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The Religious Subtext of The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil is a middle grade fantasy series that received a film adaptation earlier in the year. Beyond the occasional reference to various faiths, the series does not incorporate explicit religious subject matter, but I would like to analyse the unintentional religious subtext I have interpreted from the narrative. I believe there is scope for a discussion of how the series inadvertently engages with concepts such as predestination and the existence of a supreme being.

“Predestination” is the idea that God chooses which people will receive salvation and which will receive damnation prior to their creation. As the title “The School for Good and Evil” suggests, the books are set in a world where some people are similarly designated as “Good” and others as “Evil”. Within the story, membership to “Good” or “Evil” is not determined by a character’s actions, but instead, is determined by one’s soul at birth. By presenting a person as intrinsically “Evil” or “Good”, the book echoes the religious idea that a soul is predestined to Heaven or Hell.

The School for Good and Evil also inadvertently presents the idea of a supreme being through the “character” of the Storian. This may sound strange to those unfamiliar with the books, but the Storian is a sentient, omnipotent, and powerful magic pen that preserves the balance between “Good” and “Evil” and chooses people in the world to write about in real time. Characters do not explicitly worship the Storian, but it is treated as an ultimate authority. Two of series’ antagonists – one with an “Evil” soul, and one with a “Good” soul – are defined not only by villainous actions (eg. hurting others) but by their efforts to to replace the Storian as the supreme authority within the world. Through this, it can be suggested that the series engages with the existence of a supreme being and humans’ relationship to that god.

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    'Beauty and the Beast' - A Tale That Foretold The Life Of Today

    ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a tale that is different from the popular fairy tales; it has a peculiar take on psychological, socio-historical, religious and feminist approaches. Unlike other well-known fairy tales that were written or told by an unknown storyteller, the tale of Beauty and the Beast is an original literary story written in a specific historical and political moment by a female writer, Madame Leprince De Beaumont who was also a governess.

    The story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has been interpreted in different ways. Some claim that it is a love story that teaches us modesty and introduces the healing power of love. Others claim that it is a tale about female empowerment growing – the awakening of a woman and her psychological and sexual maturation. Some see abuse in a romanticized hostage situation – the Beast is seen as an egocentric sociopath who keeps Beauty as his hostage while she loses touch with reality and falls in love with him; an example of Stockholm syndrome. Oftentimes, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is interpreted as a story about a conflict of genders and a fight for domination.

    Like in all narratives involving love – any objectivity is lost; bad becomes good, ugly turns into beautiful, violence becomes tenderness and kindness, etc. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and its motives appeals to modern society; it narrates our hidden wild side to us. Societal norms have civilized our wildness, but this suppressed wildness constantly finds a way of coming out in our social and intimate relationships. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ also speaks about ‘otherness’. How hard is it be different?

    What does it mean to be a beast – is it something that one becomes while living or is one born with it? What is beauty? What is pure and what is dirty? What is pleasure and does it have more value in the society or should it be punishable?

    Can beauty and wildness co-exist?

    • You are right Madame Leprince De Beaumont was the first (or, at very least, earliest) author of the story of Beauty and the Beast and it has spawned so many iterations since then. Each version contemplates a different aspect of the story, but I was always most interested in Angela Carter's "The Tiger's Bride". I think the general plot of Beauty and the Beast explores areas beyond the social binaries we have become accustomed to: purity versus perversion, beauty versus ugliness, pleasure versus continence, femininity versus masculinity, etc. To answer your question, I believe beauty and wildness are not entirely opposites and can co-exist. We could make the argument wildness is beautiful or beauty is to be unrestrained, but we can explore a bit further. Beauty and the Beast is timeless because these issues pervade society since civilized society was established, or perhaps even before then. I suspect we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but Beauty and the Beast allows us to explore these taboo experiences in such a way that we are safe to contemplate but left to continue participating in civilized society (hopefully with a new outlook). – iresendiz 1 week ago
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    “Unsex me here” - Lady Macbeth as a Disruptive Force in Macbeth

    In ‘Macbeth’, Shakespeare substantially emphasizes the male-female relationship and gender dynamics. Shakespeare shows the relationship between gender and power which can be related to the patriarchal discourse of early modern England. He portrays women as major determinants in men’s actions. Men are portrayed as strong willed and courageous, but a female character such as Lady Macbeth is also given a ruthless and power-hungry personality, which was, in that era, typically associated with masculinity. She is a strong character who is deeply ambitious; her role in ‘Macbeth’ becomes important because it further explains Shakespeare’s presentation of women characters. Lady Macbeth is associated with supernatural subversion as well as sexual temptation – the question is, how did she use her femininity to disrupt her environment and what does her character teach?

      Taken by gracejjohnson (PM) 3 weeks ago.
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      The Relevancy of Beowulf in the 21st Century

      The poem Beowulf is relevant today primarily because of its traditional and ancient theme of the battle between good and evil. In today’s world, we still fight monsters in the form of tyrants or greedy and selfish people who can harm others. The characters of Beowulf, Grendel, and Grendel’s Mother are models of many types of fiction, such as King Arthur, the Movie Enchanted, and Mulan. The same issues that plagued society at the time of Beowulf are still relevant today. This topic would be interesting for comparing society and culture from a thousand years ago when it was written to the literature of the modern world.

      The author of this article might analyze the characters and monsters of Beowulf and write about how these reflect the underlying demons and frightening problems in our lives. But instead, this ancient and powerful poem is as entertaining and compelling today as in ancient times, teaching us to fight evil and be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

      • Relevance can also be extended in the archetypes of Beowulf, Grendel, and Grendel's Mother. Characters who parallel or draw from them can be seen in many forms of fiction. – Sunni Ago 2 months ago
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      • They can also discuss how Beowulf has influenced other works and set a precedent, thus making it still enjoyable since it’s contemporaries are also enjoyed – Anna Samson 3 weeks ago
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      YA Book Series That Never End

      I’m sure most of us have all read a series, especially a YA series, that just never seems to end. I’m thinking about Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series… These series start innocently enough, with a good idea, and soon they gain a loyal following of readers. But once a series is officially considered a success, the prequels start streaming in, and the novellas, and the spin-off series, and the short stories. While fans can’t wait to read new content featuring their favourite characters, this has always left me feeling a little uneasy. Why can’t the authors let a series end? Is this just lazy writing? Are the authors monopolizing on the loyalty of their fans to make a buck? Is this just glorified fan fiction?

      On the other hand, maybe it is a positive thing that a series can continue to churn our new content. Maybe that is the mark of a successful idea.

      The author of the article could decide if a series that never ends is a positive attribute, a negative one, or something in between.

      • On one hand, a fictional universe could be so rich in worldbuilding detail that the reader may feel the need for expansion upon the source material even after its canon: they may seek closure for a particular character arc, or background on a breakout side character, or elaboration on the world's history or a background event... the author may choose to respond to this need, or not. Fanfiction provides a sandbox for the readers where they can write into existence the stories that they want, without intruding on fellow readers' expectations (or "headcanons", as they're called: assumptions about characters/events that may or may not be "canon", or verified in the official material.) On the other hand, if a author chooses to respond to this need, the way they handle the material will not be amenable to each and every reader and this can cause backlash. After the author concludes the primary story they were telling, the interpretation of the work is mostly left to the readers, whether the author likes it or not. When the author expands on the work, it must be a meaningful addition to the universe and it must also fit in with what we have previously seen of it. There is no point making additions if the new material is just the old themes rehashed with no new nuance introduced into the conversation. – Malavika 2 years ago
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      • Hi Mya, Authors typically do this for a couple of reasons. A. They originally intended for it to be a fairly long series to develop characters, introduce characters or just plot related things. B. They see the money coming in. C. They signed a contract that requires them to keep writing. I remember this being the case with an author being under contract to write a third book to their original duology. This was with an author who's books became a big thing in the film scene but unfortunately I can't remember the name. – AshleyEstrada 2 years ago
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      • One example of a franchise that has far outstayed its welcome when it was a perfectly decent five-book series was Percy Jackson. Loved those books as a kid. I even liked the next round of books in the series that followed his Roman counterparts before eventually bringing him back into the fold. However, I totally lost interest after yet another series set in the same universe began to follow Apollo. I read through the first book in that series and it's certainly everything you come to expect from those books but there is an awful sense of treading water with the same ideas and concepts that have seen different variations throughout the plot. Then there is the additional Egyptian/Norse elements that were added in (and somehow taking place within the same universe). There's more than enough mythic material to work from, obviously it's worked in Rick Riordan's favor, but a good idea to focus on is where the attention span of the reader starts to get lost along the way? Then again, Magic Tree House has 34 original books and 55 Merlin Mission books so who knows? – Runestrand 2 years ago
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      • I don't think extending a series is a good or bad thing. Authors are going to profit from their work as much as they want and as long as their readers allow them. – T. Palomino 4 months ago
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      • Interesting topic to explore. Especially when a book series is picked up as a movie or show and the author is pressured to put out more content – Anna Samson 2 months ago
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      • This is a very interesting topic to touch on. I think just going into a book store and seeing the amount of series packed into the YA section is enough to know that sometimes things get a little out of hand. I don’t think it’s ever really lazy writing though, I definitely think, at some point, so many of these authors are cashing in on their idea or trying to push it to a point where they can get a film or series greenlit. If the universe is big enough, then an author can definitely have multiple books, prequels and spin-offs that are done well. It just depends on the depth of the world and characters. Planning is everything a lot of the time. Cassandra Clare is definitely a great example as well! There are so many books within the Shadowhunters universe and find all of them to pretty much the same. – pipermarie2002 1 month ago
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      Does Indian Fantasy Need to Step Away from Mythology?

      Contemporary (South Asian) Indian fantasy literature is heavily based on its rich history of culture and mythology. However, to grow as a genre (by creating stories that exist outside of/apart from our multiple readings of preexisting myths – stories that are original), does it need to explore stories and characters, other than the ones that already exist in cultural consciousness? (By this I mean the stories from mythology that are widely known [in India] and are passed on through generations).

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        'The Second Sex' By Simone de Beuavoire: Woman As Other

        ‘The Second Sex’ ultimately serves as the most eloquent, sophisticated and detailed synopsis of the patriarchal society and how it oppresses women. As Simone illustrates it is the amalgamation of destiny, history and myth which create “bird cage of oppression”. The reasoning that this oppressive structure has been created is muddled; however, there are three major considerations as to why it has been created: 1) out of necessity, 2) for control, 3) as a means of transcendence.

        Control has been the epitome of the patriarchal society. Men have sought to dominate their environment and as part of that there exists women. Arguably women have been the greatest challenge to men’s goal of control. Women have stood in opposition to men even when they are bound by the institutions of men. It is because of this dichotomy between menn and women which have strengthened the resolve of menn and their pursuit of control. As history illustrates men have always sought to place women as the objects of their reality and through doing so men have thought that they could control women like they control the tools they create. However, this has not worked in the favor of men and the rise of feminism bears witness.

        • This is an interesting read, especially in relation to her fiction as well and the way she represents this. It would be good to also look at this in comparison to the other seminal texts, such as Greer's. – Sarai Mannolini-Winwood 2 months ago
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        • I would love to read further on this, but I have to wonder how this will address colonized males and masculinities? Will this article explore Patriarchy as it exists in the current world or will it seek to universalize the experiences with out respect to material conditions? Will it explore the constraints and enforcers of Patriarchy or will it pathologize "men". I think this will be quite interesting but how exactly do you define "men" under patriarchy? – Sunni Ago 2 months ago
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        • Gender terminology would need to be defined clearly, as well as the gendered context that Simone's book was arising from (re: what was the understanding of sex and gender in her time in comparison to now?) – alliegardenia 2 months ago
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        • I have read "Le Deuxième Sexe" de Simone de Beauvoir (be sure to check the spelling) in French when I was in High School. And, just like all teens, this did not talk to me at all. I had to read it again in graduate school in my critical theory class and it took a complete different meaning. I guess maturity helped ;-) Now, my helpful note on your excellent topic idea: how can we still make De Beauvoir applicable today? Let's look at the US politics today and apply directly the aspect of "male control" over the very hot and touchy topic of "abortion rights" or "healthcare access to/for women". Looking at what males are trying to (re)gain control over what women can do. Since this is an international forum, the article could even be richer by having international scholars contributing from their own country and examine the rights of women linked under male control (the list of countries that come to mind is too long). This is very promising and am looking forward to read the final product. Good luck with it. – luc992 1 month ago
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        • This may or may not be helpful but I was not introduced to Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex until I played Nier: Automata. I only bring this up to say that I suspect the majority of Beauvoir's work has permeated into much of our culture now because most of these issues still pervade our society today, though they might manifest differently now. In the game, your main protagonists face off against a boss machine called "Simone" or "Beauvoir" in the Japanese version. You learn she was once a small, stubby machine who was in love, borderline obsessed, with another machine lifeform named "Jean-Paul" after Jean-Paul Sartre. Simone was jealous of his other mistresses and began cannibalizing other machine lifeforms, using them to grow bigger and using their bodies as adornments for her own body. Her incessant search for beauty led to her tragic downfall. She associated her self-worth with an apathetic machine until she lost sight of herself completely and dies at the hands of the player. Although deeply exaggerated, her story becomes incredibly devasting for the player and perhaps somewhat relatable. The story is set tens of thousands of years into the future long past the extinction of humans, yet we still see androids and machines replicating human behaviors such as sexism, apathy, self-degradation, and toxic behaviors with love among others. While this may not be entirely applicable to Beauvoir's work, this could be one avenue to connect the pitfalls of the patriarchy to modern-day society. This game predicts that even long after we are gone, these issues might still persist after us. – iresendiz 1 week ago
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        Original Fairy Tales and their Disney counterparts

        Disney played a large role in bringing fairy tales to a larger audience. To do so, they had to remove many horrific aspects, such as the stepsisters in Cinderella who cut off their toes and heels to fit into the glass slipper or how the princess is raped while unconscious in Sleeping Beauty.
        Compare more of the original fairy tales, which explored far more taboo and grotesque content and how Disney has altered them to be more child friendly and palatable. Discuss why this was done and how the purpose of fairy tales has evolved.

        • Many of the revisions suggested weren't acted upon. – Sunni Ago 2 months ago
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        • Hi Sunni! I changed Grimms fairy tales to original fairy tales to accommodate all the origins. I also changed my questions to ask about why changes were made and how fairy tales have evolved over time and why. I specified who I was referring to and what I was asking. Is there anything else I can do to refine this topic? – Anna Samson 2 months ago
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        • Maybe make the question: Discuss the purpose of this change and how it is tied into the evolution of fairytales. Or something like that: same question but could be worded differently. – Montayj79 2 months ago
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        • Might be some old interviews with good old Walt himself to help narrow down this idea a bit. – alliegardenia 2 months ago
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        • I think you could talk a bit more about the fairy tales that aren't commonly known to the public! – Sangnat 2 months ago
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        • This was a topic I was heavily interested in a few years ago. Children's literature and fairy tales is rooted in violence and weird sexual inuendos. They're more cautionary tales but if you're looking at the "Disneyfication" process, I believe there was an article called "Breaking the Disney Spell" by Jack Zipes. It demystifies Walt Disney a bit (not really in a good way) and will spill some of those trade secrets of marketing gruesome fairy tales for a modern child audience. – iresendiz 2 months ago
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