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Bechdel-Wallaceing Down Memory Lane

Ah, the sweet smell of Wednesday.  It’s hot and muggy outside, but tomorrow it’s not going to get out of the upper 60s and rain all day.  Maybe I’ll wear my purple dress tomorrow, because why not?  It’s like this when you walk to work, right?  All the time.  Best enjoy this, ’cause in a few months it’ll be snowing and cold and I’m gonna need a pair of rubber boots to wear, ’cause I damn sure don’t want to do it in flats.

Now we have writing, and a strange title for today’s post.  The title refers to the Bechdel-Wallace Test, a litmus test for female presence in fictional media. It’s named for Alison Bechdel, creator of the comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, which she credits to idea first put forward by her friend Liz Wallace.  The rules are simple:

 

1.  The story includes at least two women
2.  Who have at least one conversation
3.  About something other than a man or men

 

Booyah.  Simple, right?  You’d be surprised.  This is mostly applied to movies, but it can be applied to any sort of fictional media.  And you get a lot of funny results.  Most of the Harry Potter movies/books fail this test, but Starship Troopers passes because of one conversation.  Now, I’m not gonna point out that the movie Bikini Car Wash totally passes this test, because to do so points out that you shouldn’t take stuff like this so seriously that you revolve your whole story around whether or not you can pass the test by hitting the required marks–that’s known as gaming the system, and it’s easy to do.

I don’t try to game, however.  I let my work stand on it’s own merit.  I will say, however, that I do pass the test, though the first novel has Annie talking about Kerry a lot to Deanna on  a couple of occasions, but that was because a lot of the story was about her working to get back his memories.

"Let me tell you about my boyfriend. He doesn't remember me from our dreams, and he thinks I'm really another girl he fell in love with, but . . . not. Pretty clear, huh?"

“Let me tell you about my boyfriend. He doesn’t remember me from our dreams, and he thinks I’m really another girl he fell in love with, but . . . not. Pretty clear, huh?”

There have been a lot of other conversations, though, that weren’t about Kerry.  Annie and Helena talking about Shadow Ribbons; Isis and Wednesday talking about going outside The Pentagram; Wednesday and Erywin talking about getting comms and sensors back on-line; Erywin and Helena having a number of conversations; Helena threatening Maddie about being a mole for the Guardians. And the conversation below:  Annie and Deanna getting into a little school history.  Which is always fun . . .

 

(All excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Two: B For Bewitching, copyright 2015 by Cassidy Frazee)

“Fortunately for everyone Wanda was affable and well liked, which was considered a change from a few of the school’s overly-strict instructors. And given her age, she tended to identify with the students, which they loved. And as a seer she was good: from what I read two-thirds of her visions tended to be accurate.

“But . . .” A large smile began forming on Deanna’s face. “You know how Normal entertainment tends to portray seers as being eccentric, sometimes to an extreme?”

“Eccentric or insane.” Annie tended to stay away from popular books and movie that had ridiculous or hurtful portrayals of witches, and in particular hated the stereotype of the seer who was anti-social or crazy. While she knew it wasn’t Normal artist’s fault that they’d never knowingly interacted with witches, it was still bothersome that they were played for the lowest common entertainment value. “I don’t care for either.”

 

Seers coming across and eccentric and crazy in popular fiction?  Think they have a certain witch in mind?  Probably.  A nice little touch I love is showing how the people at Salem react to the way their kind are represented in different forms of media popularized by Normals.  Think Deanna doesn’t get pissed every time she sees a woman staring into a crystal ball?  Think Erywin nearly blinds herself rolling her eyes every time she sees witches standing around a bubbling cauldron?  Think Helena hasn’t gone all Elvis on her television whenever there’s an evil sorceress in a program?  They know how they’re seen–either played for laughs or decked out as pure evil–and even when someone comes close to getting it right, they shake their heads and mutter, “For heaven’s sake, we own TVs–we’re not living in the 19th Century, you know!”

But, you know, every so often someone does fit the image . . .

 

“Neither do I, for obvious reasons. However, stereotypes exist for a reason, and it seems Wanda was one of those exceptions. According to the diaries from the time, every vision was a Pronouncement, and she made a huge deal out of each one: standing up, spreading the arms, tossing back the head, and speaking in a really loud voice.” Deanna almost shouted out the last few words to give them the emphasis she wanted. “And it was likely to happen at any time: in class, during meals, during celebrations, even in the middle of the night. That’s why she got the nickname Crazy Wanda, because there was nothing subtle about the way she brought her sight to the attention of others.

“However, given that she was a great instructor, the staff and students put up with her, and she not only became a mainstay, but by the early eighteen hundreds she was being considered as a coven leader. Then Imbolc, 1803, came around, and that is how all this—” Deanna held out her hands and looked about the office. “—came about.

“The diary of the Ceridwen Coven leader stated that right in the middle of the Imbolc feast Wanda stands up and begins speaking of her vision. In this one, she states that the school must build a second building for divination studies just to the east of the current structure, and it must be completed and ready for the next school year, or—as she stated—’The whole of the establishment will be consumed in flame and agony’.”

Annie was torn between grimacing and laughing. “That’s quite a vision to proclaim: give Divinations their own building, or watch the school burn to the ground.”

Deanna nodded. “And what bothered the school staff was her sixty-six percent success rate on visions. The school’s one hundred and thirtieth anniversary was happening that summer, and they wanted a school—and students—there to witness said anniversary. So . . .” She raised her eyebrows as she turned her eyes towards the ceiling. “Here we are. They broke ground right before Beltaine, and they completed the building the first week in July. Wanda got her building—and an office—and the school didn’t burn down.” Deanna sighed. “Everyone was happy.”

 

I should try that with my job:  “If I don’t get a raise, FIRE AND BRIMSTONE, YO!”  Yeah.  I’d get shown the door real quick.  Probably would help if I could turn people into newts . . .

Now you know why there are two buildings out at Memory’s End.  And all’s well that ends well, right?

 

Annie leaned against the wall. “So how long did Wanda teach here after this was built?”

Deanna’s mood began to shift and turn dower. “Four years.”

“Did she go back to The Netherlands after that?”

“You could say that—” Deanna looked down for a moment. “She died 2 November, 1807, right after the Samhain celebrations.”

Given the way Deanna’s mood changed Annie was almost afraid to ask the cause of the young seer’s death. “What happened?”

“She killed herself.” Deanna paused just long enough for Annie to get over the shock before continuing. “She came out here early in the morning with a potion—which is what they called them back then—and her body was found right before lunch. She gave no reason for her suicide: all she left behind were instructions on who would get her books, that she wanted her body immolated, and that the ashes were to be dropped into the Maas River a bit upstream so they’d flow past her home town on their way to the sea.”

With the end of the story the mood in the office changed dramatically. “That doesn’t seem right. How could she kill herself?”

Deanna came over and touched Annie’s shoulder reassuringly. “It’s not the first time it happened, and certainly wasn’t the last.” She glanced to her left. “A total of five instructors of divination have died in this office, four by their own hands—the last one killed herself in 1964.”

 

Well, that’s a bummer, but it was one I expected, because when I set Wanda up in the notes I wrote “1770–1807” next to her name.  She didn’t make it to forty.  And, you find out, that’s not unusual out at Memory’s End–or at the school . . .

 

“That’s so . . .” Before coming to Salem she’d knew nothing of the dark side of the school save for whispered comments about The Scouring, and though the Day of the Dead attack was horrible, she believed it to be an exception. “I don’t know how you can work in an office where people killed themselves.”

“It doesn’t bother me.” Deanna softly chuckled. “Besides, this place is drenched in blood. The school is going to be three hundred and thirty years old next summer, and in that time nearly six hundred people—staff, instructors, and students—have died here—”

“You’ve seen a lot of that, haven’t you?” Annie was very much aware of Deanna’s involvement in The Scouring, how she managed to lead a majority of her covermates out of Åsgårdsreia Coven before it was destroyed by a Deconstructor attack, even though they hadn’t studied the event in history yet.

“More than I’ve cared to see.” She slid her hand behind Annie’s shoulder and directed her out of the office. “Let me show you something—”

“What?”

Deanna led them towards the stairs going to the first floor. “One of my favorites places here.”

 

Let’s hope the place Deanna wants to show Annie is a happy one, because I managed to end almost a thousand words of writing on a real down note.  Not to mention that she pointed out that nearly two people have died each year at Salem for the duration of its existence, and that’s a strange bit of history to keep in mind.  In Annie’s first year at the school ten people died, and that number was nearly fourteen, and that’s a hell of a way to start off your magical instruction.  And even though it was pointed out that Deanna was involved in saving a lot of people from her coven during The Scouring, she’s leaving out that something like thirty were killed when Åsgårdsreia Tower exploded–yeah, right up in flames it went.  Not a pretty sight.

Maybe tomorrow there’ll be happy time.  Pretty sure we could all use it.

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