Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Directed by Isao Takahata

Ms. Hen has gotten into anime lately. She thinks it’s very strange that she would like such a thing, but she has enjoyed watching the films ONLY YESTERDAY, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, and she recently watched THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA. She has been near the anime convention in Boston, and she’s seen strange looking young people going to that convention. Ms. Hen is not a strange hen, but she thinks if she were a kid, she could be as strange as them.

Ms. Hen was immediately entranced by THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA. The animation is exquisite, with rough drawings over the watercolors. Everything in this film is hand drawn, and some are paper cutouts of the characters that float above a background. The emotion of the princess is expressed in the artwork, in some of the scenes, the drawings are violent and passionate, and what the princess is experiencing is clear to the viewer.

The story is an ancient Japanese folk tale, called THE TALE OF THE BAMBOO CUTTER. A bamboo cutter finds a tiny girl in a tree he is chopping down. He brings her home to his wife, then the girl turns into a baby. The baby grows voraciously, until she is fully grown within a few days. Her parents call her “princess,” but her friends call her “little bamboo.” She enjoys playing in the forest with her friends, especially the boy Sutemaru. The bamboo cutter believes she is a princess, and takes her to the city to live the life she deserves, after he finds gold in a bamboo tree he is cutting down.

Her parents hire a tutor to teach her how to act royally. The princess detests the tutor, and does not want to do what she says. Her parents also hire someone to give her a name, and he gives her the name Princess Kaguya, or the princess of the bamboo. Noble men hear how beautiful she is, and five ask her for her hand in marriage. She sends them all on a quest to retrieve things that they she is like.

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA reminded Ms. Hen of many other stories. It reminded her of THUMBELINA, since she started as a tiny girl. It also reminded her of CINDERELLA, because she became a princess in a magical way. It also reminded her of ALADDIN, since she was poor, then became rich, because the woodcutter found gold in the tree. Ms. Hen believes that stories from around the world are all connected, like Joseph Campbell says in his book, THE POWER OF MYTH.

The story started in the mountains and the forest, so there were chickens and hens around. An important scene occurred when Princess Kaguya sees her old friend Sutemaru stealing a chicken and running away. He stands there and stares at her, then is caught and gets beaten. The princess is ashamed that she did not help him.

Ms. Hen loved this film. She enjoys watching movies like this because it’s pure fantasy; she can get swept away in the story and not think about the problems of the world. Ms. Hen has found these anime films can get very emotional toward the end, and sometimes she gets overwhelmed with sadness. THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is especially sad, but beautiful, like life can be sometimes.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews POPE JOAN

Donna Woolfolk Cross
Random House

Ms. Hen decided to read this, because again, one of her hen friends gave it to her because she was getting rid of some books. Ms. Hen had heard of this novel many years ago, and she didn’t quite understand how a woman could have become pope. When she read the novel, she became angry over the way women were treated in the Dark Ages.

Joan is not allowed to go to school or learn how to read because she is a girl. All the girls in her village care nothing for books, they only care about gossip and needlework. Her brother Matthew teaches her to read in secret, against their father’s wishes. After Matthew dies, a tutor comes to the house to help teach Joan, and her brother John. Joan is much quicker in her studies than John.

Joan and John escape to go to the schola, or school in another town. The boys at the school torment Joan. The idea of the day is that it is not natural for a woman to want to learn. Joan has a crush on the man with whom she is living, Gerold, a married lord with children. Joan becomes friends with his daughter Gisla, who marries when she is fourteen. Eventually, the town is attacked by Vikings, and everyone is killed, including Gerold’s entire family, but not Gerold. Joan escapes death by concealing herself in the church. Joan steals her brother John’s robe and hides in the woods. She joins a monastery disguised as a man, and becomes a renowned scholar and healer. She finds her way to Rome, and eventually becomes elected Pope.

It made Ms. Hen upset that women of this age were treated so badly. They were not allowed to have property, or any money; they were treated as inferior beings to men, and were not allowed to read and write. If they were married, they were owned by their husbands. Ms. Hen likes to think the world is better now, but the results from the Presidential election make her think otherwise. Twelve hundred years have gone by since the ninth century, but women still don’t have as much power as men.

Pope Joan is a legend, and it is said that no woman has had as much power before or since she was on the throne. A woman could have had that much power, but the citizens of the United States are ignorant wretches who would rather have a fascist as President, and the electoral college system is dysfunctional.

Pope Joan was erased from history because the men in power in that day did not want it to be known that they were fooled by a woman. The only way Joan could have held the office she did was to be disguised as a man.

There are some scattered hens in this novel, but that did not make up for the fact that Ms. Hen was angered by this book. Also, the writing in POPE JOAN is a bit inferior. Ms. Hen has read a lot of books, and there is substantial lacking in the quality of this novel. Ms. Hen thought it could have been because the author was trying to write in the style of the ninth century, but it was more than that. A character dies, and Joan thought, “It was impossible that he was gone.” Ms. Hen expects more from a character when someone important to her dies. Ms. Hen wants her to be devastated, but Joan’s reaction fell flat, like most of the writing in the novel.

Other than inadequate writing, Ms. Hen enjoyed POPE JOAN. It wasn’t the best book she has ever read, but it wasn’t the worst. Ms. Hen thinks POPE JOAN is an important novel, because it shows how far we’ve come, but also how far we have to go.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Keith Donohue

Ms. Hen decided to read THE MOTION OF PUPPETS because she heard the author read during the Boston Book Festival in October. He has a very quiet voice, and was not the most expressive reader Ms. Hen had ever heard, but she was intrigued by the story of a puppet that comes to life. Ms. Hen loves puppets. During the reading, Mr. Donohue told the audience that he’s afraid of puppets, which Ms. Hen thought was funny. She can understand why a person would be afraid of puppets; they can be frightening if one thinks of them from a certain perspective. What are they but pretend people? Or are they pretend?

Ms. Hen loved this novel from the start. The writing is exquisite: the words flow across the page, and not a moment is wasted. The description of Quebec and the neighborhoods drip with beauty. Ms. Hen thought she was actually there, though she’s never been there. The characters are realistic and unique. And she loved the puppets.

Kay Harper and her new husband, Theo, go to Quebec because she is performing as an acrobat in a cirque for the summer. While they are there, he works on his translation of a biography of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge. They are happy newlyweds, even though they had a rocky start to their relationship. He is ten years older than she, and she is the type of woman that all men love. She falls in love with a puppet in a window of a store called Quatre Mains, or Four Hands. The puppet is has a sign next to it that says “puppet ancienne,” or old puppet. Whenever they walk by the store, she stares in the window.

One night, she goes out for drinks with some members of the cirque, and afterward, on the way home, the ringmaster, Reance, follows her. She is afraid of him catching her, and feels unsafe, so she goes into The Quatre Mains, since the door is open. She never comes out. The people inside turn her into a puppet.

He husband searches for her, but to no avail. He attempts to hunt her down with the help of the dwarf from the cirque, Egon, and the classics professor, Dr. Mitchell. (Incidentally, in the two other novels Ms. Hen has read recently about a circus or carnival, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and GEEK LOVE, there has been a dwarf in each!) Ms. Hen attempted to guess what would happen at the end while she was reading, but she was wrong.

There aren’t a lot of novels which Ms. Hen longs to be transformed into films. But there is something so cinematic about this novel; she thinks it would be fantastic as a stop-motion animation combined with live action film, possibly directed by Tim Burton. She can see the puppets dancing around; some of the scenes are so wild, Ms. Hen was thirsty for them to be seen visually.

There are a smattering of hens in this novel, enough to please Ms. Hen. When Kay breaks into The Quatre Mains, she looks around at all the puppets and sees, “A felted red rooster in a yellow beret.” Later, the puppets are being transformed into larger puppets, and Kay thinks of her mother, “old comforter, young and singing sweetly on her walk from the henhouse.” And when Theo and his friends are looking for Kay in Vermont at the puppet museum they see, “A pair of wet chickens foraged in the grass behind a yellow farmhouse.”

Ms. Hen loves reading scary novels during the Halloween season, and this was the perfect book to read on Halloween night, sitting under her electric blanket, with the little ghouls and goblins outside begging for candy. Sometimes things aren’t what we want them to be, but that’s life, and Ms. Hen knows this. But we can take comfort in the fact that we’re all in the same boat. Not everybody has what they want.