December is here. Advent is upon us. The shops are already selling out of wrapping paper and pointless tat. So it’s time for your annual reminder of what’s really important at Christmas.
Muppet Christmas Carol.
Need I remind you that it’s the best Muppet film ever? Of course not. You’ve seen Gonzo’s Charles Dickens impression. You know.
Have you forgotten that it’s the best version of Dickens’s classic Christmas story? Of course not. You remember the heartbreak of losing a green felt Tiny Tim.
Must I point out again that it’s one of the greatest fantasy films of all time? Just in case, let me remind you that there are ghosts, visions, time travel, and talking animals. We’re not in our London any more with this movie. It’s a whole other world.
If you don’t own it already, do yourself a favour and get a copy. Then settle down with friends, family, pets, or just a nice hot cup of cocoa and enjoy a true Christmas classic.
With Christmas coming, it’s time to watch my all time favourite fantasy film. More dramatic than Conan the Barbarian. As heart-wrenching as Pan’s Labyrinth. Only a fraction of the length of Lord of the Rings. I refer of course to Muppet Christmas Carol.
I’ve made my case before for Muppet Christmas Carol being a fantasy film, but to recap, there are ghosts, talking animals and whatever Gonzo is. There’s magic, prophecy and travel through time. There are alternating potential realities. Sure, it’s also a kids’ film, a comedy film and a musical. But this is quite clearly fantasy, and proof of how misguided people are when they try to treat fantasy as some nerdy, shameful thing to brush away into the corner. Fantasy happens any time we break the rules of reality and let our imaginations run riot, and just because something doesn’t feature swords and sorcery doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of the label.
It helps that Dickens’s Christmas Carol is a beautiful yet creepy story with a classic redemptive character arc. It helps that the Muppets are timeless characters of whimsy and wonderful design. It helps that the tunes are delightfully catchy. But it’s when you bring all of that together that the magic really happens.
If I only watch one festive film, it will be this. If you aren’t already, you really should make time in your Christmas schedule to watch it too.
What festive classics will the rest of you be watching? I bet most of them are fantasy.
There are as many opinions on what makes a good vampire as there are copies of Dracula. Whether you like them scary, brooding or barely present (as in the first episode of the new From Dusk Till Dawn) they’re as big a presence in the cultural landscape as rivers are in the physical one.
This open minded approach to others’ tastes isn’t going to stop me being opinionated though, so here, in no particular order, are some of my favourites, and why I think you should like them too.
With its slow, graceful curves and sneering French boatmen, this is- oh wait, you wanted the vampires not the rivers?
You know, that would fit the theme of my blog better…
Bram Stoker may not have been the first author to write about vampires, but he’s the one who energised them as a cultural touchstone, who defined the modern myth and made us want to keep coming back for more.
Like many Victorian novels, Dracula’s a bit of a slow, cumbersome read by modern standards. But the group of characters arrayed against the monster is interesting and the atmosphere chilling. You can feel the icy mist creeping in off the sea by Whitby on every page.
If you’re a fan of Dracula, and of all things Victorian, then Whitby is well worth a visit. It inspired a lot of the atmosphere in the book, and if you go up to the ruins on the headland you can feel why. Plus it has a Victorian-style town museum full of the most amazing collection of random stuff, including a hand of glory, a machine to predict storms using slugs, and a sundial made from a cannon ball that killed a man.
What Stoker did was to take that Victorian obsession with collecting oddments from all over the world, in his case mostly fragments of myth, and forged them into something cohesive. He made the modern vampire.
If you’ve seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer then I probably don’t need to say any more. If you haven’t then shame on you, but I will explain.
Spike is a great example of a character who grew far beyond his creators’ original intent. Starting out as a villainous vampire version of John Constantine – trenchcoat, blond hair, British accent, cigarettes and bad attitude, all present and correct – he evolved into a character at the comic and emotional heart of the show. By turns tragic, pathetic and awesome, he was a tormented soul with a sense of humour, not just one more whining emo vampire.
Spike had such variety of character, such interesting relationships with the others, such twisted motivations, such great lines, that after the show ended he was transferred straight into its sister show Angel, just in time for that series’ great final season.
Spike showed that vampires could be more than villains without losing their dark edge, and that everything Joss Whedon touches turns to awesome.
OK, OK, so he’s not a classic vampire. But I love puppets, I particularly love Muppets, and the count shows just was a cultural touchstone vampires have become. When even little children can laugh at these monsters then horror has done what it does best – taming our fears, allowing us to live with them.
One, ha ha ha ha ha ha. Two, ha ha ha ha ha ha. Three, ha ha ha…
The Vampire Lanois
The Afghan Whigs made dark, brooding, soulful rock music. Who better to craft an instrumental named after a vampire? It rolls straight on from the previous track Omerta, so here’s both of them in their grinding glory.
I admit, my selection got slightly random towards the end. And there’s a reason.
A cultural icon isn’t at it’s best when it’s always presented the same way. Not every superhero should be dark and grim or fun and shiny. Not every president on film should be heroic or noble or even corrupt. It’s when we shine a light on something from a hundred different angles that it becomes interesting, giving us new ideas and understandings.
So who are your favourite vampires? What angle would you shine that light from, and why? Answers in the box below, before the darkness consumes you…
A lot about Christmas looks like a fantasy story. Whether it’s the magic guy who comes down the chimney with presents, the otherworldly snow scenes in greetings cards, or the shared wish that just for one day we could make the ordinary world vanish. The original Christmas story has a lot to inspire fantasy authors too, whether it’s signs in the sky, the epic journey of the wise men, the chosen one born in the stable, the prophecies, the angels, or the villainous Herod.
My favourite Christmas fantasy story is a more modern one, at least by biblical standards. Narrated by a hook-nosed goblin-like creature of uncertain origin, featuring travel back through time, glimpses into the future, ghostly apparitions and talking animals, I watch it every year. It is of course the Muppets Christmas Carol.
Last year I was too ill to eat Christmas dinner, but I still managed to watch this fabulous tale. And in case you were considering not watching it this year, here’s a reminder of why you should: