Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween Movie, or a Christmas Movie?

This fun, well-thought-out article by Max Gladstone finally settles the debate that my household engages in every year…or does it? I’m firmly in the Halloween movie camp–I mean, really, it’s about Jack losing passion for his role as the Pumpkin King, trying to be something he’s not, and subsequently finding himself–and his love for Halloween–all over again. But my husband is firmly in the Christmas move camp for reasons of his own. Whichever camp you’re in, this is a brilliant article on the topic and well worth reading. Who would have thought a claymation movie would inspire such deep, philosophical debate? Well, it is a Tim Burton creation after all, and not exactly your typical kid’s film. If by some chance you have missed this movie in the last 25 years, go rent it. Right now! Then come back to this article and see what you think. Halloween movie or Christmas movie? Maybe it’s both…


Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween movie, or a Christmas movie? In terms of worldbuilding, it’s obviously both—it’s about a bunch of Halloween-town residents taking over Christmas from Santa Claus.

But worldbuilding elements don’t suffice as genre classifiers, or else black comedies wouldn’t exist. Creators deliberately apply worldbuilding elements from one genre to another for pure frission’s sake. Consider Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (speaking of Christmas movies), which takes a New York noir character, a down-on-his-luck con, and drops him into an LA noir scenario of movie glitz and private eyes; or Rian Johnson’s amazing Brick, a noir story engine driving high school characters. Fantasy literature is rife with this sort of behavior—consider Steven Brust’s use of crime drama story in the Vlad Taltos books, or for that matter the tug of war between detective fiction and fantasy that propels considerable swaths of urban fantasy. If we classify stories solely by the worldbuilding elements they contain, we’re engaging in the same fallacy as the Certain Kind of Book Review that blithely dismisses all science fiction as “those books with rockets.”

And what happens after the slippery slope? The No True Scotsman Argument?!

This is a frivolous question, sure, like some of the best. But even frivolous questions have a serious edge: holidays are ritual times, and stories are our oldest rituals. The stories we tell around a holiday name that holiday: I’ve failed at every Christmas on which I don’t watch the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. When December rolls around, even unchurched folk can get their teeth out for a Lessons & Carols service.

So let’s abandon trappings and turn to deep structures of story. Does The Nightmare Before Christmas work as Christmas movies do? Does it work as Halloween movies do? It can achieve both ends, clearly—much as a comedy can be romantic, or a thriller funny. But to resolve our dilemma we must first identify these deep structures.

Halloween Movies

Halloween movies are difficult to classify, because two types of movie demand inclusion: movies specifically featuring the holiday, like Hocus Pocus or even E.T., and horror movies, like Cabin in the WoodsThe Craft, or The Devil’s Advocate. Yet some horror movies feel definitely wrong for Halloween—Alien, for example. Where do we draw the line?

I suggest that movies centering on Halloween tend to be stories about the experimentation with, and confirmation of, identities. Consider, for example, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which might at first glance be mistaken for a simple slice of life featuring the Peanuts characters’ adventures on Halloween. In fact, the story hinges on the extent to which the various Peanuts’ identities shine through the roles they assume. Charlie Brown is the Charlie Browniest ghost in history; a dust cloud surrounds Pig Pen’s spirit. Snoopy operates, as always, in a liminal space between fantasy and reality—he becomes the most Snoopy-like of WWI fighter aces. Linus, whose idealism and hope are the salvation centerpiece of A Charlie Brown Christmas, isn’t equipped for the kind of identity play the other characters attempt. He’s too sincere for masks, and as a result becomes the engine of conflict in the story. For Linus, every holiday must be a grand statement of ideals and hope. In a way, Linus is rewarded—he meets the Avatar of Halloween in Snoopy’s form, but fails to appreciate the message sent, which is that Halloween is an opportunity for play, for self-abandonment. It’s Lucy who turns out to be the truest embodiment of the holiday—by explicitly donning her witch mask, she’s able to remove it, and bring her brother home.

Even movies that feature Halloween in passing use it to highlight or subvert their characters’ identities by exploiting the double nature of the Halloween costume: it conceals the wearer’s identity and reveals her character at once. In E.T.’s brief Halloween sequence, for example, while Elliott’s costume is bare-bones, Michael, Mary, and E.T. himself all shine through their costume selections, literally in the case of E.T. The Karate Kid’s Halloween sequence highlights Danny’s introversion (he’s literally surrounded by a shower curtain!) and the Cobra Kai’s inhumanity (skeletons with all their faces painted identically!). Even holiday movies like Hocus Pocus that aren’t principally concerned with costuming present Halloween as a special night for which identities grow flexible: the dead can be living, the living dead, and a cat can be a three-hundred-year-old man.

If we expand our focus to include books that focus or foreground Halloween, we find Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, Raskin’s The Westing Game, and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, all of which focus on the experimentation with, or explicit concealment of, identities, and the power of revelation. Fan artists get in on the fun too—every time Halloween rolls around, I look forward to sequences like this, of characters from one medium dressed up as characters from another.

The centrality of identity play to the holiday explains why some horror movies feel “Halloween-y” while others don’t. Alien, for example, is a terrifying movie, one of my favorites, but with one notable exception it doesn’t care about masquerades. Cabin in the Woods, on the other hand, feels very Halloween, though it’s less scary than Alien—due, I think, to its focus on central characters’ performance of, or deviation from, the identities they’ve been assigned.

Examined in this light, The Nightmare Before Christmas is absolutely a Halloween movie. The entire film’s concerned with the construction and interrogation of identity, from the opening number in which each citizen of Halloween Town assumes center stage and assumes an identity (“I am the shadow on the moon at night!”), to Jack’s final reclamation of himself—“I am the Pumpkin King!”

So, are we done?

Not hardly.

Continue reading this article: https://www.tor.com/2018/10/26/is-the-nightmare-before-christmas-a-halloween-movie-or-a-christmas-movie/

Christmas Movies

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Fantasy Art Friday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Friday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.


This image depicts a tale we’re all familiar with…Santa, the reindeer, the sleigh full of gifts…flying high in the night sky on a snowy Christmas eve. Is this dreamy landscape part of the North Pole? Or maybe someplace a bit more fantastical? Imagine Santa–or some version of him–visiting the various worlds of our imaginations. What sort of magical twist could we bring to this classic story? Are you up to the challenge fellow writers?  If so, pick up your pens and create your own version of who is in that sleigh, what it might be carrying, and to whom. Hope you all have a very merry Christmas!


Want to see more Fantasy Art posts? Find them here.

 

 

Medieval Monday: The Labors of December

winter-scene-2In the cold days of December, the fields were finally quiet, with the ground too frozen to work. Animals were taken care of, to ensure they would not only survive the harsh months to come, but that they would be healthy on spring’s arrival. After all, they would be needed to work. In bad weather, animals would need to be brought indoors and fed straw mixed with other nutrients such as corn stubble, or pea pods.  Other outdoor work consisted of mostly repair and reconstruction. Timber was cut, and fences and walls mended. If autumn rains had eroded the banks of the mill pond, they would need to be fixed as well.

cooking2

 

Most work had to be done indoors. Carving wood became a common winter activity–people made useful items like bowls, spoons, and cups. They repaired farming tools and household equipment. Baskets, nets, and harnesses were woven out of rushes or reeds. Women spent a good amount of time spinning thread, weaving, and sewing–making new garments and mending torn ones.

Women would also be carefully managing supplies of food; doing their best to feed hungry families even though the fresh foods gathered or harvested in autumn were now beginning to run out. Most peasant families were surviving on bread and pottage. The kettle was kept going over the fire day after day, the culinary monotony broken up by subtle changes to what was thrown into the pot. Common ingredients would have been beans, leeks, lentils, peas, onions, and herbs like parsley. Meat stock might be used for added nutrition, and possibly salted meat or dried fish on occasion. Eggs, cheese, and butter rounded out the winter diet on days when fasting wasn’t required.


Below I have two videos to share. One is very short and shows how bowls were carved using traditional medieval tools. He makes this look so easy, but I’m sure it takes a lot of practice to learn this skill. The other is December’s Tales from the Green Valley in which the team covers the topics of making preparations for Christmas, building a wood storage hovel, sewing, clothing, threshing peas, making mince pies and other Christmas foods, and decorating for Christmas. Some of the Christmas traditions (like the Yule log) are from a bit beyond the medieval period, but many of the other things they describe would have been the same. Enjoy!

 

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Can Meek Heroes Thwart Unstoppable Villains?

For the Christmas newsletter, I started a story; one that would give a little Christmas gift not only to my readers, but to some of my characters as well. Let’s face it, I’ve put Einar, the Circle, and their families through an awful lot since the start of my series. But let it not be said that I am a heartless writer. I challenge my characters, and test them, even refine them through hardships, just as all of us are challenged, tested, and refined by real life. But I also allow them to feel joy, love, and yes, even moments of great triumph. The villains don’t always win, and great wrongs can be righted in surprising ways. Sometimes the most powerful, seemingly unstoppable villains, are thwarted not by the strongest and most powerful of heroes, but by the meek, who glide past unnoticed because they aren’t considered important enough to watch. That’s real life, too.

I thought I could finish this fun story in two parts, but it has gained some momentum in the writing process and will take more than that. Who knows, I might even expand it in the future, filling in more detail, and adding more twists to the plot. That’s part of the fun of writing, at least for me. There are always deeper furrows to plow, and from the seeds planted within them, amazing things grow. They just need the genuine warmth of heart, and a fertile imagination, watered with an unquenchable desire to keep creating, day after day, season upon season.

Hope you enjoy “Letters for the Circle,” Part 2. If you missed Part 1, no worries. You can still read from the beginning by following either link.

Keran tucked his head down deep inside his hood and tried to keep his mare walking at a leisurely pace. His heart thumped so loudly he was certain everyone he passed could hear it, including the Port’s Keep night watch. With the Winter Festival just beginning, they were more attentive than usual to the comings and goings of those out after nightfall.

Keran’s mare sensed his anxiety and kept trying to rush forward to outrun it. It took all his strength to keep her reined in. “You’re going to get us noticed,” he hissed, irritated more by his immediate risk than by her behavior. He knew she was only responding to his mood; if he could calm himself, she would settle. Keran took a few deep breaths and tried to focus on nothing but the road directly in front of him. The city gate loomed just ahead—if he was going to get caught, it would be there, by an overly inquisitive guard wondering why a boy would be leaving the protection of the city alone in the dark of night. He sat up straight in the saddle, trying to make the most of his height. He had grown rather tall in the past year. Perhaps they would think he was older, if he kept his head covered and face hidden. It was the only hope he had. (Click to continue…)

 


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I still want to know…

…what you think I should keep, or change, in my editions of the newsletter for the new year. My goal is to include content that is interesting and useful to you, my loyal readers! Thanks to those who have already answered the short poll–if you haven’t, it isn’t too late. I still want to hear from you. There are only 4 questions, so it won’t take long, I promise!

Did you miss the special Christmas newsletter?

With the holidays, I know many of us were incredibly busy with family, and spent long stretches of time “unplugged.” Christmas is over, but you can still enjoy Saturday’s edition. In it I released part one of a brand new short story related to my series. I’ll be releasing part 2 in an upcoming newsletter. Hope you enjoy it!

 


 

“Letters for the Circle”
by Allison D. Reid

“Get up, now!” Keran woke to find Torren from Tyroc’s castle guard standing over him. A dim glow of flickering torch light spilled in from the open door of his chamber. Despite the fact that Torren’s thick, curly beard masked much of his face, it couldn’t hide the intensity behind his eyes. Something was horribly wrong. His voice carried an urgency that dared not be disobeyed.

“What is going on?” Keran’s voice still croaked with sleep. Surely it was still the middle of the night.

“Treachery,” Torren responded gruffly as though there was nothing more to be said.

“Where are Mother and Father?”

“Just move, and quickly, if you value your life. I told your father I would get you away from here.” He stopped for a moment and took Keran by the shoulders. “I may have to threaten you with my blade if we’re caught, boy. Show your fear on the outside, but know that I would never really hurt you. Do you understand?” Keran nodded with confused alarm. There was nothing about this that he understood.

Torren drug him out of the room and down the corridor at a near run. It echoed with the barks of orders being given, angry shouts, and the clash of steel against steel. They were soon joined by other men being marched forward; some peacefully, others at sword or spear point. Torren gripped Keran roughly by the back of the neck and held his blade at the ready, as though he expected Keran to fight him. And now Keran was beginning to grasp what was happening. But it couldn’t be true—how could it be true? The men of the Circle were being rounded up like prisoners; dragged from their beds, their stations, separated from their families and forced out into the night—to where, and to what end?

Click to read the entire story…


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newsletter header

Merry Christmas!

Welcome to this special holiday edition of the Fantasy Fix Newsletter!

Last week I promised you a rare treat that you wouldn’t want to miss. Renee and I have both written something special just for you, our loyal readers. While you’re spending time relaxing with family and friends this weekend, we hope you’ll be able to take a few minutes to enjoy this bit of fantasy fun.

 


“The Deadline Before Christmas”
By Renee Scattergood

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when on my laptop
Was an unfinished story, no better than slop;

I let out a groan, threw my hands in the air,
Then stood, and I muttered as I paced ‘round my chair;

The deadline was looming, oh that I did dread,
But worse, was the fact that I had been misled;

A call interrupted, I was needed asap;
I went only to find that it had been a trap;

My friends said, “It’s Christmas, so come celebrate;”
Didn’t they see I was already late?

I tried to escape, but was met with backlash,
So, I finally gave in, and I joined in the bash.

Next thing I knew, the bell had chimed midnight;
I had less than eight hours to sit down and write;

Click to Continue…


“Letters for the Circle”
by Allison D. Reid

“Get up, now!” Keran woke to find Torren from Tyroc’s castle guard standing over him. A dim glow of flickering torch light spilled in from the open door of his chamber. Despite the fact that Torren’s thick, curly beard masked much of his face, it couldn’t hide the intensity behind his eyes. Something was horribly wrong. His voice carried an urgency that dared not be disobeyed.

“What is going on?” Keran’s voice still croaked with sleep. Surely it was still the middle of the night.

“Treachery,” Torren responded gruffly as though there was nothing more to be said.

“Where are Mother and Father?”

“Just move, and quickly, if you value your life. I told your father I would get you away from here.” He stopped for a moment and took Keran by the shoulders. “I may have to threaten you with my blade if we’re caught, boy. Show your fear on the outside, but know that I would never really hurt you. Do you understand?” Keran nodded with confused alarm. There was nothing about this that he understood.

Torren drug him out of the room and down the corridor at a near run. It echoed with the barks of orders being given, angry shouts, and the clash of steel against steel. They were soon joined by other men being marched forward; some peacefully, others at sword or spear point. Torren gripped Keran roughly by the back of the neck and held his blade at the ready, as though he expected Keran to fight him. And now Keran was beginning to grasp what was happening. But it couldn’t be true—how could it be true? The men of the Circle were being rounded up like prisoners; dragged from their beds, their stations, separated from their families and forced out into the night—to where, and to what end?

Click to Continue


Read the rest of this week’s Fantasy Fix newsletter.

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Fantasy Art Wednesday

Get inspired with this week’s Fantasy Art Wednesday, where fun fantasy artwork is combined with a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing.


Enjoy a fantasy take on Santa for Christmas week. Does this wilderness Saint Nicholas give blessings, not to children, but to all the animals nestled in against the cold of winter? He might even bring them to all the hidden fantasy creatures we never see but know are there. Whimsical gifts to the fairy realm, or small bits of treasure to the dragons. But feel free to come up with your own story, and don’t be shy about sharing when you’re done!

wilderness-santa