Blog Tour: Matt Killeen|Orphan Monster Spy|In Celebration of Female Heroes

ORPHAN MONSTER SPY BLOG TOUR GRAPHIC

I’m pleased to be taking part in Matt Killeen’s blog tour, in which he shares with us his female heroes, both real and fictional. Matt is the author of Orphan Monster Spy, which I reviewed here.


Rebecca “Newt” Jorden from Aliens

James Cameron’s Aliens dominated my adolescence and remains one of my favourite movies, a terrifying roller-coaster piece of action that is almost perfect in its execution. To say it has influenced me would be an understatement – I spent a year or more making a living role-playing a character that crossed Apone and Full Metal Jacket’s drill-sergeant. While it did not invent the strong heroine trope, it is probably the piece of media that made it most famous. Watching Ripley turn to the opening lift doors, armed to the teeth and ready for action with a look of determined terror in her eyes, is one of cinema’s great moments. However, there are several aspects and subtexts that make Ripley a problematic figure, in a film that struggles with its feminist identity. For example, the faithless mother seeking redemption, becomes the soldier that the marines were not. It’s all very kick-ass but in a symbolically male fashion.

Therefore, my feminist heroine of choice here is Newt, the six-year-old lone survivor of the doomed colony of LV-426. Her family and community became victims of a powerful horror and it transpires, a terrible crime. This has happened for reasons entirely beyond her responsibility, yet she has not allowed herself to join them as a victim.

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When she is found by Ripley and the marines, she has evaded some 150 aliens by using the ventilation shafts for many weeks, a constantly defensive and non-violent tactic that relied on her own cunning and intelligence. Newt’s resilience is astounding. While clearly traumatised and damaged by her experiences, she remained and remains functional while other adults cannot. She has simply refused to give up.

She also has maintained her humanity as best she can. In addition to the necessary rations, she has gathered pretty things to decorate her ventilation shaft home, presumably at some risk. Clinging to her awards for service to the colony that no longer exists, because they are part of her identity, she also holds onto her humour, saluting Hudson and reminding Ripley that her doll is really just a piece of plastic. Most remarkable is her willingness to remain vulnerable. She takes a chance on Ripley, when her rational mind warns her otherwise, because she is brave enough to gamble on a normal life. Her only wish is sleep without nightmares.

Newt is, like most great women, also correct about pretty much everything. The soldiers did not make any difference, there are monsters and they mostly come out at night. Mostly.

The actress, Carrie Henn, was untrained, inexperienced and barely ten years old when she played Newt, coached to a stunning performance of great precocity by Cynthia Scott, who played Corporal Dietrich alongside her. Like her on-screen self, Carrie took a path of self-preservation by walking away from what would have been an instant career in Hollywood to forge a life entirely on her own terms. She reminds us that personal choice is an essential feminist act.


Thanks for sharing, Matt!

You can follow Matt on Twitter here. The next stop on the tour will be The Ya’s Nightstand.

What’s so scary about Watership Down?

What’s so scary about Watership Down?

Discussion on social media has been buzzing since parents issued complaints after Channel 5 screened Watership Down on Easter Sunday, calling it too scary and violent for children. Seriously, parents?

I’m a devoted fan of the book and the film, and despite a couple of somewhat bloody scenes, I don’t think it’s unsuitable for children. In fact, I think there should be more films like this one. It definitely wasn’t bouncing Easter bunnies, but children are tougher than we give them credit for. The vicious fighting between rabbits, or the blood covered field that appears when Fiver is predicting that death will come to the warren, is no different to many other widely accepted and well-loved films. In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a child-catcher tempted children into a cage and locked them away in cave. Aslan was sacrificed by an evil queen and stabbed to death. Peter Pan falls out of his pram and never sees his family again and Peter Rabbit’s father was baked in a pie. This is all classic English storytelling, and in my opinion, it’s the best there is.

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Watership Down isn’t what we’re used to. The graphics are as detailed as a drawing, far from the simplistic shapes of a Peppa Pig cartoon. The settings are a feast for the eyes with rolling English hills, intricate cobwebs and rabbits that are fascinatingly unique in appearance. The soundtrack is beautiful, every piece of music bringing the mood of the scene to life. I think ‘Bright Eyes’ is the perfect overarching track for the whole film. The themes are real and universal: love, loyalty, sacrifice, death, survival and even religion feature in this film. It upholds the values of doing what’s right and putting other’s before yourself, and even alludes to man’s menacing footprint on the world: “They’ll never rest until they’ve spoiled the earth.” Children register this and they take it away with them.

Yes, there is a lot of death, as we see when sweet bunny Violet is ripped from the ground by a bird of prey and a badger emerges from the bushes with blood dripping from its mouth. But that is what nature is, and children should know this. Watership Down is an ode to nature, which we don’t see much of these days. The forest is dense and full of danger, the cat’s silky voice is blood-curdling, but fields of scented plants offer shelter from the elements and the currents of a river whisk the rabbits away from a lurking dog. The story is set entirely in an animal world, with very few human appearances, although the foreboding presence of man looms over them constantly. The seasons are told through the appearance and disappearance of primroses and nobody can count above the number four because a rabbit’s paw only has four claws.

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The afterlife is beautifully portrayed with the great Frith who created all things and the black rabbit who comes for the dying. To the living, the dark fur of the black rabbit and the slits of his eyes seem like an omen, something to flee. But at the end of the film we realise that he is just Frith in another form, inviting the dying to join his eternal Owsla. Richard Adams was successful in creating an entire fictional existence for rabbits, and goes into detail in his book about their social hierarchy, eating habits, and kits and mates. He even went as far as to invent the ‘lapine’ language, so that “badger” becomes a “lendri” and “silflay” means to go above ground to eat. None of this is dumbed down for children, and throughout the film the language becomes second nature to us. The complex ideas and beautiful story about how Frith created the animals and set them apart from each other is not lost on children either and there is something funny about how typically British these rabbits are- they sound like well-spoken Englishmen!

Perhaps the film should be given a PG rating, so that parents of sensitive or younger children will be forewarned when it is screened again. But as an article by Henry Barnes at the Guardian said, ratings aren’t there to act as childminders. Watership Down is a masterpiece, both as a book and as a film. I urge you to look for the beauty in it, even in some of the more gruesome scenes. We need to stop worrying about what might traumatise children and give them instead something rich and cultivating to watch, full of mythology and morals, goodness and eloquence.

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All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.” – Richard Adams

Have you read Watership Down? Do you think the film is too violent for children? I’d love to know your thoughts!