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The Grand Princess Unification Theorem, Corollary One

I am the father of two small girls. I, therefore, watch a lot of Disney movies. I am also a science fiction and fantasy author as well as a literature professor, so when I watch Disney movies, I begin to analyze them in weird ways. A few years back I posited the Grand Princess Unification Theorem which linked Snow White, Sleeping BeautyBeauty and the Beast, and Cinderella into one shared narrative involving a couple fairies meddling in the lives of mortals to breed the ‘perfect’ princess for some purpose of their own as yet undetermined. There were, however, a couple princesses left out of the equation.

For the nonce, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, and Brave clearly exist as a part of their own particular historical heritage and I see no real way to join them together with each other or any other of the stories thus far discussed. I have, however, devised a theory linking Frozen, Tangled, and The Little Mermaid. Ready? Here we go.

A Secondary World

See? I'm not crazy!

See? I’m not crazy!

The three films in question do not link up to the ones set in our world, since there is no mention at all of anything pertaining to it and the kingdoms depicted bear little to no resemblance to actual historical kingdoms of any kind. What this means to me is that these three films are set in a secondary world and, what’s more, they are all set in the same world. Now, with Frozen and Tangled this is no surprise, as Flynn (Eugene) and Rapunzel are guests at Elsa’s Coronation. This clearly places Arendelle and Corona (Elsa and Rapunzel’s respective home countries) in the same universe. What’s more, the two countries maintain diplomatic relations or, perhaps, are even distantly related by blood (Rapunzel could easily be a cousin of some sort).

How does The Little Mermaid fit in? Well, first let’s consider geography. All three countries, as depicted, are maritime powers, with shipping and boating being apparently key aspects of their economy. Corona seems to be situated on the mainland, as does Arrendelle (though Arrendelle is clearly further north). Eric’s kingdom appears to be island based. It fits. Heck, he is even very likely related to Prince Hans, who is said to be from “the Southern Isles.” He’s probably one of Eric and Ariel’s children (more on that later).

Furthermore, the level of technology and even the fashions of the three countries are interrelated. We see a lot of doublets, for one thing, and the women’s gowns, while different, are different variations on an approximately contemporaneous style. They could easily, easily be from different corners of the same continental region in the same world. Even their soldiers seem to be operating using the same kinds of weapons, armor, and so on.

"Ship parked at the castle" screams maritime power, don't you think?

“Ship parked at the castle” screams maritime power, don’t you think?

Here’s Where It Gets Interesting…

Now, assuming these three settings are three parts of the same world, what happens when Elsa’s power is revealed? As I’ve mentioned before, Elsa’s power is simply unparalleled. It has the power to destabilize the whole world and, if this is a world with Corona and Eric’s kingdom, things are going to get unstable there, too. For starters, there is the inevitable war between Arendelle and Weaseltown which the courageous Duke of Weaseltown tried to prevent by assassinating Elsa (unsuccessfully).

Prince Eric is not “prince” by this time – he and Ariel have been married for a long time, and Ariel has borne fourteen children. This was done, wisely, as a guarantee for the small nation’s trading prowess. As his children’s grandfather, Triton, King of the Ocean, would never sink a vessel with one of his grandchildren aboard. Hence, Eric convinced Ariel to bear a number of children and raised them all as saliors – they traveled the world in Eric’s naval and maritime vessels, and they never encountered any kind of oceanic mishap. Triton loves his grandchildren, after all.

But you know who Triton doesn’t care for, apparently? Anna and Elsa’s parents, the King and Queen of Arendelle. Indeed, Triton doesn’t give a crap about any other humans at all. Ariel’s inhuman origins, though probably not well known as facts, are no doubt whispered as rumors. When one of Granddaddy Triton’s little darling boys is cast out and humiliated by some Arendalish sorceress, Triton is displeased. If Triton is displeased, you can bet Eric is also displeased (because if your father-in-law is King of the Ocean and you live on an island, you do whatever the hell he wants).

The Duke of Weaseltown is no dummy, and he would doubtlessly propose an alliance against Arendelle to King Eric. With his father-in-law in a froth, Eric sees it might be wise to back the Weasels (pronounced “wessels,” please!), even if his youngest son is a douchebag. He demands an apology from Queen Elsa. Elsa, having vivid memories of almost being hacked to death by Prince Hans, probably tells him exactly where to stick it. War develops.

What About Corona?

Trouble is coming, friends. Big trouble.

Trouble is coming, friends. Big trouble.

The war, however, quickly becomes a stalemate. Elsa can send no ships against Weaseltown or the Southern Isles, since Triton will sink them. Likewise, the Southern Isles and Weaseltown can’t come near Arendelle without being frozen solid. The contest becomes one of trade embargos and espionage–you either stand with the Southern Isles or bend your knee to the Snow Queen.

Corona is the tiebreaker. As evidently the wealthiest and most militaristic nation of the three, if they side with Arendelle or the Southern Isles, the other side stands a strong chance of losing. Furthermore, Queen Rapunzel’s legendary healing abilities (still retained, mind you, despite her loss of hair – that’s why we still have Flynn/Eugene to kick around, after all) are a potent ally in their own right.

But which side does Queen Rapunzel pick? On the one hand, she has some kind of pre-existing relationship with Queen Elsa. On the other, pissing off the King of the Ocean seems like a really, really bad idea. So, she remains neutral, but for how long? When Anna shows up in her court in the dead of night with a desperate plea for help, how can she refuse? When she accepts a state visit from Queen Ariel, riding atop a swell of the ocean big enough to swallow her city whole, how can she not be worried?

Well, anyway, it’s a pickle. A damned interesting pickle.

If Disney wants somebody to write a political intrigue-based novel set in this little world of theirs, they’ve got my number. I want to know what happens.

Publicity News

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In Defense of Weaseltown

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I spend much of my time watching Frozen. As of a few months ago, my five-year-old’s interest was finally waning, but now the 2-year-old has gotten into it and, well, let’s just say I might never stop watching Frozen. I wonder, honestly, if this is how my parents felt about Star Wars.

Yeah, you heard me: HERO

Yeah, you heard me: HERO

Anyway, since I watch the damned movie all the time, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing (over-analyzing, really) the world of Arrendale as portrayed in the film and, at the end, I have come to the following conclusion: The Duke of Weaseltown is not a villain. No, scratch that – the man is actually a courageous patriot and defender of his people and they should make goddamned statues to him, whereas the rest of those diplomats and heads of state are mealy-mouthed cowards who are selling their people’s well-being up the river in exchange for their own safety and comfort.

Now I know what you’re saying: That guy?! He’s an absurd, cowardly, underhanded weasel!

First of all, calling them “weasels” is racist, you Arrendalish bigot, you. Call them Wessels, please. Second of all, the Duke is the only guy in the whole damned movie who seems to understand what is actually going on in Arrendale with the advent of Elsa’s powers and he is the only person who acts to prevent what will, eventually, result in the complete reordering of their world for the worse as a result of Elsa’s sorcery.

I’ve written about this before, but just to reiterate: Have you considered just how terrifyingly powerful Elsa is? If you haven’t, think about it. This is a girl who is able to freeze a salt-water harbor by accident by merely touching it. That is an incredible amount of energy. The number of joules of energy needed to freeze a swimming pool volume of water is about 10.5 Gigajoules. How many swimming pools of water would it take to freeze an entire harbor to the thickness of ice we see in the movie? We are talking atomic bomb levels of power here – all without Elsa even exerting herself overmuch. Terrifying, terrifying, world-unbalancing stuff. For a country that clearly relies on trade as its primary means of prosperity, a super-power Arrendale could spell disaster for Weaseltown and Wessels. Something has to be done, and the Duke is the man to do it.

It is my considered opinion that the Duke’s entire purpose for attending the coronation is to assess the possible threat Elsa poses to his home and to the region in general. The whole “I’m a greedy goofball” act is just that – an act, designed to throw off suspicion from his true purpose and, given Weaseltown’s reputation, one that everybody buys without question. He uses it to get close to the queen, and the queen is his primary objective.

It is clear from the film that this kind of sorcery is not unknown – when the trolls ask Elsa’s father whether she was “born or cursed” with her powers, he immediately answers “born.” He doesn’t need to think about it because he knows. This power is passed down in the blood, clearly. It is rare, of course, but not so rare that the king and queen aren’t aware of it and know where it came from – not a curse, a bloodline.

The Duke comes prepared.

The Duke comes prepared.

So, when Weaseltown hears that the King and Queen of Arrendale have shut the gates and kept their eldest daughter in seclusion, the Duke gets suspicious. When the opportunity arises for him to be in the young queen’s presence, he leaps at the chance. It is telling that the Duke is the only guy to bring muscle to the festivities. These goons aren’t armed with swords or overt armaments (as a pair of soldiers might be), but are packing crossbows – assassins’ weapons – for the possibility that they will need to shoot Elsa dead.

Sure, it all sounds very dire and not-very-heroic, but consider what is at stake here. The world of Arrendale shows us a quiet, prosperous, and evidently quite peaceful region (none of the diplomats save the Duke come with bodyguards, remember). This would seem to mean that things are pretty well balanced – each nation has its place in the Big Dance, nobody is capable or inclined to conquer their neighbors, everybody is similarly wealthy and well-off. It is, from what we see, a little slice of utopia just south of the Arctic Circle.

Think of what Elsa being on the world stage does to that little picture. Arrendale becomes inviolate – nobody can invade, nobody can deny, nobody can do anything to Arrendale if Elsa doesn’t wish it. Elsa can, upon a whim, destroy any one of the surrounding kingdoms. No navy and no army could be marshaled against her and live. Basically, an Arrendale with Elsa places the rest of those peaceful, prosperous nations at Elsa’s feet with no prospect of rising again. That is bad for regional stability, bad for the liberty and self-determination of the surrounding nations, bad for trade, bad for everybody. Hell, it’s even bad for Arrendale – Elsa, who is not shown as taking criticism well, can and very well might just kill anyone or any group of someones who defies her.

So, the Duke does his damnedest to nip this in the bud – he stirs up mistrust for the sorceress, dispatches his assassins to kill her, is the first to criticize Prince Hans when he is pro-Elsa, and is the first to back up Prince Hans when he becomes anti-Elsa. He does all of this in the name of peace and regional stability. It may seem cruel, but it is realpolitik at its most basic. Sure, Elsa might seem (or even be) a nice person, but does her life outweigh the thousands of other lives she could ruin on a whim if she is allowed to become a head of state? You’re all pro-Elsa now, but how might your attitude change when her army of snow-monsters marches into downtown Weaseltown and starts slaughtering innocents? Or what about what happens when the Southern Isles pardon Prince Hans for his (stupid) plan and then *poof* – here comes the Snow Queen to lock them in winter until they decide to hang their little brother from the city gates by his thumbs.

Pictured: sycophants and dimwits.

Pictured: sycophants and dimwits.

The thing that really clinches the Duke’s status for me is at the end. Prince Hans on the frozen fjord, standing over a prone Queen Elsa, sword in hand. On the battlements of Arrendale Castle are all the foreign dignitaries, the Duke excepted, watching the drama unfold. They are too far away to hear what is said, so all they know is that Prince Hans is there to kill Queen Elsa like he is supposed to, as she was responsible for her sister’s death. Now, granted, it seems as though Anna is actually alive, but she is clearly freezing to death and, in actual fact, does become an ice-person. Hans seems to have lied from their perspective, but doesn’t seem to have lied that much. So, what happens when Hans is kept from doing the duty that all those guys agreed to? They cheer. Why? Because they have just switched sides to the side of the winner – the side of Elsa, their new Empress, whether they realize it or not.

Only the Duke has the integrity to stay just as anti-Elsa as he always was. He never applauds the new Queen. He never says he’s sorry for trying to have her killed. He says he was a victim of fear, sure, but that’s true. What he doesn’t add is that his fear is entirely justified and wise. What pleading he does at the end is to attempt to salvage a trade deal with Arrendale, which he does not secure. This, of course, is devastating news for the Duke, and not because he loves money, but rather because he loves peace. If the new superpower in the region won’t deal with Weaseltown, war is coming to Arrendale. A war they can’t win, know they can’t win, but will have to fight anyway. Thousands will die. Weaseltown will become a starving shadow of its former self.

If only the Duke had acted more quickly or, perhaps, even more ruthlessly, all of that could have been avoided. Alas.

Don’t Mess with Arrendale

I have been watching Frozen on loop now for the past several months. I have listened the soundtrack a million times. My daughter insists we sing “Love is an Open Door” as a duet, making sure I don’t edge in on the Anna part, since I’m supposed to just sing the Hans part.

The movie has been on my mind a lot.

Piss her off, and kiss your crops goodbye, folks.

Piss her off, and kiss your crops goodbye, folks.

Among the many, many things to say about this movie (and it is a great Disney movie, mind you), one comes to mind: How screwed is everybody else in the Frozen universe? I mean, seriously, Queen Elsa has just thrown down the geopolitical gauntlet. Think about it – this is a young woman who dropped her entire country into the depth of winter in the middle of the summer and she did this by accident. Holy shit.

Here’s how every negotiation with Arrendale goes from here on out:

Ambassador: Your Highness, we think these trade agreements are unfair.

Elsa: Oh, really? Because I think it’s rather nice of me to let your country have any liquid water at all. You know, if you catch my meaning.

Ambassador: These trade agreements look great! Boy, howdy, what a deal!

If Elsa learns to control her powers (which she seems to at the end), this is going to be great for Arrendale in the short term, sure. What appears to be a rather small, isolated country now needn’t fear foreign invasion and stands to have a lot of political weight to throw around if another country decides to play dirty.

Of course, as any historian can tell you, having some kind of overwhelming power while everyone else lacks it might be a recipe for regional hegemony, it also often leads to military conflict. One can see a group of nations banding together to take down the Witch of Arrendale if for no other reason than they are tired of living in terror of Queen Elsa’s foul moods. I mean, just how many ambassadors can you have shipped back to you in a block of ice with a note reading “sorry, he was rude.”

This could be avoided by Elsa not using her powers, naturally, or sharply curtailing their use. However, since she spent most of her youth being forbidden to ‘be herself’, now that she can use them (and her people love her for it), how can she not? If Weaseltown makes a shady move to box Arrendale out of some kind of trade market, hurting her citizens, do you think Elsa isn’t going to send a blizzard to make those Weasels rethink their decision? Not likely.

War is certainly coming, one way or another, or, to borrow the Starks words, Winter is Coming. For Arrendale and everybody else in the region, it’s likely to be a long one, too. No one can put up with one country having a weapon of mass destruction and not having one themselves unless those nations are willing to play second fiddle to Arrendale’s new superpower status. Sure, they may do this for a while, but not forever. And what happens, then, when Elsa dies? Do the vultures come to feed then? Do old scores get settled? Even worse to consider is this: what happens if Elsa’s gift propagates to her offspring? Now Arrendale controls a bloodline of super-weapons, and now it becomes a geopolitical struggle to control and contain them. This means dead and kidnapped babies, everybody – dead and kidnapped babies.

This guy sees the writing on the wall.

This guy sees the writing on the wall.

One can scarcely blame the Lord of Weaseltown, then, from looking to eliminate Elsa immediately. He’s an old guy and, despite his goofy appearance, he clearly knows his diplomatic business. He doesn’t just want Elsa dead because she’s scary, but also because her very existence will destabilize a region that, up until then, seems to be fairly peaceful and prosperous. Killing Elsa is the best thing not only for Weaseltown, but arguably for Arrendale, as well. Heck, even if he doesn’t manage killing her, demonizing her as a monster will keep her off the throne, and that’s enough to keep the world on an even keel. What he’s doing, while underhanded and reactionary, could very likely avoid generations of terror and violence in the land. He, in a certain sense, is doing us all a favor.

Then again, who knows? Maybe Elsa is wise enough to use her power sparingly, to keep it out of the geopolitical spectrum, and to control it carefully and conscientiously for the good of all. Then again, you know what they always say about absolute power, too. I’m not so sure Elsa is going to beat the odds there. If you live in one of Arrendale’s neighboring countries, I’d start stocking up on firewood and, for God’s sake, get the hell out of the ice business.

What About True Love?

I saw Frozen at last over the weekend. It definitely stands as one of the best Disney animated features all time (though arguably not the best, I’ll grant, even if it is in the running) and is certain the best since The Princess and the Frog, easily eclipsing Tangled and whatever else slipped in there beneath my notice. What I found interesting about Frozen is, I feel, nothing different that what a lot of us found interesting about it: in the first place, a fantastic score and soundtrack, and in the second, an actually complicated and nuanced approach to the concept of ‘love’ – something that fairy tale style movies have almost never done. I feel this is important, since trying to show children that love is a simple concept is both erroneous and potentially hazardous to their emotional development. Nowhere is this more keenly observable than in the scores and scores of emotionally damaged adults who proceeded into the stormy waters of “true love” with all the same innocence that Anna does in the film.

I am no expert on love. I would say that, possibly, no such expert exists, but then again I’m no expert, so what do I know? All that said, what I can say about love is that it is a dangerous and complicated thing, not to mention elusive. When you think you have it, you often don’t. When you do have it, you often fail to realize this until it’s gone. Then, for those lucky few of us who get it, have it, and hold on to it, you are still constantly in doubt about it; you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop or, perhaps, wondering why it is constantly changing if this is the Real Thing.

"Do You Want to Build a Snowman" is a LOVE SONG, folks.

“Do You Want to Build a Snowman” is a LOVE SONG, folks.

Frozen cleverly illustrates this problem by constantly moving the goal-posts for Anna. Is she in love with Prince Hans? Kristoph? Well…no. Not yet, anyway. Obviously she loves her sister, Elsa. We take that as a given in the story; despite the fact that it is the central conflict of the film and the only thing in the movie of any permanence, we instinctually allow it to play second fiddle in our hearts to the good ol’ Princess and Prince falling instantly in True Love. We, like Anna, miss the good thing right in front of her in favor of the flashy new thing that gets waved under her nose. This is a grand metaphor for love itself – so easily missed and overwhelmed by simple infatuation.

A few years back I had a student submit to me an argument essay claiming that love didn’t exist – it was a myth and a fairytale. Love, she said, was simply chemical stimulation in the brain responding to basic physical attraction that was essentially unsustainable. You can’t be really in love, she claimed, as sooner or later you would come down from your ‘high’ and, therefore, no longer love that person. I pointed out to her that her perspective better demonstrated a misunderstanding of what comprises ‘true love’ than it did disprove its existence entirely. I asked her how she then described the love between parent and child, between siblings, and between those couples who have stayed together for decades. She equivocated. I didn’t press the issue; an 18-year old girl is entitled to be disenchanted with love if she wishes.

What the student had done was mistake eros for philia – the passionate desire for another for the loving respect and admiration of them (read up on the Greek definitions here). In principle, eros and philia combine to make what we call true, romantic love. We both desire our partner (considering him or her ‘ideally beautiful’ in the philosophical sense) and respect and care for them and their well-being (as we admire and are fond of them). Without some sense of both eros and philia, we can’t be said to be in Romantic Love. Among the sisters in Frozen, philia is the operative form of love at play and the movie (correctly, I feel) places greater emphasis on that than it does eros. Philia is the love that transcends time and self. It is the meal; eros is the spice.

To say that eros is superior to philia is to be completely blinded by the fairy tale mystique. Yes, being head-over-heels infatuated with someone is an incredible, almost indescribable feeling, but it’s a phase. Spend your life looking for it to perpetuate ad infinitum and you will get yourself in the wrong state of mind. Obviously we should desire our partners, but the person who truly loves you is not the one that you spend half an hour challenging to hang up while making googly noises on the phone. It’s the one who holds your hair out of your face while you throw up, the person who makes sure you make it home on time,  the person who can’t wait to listen to your stories and laugh at your jokes.

To love another is to put yourself at their mercy – your desire and respect for them means their approval of you is of utmost importance. To be loved is to be at someone’s mercy and have that someone always grant it. It is to be infinitely exploitable yet never exploited. It is trust and friendship and (yes) desire. You don’t find it on every corner, and it doesn’t show up all at once; even the fastest love affairs have to grow into themselves before they’re mature and ready for the world. For this reason I love Frozen because it has the courage to tell us that Kristoph and Anna are not yet destined for one another but that Elsa and Anna already are.