter is present to him when he tries to solve crimes by uncovering hidden causation might be seen as a testimony of the efficiency of this compensation: he feels close to his daughter and might even be able to bring her back: “There was a note of sadness in his voice, and I knew he was thinking about how Nurse Flint had likely died here. You can’t bring him back, Dad. But you can find out what happened to him [italics in the original] (p.15).“
It was shown that the necessity to find causation in crime might be directly linked with the experience of loosing one’s daughter in an event which cannot be explained by causality. Thus, the need to find causality is some kind of compensation.
When Beth and her father visit a witness the novel, which has up to this point relied solely on prose, shifts towards a poetry section. Why this change? In order to answer this question, I think it best to enlist the differences between poetry and prose as I see it. Readers will approach a poem differently from a prose texts. The reading is slower as they might recite the words in one’s head and thus also generally pay more attention to them. In poetry every words count. Thus, one approaches the poetry section with more caution, more attention and with an altogether different outlook. It slows the reading down. One expects to read something important. But there are also similarities: the witness, also a girl, also appears to have had a car accident.
Apart from formalistic and substantive differences, the poetry section might also be read as a kind of indirect characterization. People thinking or communicating in poetry with other people also pay special attention to their words. In a sense this thinking and communication is more artful than mere speech. This artfulness is also interesting when one considers the subject matter of the poem: it appears as if poetry is a coping mechanism for traumatic events. In poetry, once can give this experience shape: there are verses and stanzas. In order to answer the question broadly this change from prose to poetry might indicate a method to deal with trauma. In comparison between the father who tries to establish causality, poetry with its free association and playful metaphors appears to be an altogether different way to deal with trauma.
In this blog post, I have shown how a traumatic experience in fiction can be directly linked with the work of a decretive who tries to establish causality. Moreover, it was shown that the change form poetry to prose might indicate another way to deal with trauma: in poetry.
Kwaymullina, Ambelin and Kwaymullina, Ezekiel. Catching Teller Crow. Penguin Random House UK: 2019
by Nadja Marek, Renee Czyganowski, Danny Tran, and Ann-Sophie Ludwig
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term that contains many different genres. Generally speaking, it deals with topics such as nature (or the supernatural) and alternate realities, either in the past or future. It tries to make sense of the world by combining history with the supernatural and imaginary. Genres that count as speculative fiction are fantasy, horror and science fiction. These can also be divided into more specific categories, for example stories that entail ghost stories, magic realism, utopian and dystopian or apocalyptic and post apocalyptic elements. In this blog post, we want to give you an overview of the different genres and their key aspects that distinguish one from another.
Fantasy and Magic Realism
The Fantasy genre commonly features supernatural elements and magic, things that obviously do not exist in our world. Creative freedom is intrinsically tied to this particular genre unlike any other. Unrestricted by physical laws, fantasy offers a glimpse of what life could be like, if there was a sense of underlying magic in our world. Coinciding with the name, the genre of magic realism combines notions of a real world with fantasy and magic. The literary aspect of magic realism gained traction in the 1930, when Venezuelan author Arturo Uslar-Pietri wrote a number of influential short stories, focusing on both mystery and the reality of life. The overall setting is commonly grounded in a realistic but supernatural manner, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Arguably the most defining characteristic of this particular genre is the aspect of relatability; the story must take place in a real world that the reader is familiar with or can easily identify themselves with. In the world of magic realism, magic is an element that most characters are accustomed to, showcasing how modern life could be like with a supernatural twist. The genre of magic realism is distinguishable from regular fantasy by taking into account realistic elements and especially the style of realism, as it would otherwise fall under the aforementioned genre. This amalgamation of both relatability and the fantastical offers a uniquely inclusive approach to storytelling, as it is easier to grasp onto things the reader is already familiar with.
Horror and Ghost Stories
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” (Lovecraft 1927) Horror is a genre that contains elements of the supernatural and unnatural which serve the purpose to scare and repulse the reader. Often, it uses themes such as death, decay, monsters and blood to create an uncanny atmosphere that is noticeable and distinguishes it from any other genre. Moreover, it combines eerie descriptions of nature and the unnatural to make the reader feel frightened. Themes, such as the uncanny valley or monster theory help to understand that fear comes from something unfamiliar and something unknown that cannot be trusted. Horror plays with these themes to intentionally confront the reader with dreadful and shocking images and situations. In modern media it established the sub category of art horror which entails the interplay between threat and disgust.
When looking at the different types of horror it is important to look at the difference between psychological horror and supernatural horror. The former uses emotional and mental circumstances to unsettle the reader and picks up themes such as insanity, whereas the latter deals with monsters and the unknown, such as ghosts, to make the reader feel frightened.
Ghost stories are a subcategory of the horror genre and deal with, like the name already states, the appearances of ghosts. “A Splinter of Darkness”by Isobelle Carmody is an example of a horror short story. It deals with the uncanny because the child Paul is visited by a girl that only comes out when his parents aren’t home and she is persuading him to do unspeakable things to free others of her kind. The story uses the element of the unknown and secrecy as a tool to create a scary environment.
Science Fiction, Utopian/Dystopian and (Post-)Apocalyptic Literature
The words science and fiction at first glance represent a paradox, two terms that have nothing in common. However, put together they represent the great world of science fiction. The science fiction genre depicts the imagination of what science and its methods could have been, could be able to do, or become. It concerns itself with the question: what if? What if there would be a world where no one has to die? What if our world would be destroyed due to a scientific error? What if nature would turn on the human race? Science fiction often shows an opposite view to the life that we are used to and when it does relate to the world as we know it, there is always a big change to it, the so-called novum. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (3rd edition) the transformation to the world can occur due to technological inventions but it can also “involve some mutation of known biological or physical reality, e.g. time travel, extraterrestrial invasion, ecological catastrophe.” Due to the immense amount of possibilities for transformation, the genre of science fiction includes a range of subgenres such as for example utopian, dystopian and (post-)apocalyptic writing. Utopia and Dystopia present two opposing worldviews. Where utopian fiction presents a kind of perfect world, dystopian fiction presents a flawed one. Often dystopian and (post-)apocalyptic fiction are knit together tightly as an imperfect world is often presented as the result of an apocalyptic event. An example for this would be Jeremy Szal’s short story “The Weight of Silence”, which is set in Australia and deals with the aftermath of an attack through spiders that overtook the country. It presents a time of war and crisis through a before unknown force and shows how the survivors try to cope in their changed world.
In this blog post, we talked about different genres, such as “Fantasy and Magic Realism”, “Horror and Ghost stories”, and “Science Fiction and Utopian/Dystopian and (Post-)Apocalyptic literature”. But most of the time, stories are not written for a specific genre and categorizing them can be a bit tricky. A fantasy book can contain elements of horror stories or a dystopian short story can be considered a fantasy story as well. Stories are still divided into different genres to make it easier for the reader to find specific topics, but their content is still overlapping in genre. Therefore, we have the term speculative fiction which describes fiction that deals with elements that do not exist in reality.
Carmody, Isobelle. 1995. A Splinter of Darkness. In Gary Crew, Dark House, 219-236.
Lovecraft, H.P. 1973. Supernatural Horror in literature. Dover Publications Inc.
Szal, Jeremy. “The Weight of Silence.” Pacific Monsters, edited by Margrét Helgadóttir, Fox Spirit Books, 2017, pp. 83-89.
The final sentence of Anna-Marie McLemore’s Author’s Note in When the Moon Was Ours speaks for the whole of their brilliant, partly autobiographical novel. When the Moon was Ours tells the story of Sam and Miel, best friends living in a small town and each with more secrets than most teenagers carry. Sam paints moons he hangs all over the town and Miel grows roses from her wrist that everyone knows about. But beneath this, even more secrets are hidden. For Sam, it is his gender identity, the fact that almost no one knows that the body beneath his clothes has been assigned female at birth. Miel’s secrets, on the other hand, lie even deeper than that, buried in the pages you need to read for yourself if you want to uncover them.
The novel is something completely different from all the books I have read so far, even though my bookshelves are filled with Young Adult Literature. And it makes me wonder and even a little bit frustrated that this so important and unique novel is widely unknown. While one could argue about the slow pace of the plot, McLemore explores topics that are incredibly relevant, not only for our time but especially for young adults who grow up in this world and do not quite seem to fit in anywhere.
The most obvious theme is the one of Sam’s gender identity. Samir or Samira? is the question that is being constantly asked throughout the novel. McLemore’s husband himself is transgender and as the quote from the beginning of the article already tells, they were by his side when he found himself. This makes their work so credible, writing about something that they are clearly knowledgeable of, and as they say, they also talked to their husband about his journey. Sam struggles throughout the novel with all factors, from societal to his own feelings but ultimately comes to a conclusion which is nicely done.
However, what I personally did not really like is that they introduced the concept of bacha posh to this conflict. “Bacha posh is one way of adapting to a rigid social environment where having a son is a must for any family desiring prestige and security. Families that can’t produce a son sometimes resort to this deception, dressing up one of their girls as a boy and presenting her as a male offspring to society.” (Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/global/2011/nov/30/afghanistan-girls-dressing-as-boys). According to McLemore, this concept is mainly practiced some regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan and ends with the bacha posh returning to women when they are of age. Sam inhabits this role when he and his mother repeatedly experience cultural discrimination. While I appreciate the idea to represent a wider range of cultural concepts, I am simply not sure how brilliant McLemore’s idea truly was. Personally, I miss the credibility for why they took up bacha posh in their novel, what their connection to it is. It simply seems really random, even in the Author’s Note. Naturally, one might wonder how easily the bacha posh can later move into the role of a woman, as McLemore says, however I see tying bacha posh so tightly to being transgender as slightly problematic. It seems like an easy, overly simplified answer to the question how bacha posh impact the girl’s (or in this case, boy’s) gender identity. Especially since performativity, gender roles etc. are such an incredibly complex topic, I cannot help but think that McLemore bit off more than they can chew.
But the idea of bacha posh already points to another theme, McLemore discusses: transculturality. “When the Moon Was Ours” gently and xy speaks of what it means to grow up as a generational immigrant, from cultural practices, such as food or tales, to discrimination the characters experience. Miel is Latine , just as McLemore themself, Sam is Pakistani. The author also points to the idea that marginalised people always have to try harder in order to be accepted. For example, Sam’s mother is widely liked despite being Pakistani because she does exceptional work for the townspeople. Aracely, Miel’s sister and a healer, on the other hand, is quick to be judged, even though she does help people as well but within a cultural practice. Naturally, the cultural topics reach even deeper but that is something you will have to find out for yourselves. Concerning discrimination, When the Moon was Ours also touches upon internalised homophobia and how blinding it can be.
Another theme that When the Moon was Ours explores is how to find one’s own identity outside of a fixed community. McLemore does so by introducing the Bonner sisters who represent a fierce unit, a unit that has already gotten cracks when the plot of the novel begins. Developing uniquely in a fixed environment is an issue most people face growing up. Finding individuality can be scary because it usually means that the relationships we have with the people around us change. This means that we lose security and have to face our true selves. McLemore quite cleverly works this issue into her story and it becomes even more apparent through a second read.
All in all, and despite my criticism, I strongly recommend When the Moon was Ours to anyone who wants to think a little more outside of the boxes. A little magical fairy tale, a little coming-of-age story and a lot of diversity is what I would describe When the Moon was Ours as. And I personally think this is a beautiful and powerful combination.
 The genderneutral term “Latinx” is likely more well-known to our readers. However, most Latine people do not appreciate the term and use the more linguistically appropriate “Latine” – including McLemore.
Cargo is a 2017 Australian Netflix original horror film based on a 2013 short film of the same name. However, it is debatable whether it really can be described as horror since while it is certainly a “zombie movie”, it shifts away from typical horror film elements in favour of emotional storytelling, making it more of a drama film set in a horror environment rather than a brutal, gory zombie horror film, similarly to The Cured, an Irish “zombie drama” from the same year.
The film is set in rural Australia during a zombie virus pandemic where infected people completely turn 48 hours after being bitten, which is what happens to Kay and later on her husband Andy who is bitten by her. Together with their baby daughter Rosie Andy now tries to find people to take care of and raise Rosie when he turns, and soon teams up with Thoomi, a young Aboriginal girl who was kidnapped and caged by a man named Vic who uses healthy humans as bait for zombies. Thoomi’s father has already turned when she and Andy first meet and she hopes to find the “Clever Man” – a shaman who she believes could cure her father, whom she tries hiding from the rest of her community since they would most likely kill him.
The exact origin of the virus is unknown, however there is quite a plausible theory as to how it started spreading; there are numerous references to a company collecting natural gas via fracking on native Aboriginal land which is opposed by the Aboriginal community as shown by their flag at a fracking station which has “Frack off!” written on it as well as the Clever Man talking about how man was poisoning the Earth, making man sick as well, so it does seem likely that the virus originated in the gas and then spread through the air, or perhaps it is more symbolic as humans, being part of nature, poison themselves while poisoning it.
It is also noteworthy that the word “zombie” is not used in the movie, putting it in the same category as the American TV show The Walking Dead in which the concept of zombies is not known to the characters, implying both are set in a universe in which media using that word simply does not exist.
The 2013 short film of the same name has a similar storyline, but it does not feature any Aboriginal characters, while the 2017 version has a remarkable extent of Aboriginal representation as shown by Thoomi and her community who are hunters fighting against zombies – as some of the only humans successful in fending them off. During the film there are multiple scenes depicting Aboriginal customs, such as putting on white face paint to keep away ghosts and hitting one’s head with a stone after a tragic incident, believing that the heartache would stop as well once the physical pain stops. There is also a scene in which Thoomi teaches Andy Aboriginal words, after calling him “gubba” (“white fella”), which is actually a quite commonly used term in Australia, dating back to the colonial period when English convicts would call each other “guv’ner” (governor), which Aboriginal Australians picked up and turned into “gubba”, referring to white people. The film also briefly depicts an instance of racism when Vic follows Thoomi who was just freed by Andy, calling her a “black bitch” as they are hiding from him, and while “gubba” is not at all a derogatory term for whites, Thoomi’s way of using the word might indicate bad experiences she or her people have had with white people in the past (perhaps also related to the fracking taking place on native Aboriginal ground), which would also explain her initially slightly frightened reaction to Andy.
Cargo manages to fuse a classic horror movie trope with an emotional story and criticism of society, while depicting real issues Aboriginal Australians have to face in modern day Australia.
Adding to the Aboriginal representation, the film is dedicated to Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, an Aboriginal Australian singer who passed away shortly before it was released.
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