Mio and Harry and why are these two never compared again?

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban movie poster and Mio My Son book coverEvery now and then, obviously more often around the time of a release of a new part of the Harry Potter franchise, articles will pop up comparing Rowling’s series to other, earlier works. Sometimes this is in relation to other authors trying to sue her for some of her significant fortune, sometimes it’s an effort to get people (kids?) to keep reading,  and sometimes, well, it fills space, doesn’t it? And it’s about Harry Potter, a topic that doesn’t quite seem to go stale (I mean, look, I am blogging about it.) Io9 featured a list a few weeks ago, neatly dismissing most claims as simply products of the same mythological and literary context, but in my opinion, one important item , which seems obvious to me, is always missing: Mio, My Son.

Mio, My Son (Mio min Mio) was released in Sweden in 1954 (in English a few years later ) and was written by Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), in the US probably most known for her book about Pippi Longstockings. In Sweden she is probably the most well-beloved children’s author there is, and among her other famous works are the stories about the children of Noisy Village, Emil, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, and The Brothers Lionheart.  Mio, My Son a story about a young boy without a family who finds that he has a special heritage and learns to overcome evil —

— but let’s face it, that’s more than 90% of kids’ fantasy lit. The thing about Mio is the many exact parallels it shares with especially the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Mio in the book is first known as Bo (Bosse) Vilhelm Olsson, the adopted son of a couple of Stockholm in the fifties. Now, he refers to his adopted parents as “aunt” and “uncle”, and they make it perfectly clear that they’re not fond of him at all – they would have preferred a clean and well-behaved girl, not a playful boy who tracks in dirt and makes noise. Bo is envious of his friend who have a kind family. His own mother died giving birth to him, and his father is unknown (the aunt is dismissive of the father, saying he was probably “some tramp”.)  As it turns out, the father is in fact alive, the king of Faraway Land, and in the first chapters of the book he finally finds his son, his Mio, with the help of a greengrocer and a somewhat clumsy genie. Mio gets to meet his father, he gets to live in a castle, own a horse and build model airplanes with his dad after dinner, like he always longed to.

… and then things get shifty. It turns out the evil Sir Kato has been kidnapping children, that there is a prophecy that only Mio can defeat him, and Mio and his friend – who knows more about Faraway Land than Mio does and frequently have to explain how things work to him. Using among other items an invisibility cloak, Mio sets about his task… I am not going to give you more details, because the book is absolutely amazing and you should all read it if you haven’t already. I will go as far as saying that it’s far superior to any HP, but also a very different sort of book, But let’s go over the similarities and see if they’re strong (sort of unique) or weak (very common)

– Orphaned boy (weak)
– Lives with “aunt” and “uncle” who mistreats him. (strong)
– Finds out his true heritage and parentage (weak)
– Best friend who knows the world and history and navigates it for him (strong)
– A friend’s sibling is in danger (strong)
– Evil overlord actually has fake-noble title (weak)
– The uttering of Evil overlord’s very name inspires fear and danger as well has having actual conseqences (medium)
– Prophecy of Doom turns out to be about our protagonist (weak)
– Chief tool is invisibility cloak (strong)
– Evil overlord has significant feature that separates him from true humanity, both physically and emotionally (medium?)

Now, 5 1/2 isn’t a ton, but that’s a lot more than some of the books I’ve seen listed share with HP. And I am not claiming Rowling ripped off anything, but it’s fairly obvious that she’s been inspired by it. So there.

(as an interesting footnote, a movie was made in the eighties in which a very young, very adorable Christian Bale played Mio’s friend Jum-Jum and Christopher Lee played Sir Kato.)

Better on Second Glance, or Why Ariadne Wins at Everything

Now, to begin with, we should note that this entry contains plot spoilers for Inception. If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read beyond this point.

So. Ariadne.

The first time I saw Inception (and yes, there have been several), I was a little disappointed. It occurred to me that apart from Cobb, any character of the team could have just as easily been female. And they weren’t. With the exception of Ariadne, it’s a boys’ club, and it wasn’t until I read Sister Magpie’s entry (link pending on approval from her) on fandom’s reaction to the movie and to Ariadne that I really begun to love her as a character. See, as magpie writes, Ariadne and Arthur may well have been gender-switched*, and had they been, their respective relationships to Cobb has been much more stereotypical.

Perhaps more important, Nolan could just as easily have made it an all-boys-club; it wouldn’t have been unusual for a summer action movie, and Nolan’s women tend to be more like Mal – ethereal, glamorous and dead – anyway. Ariadne didn’t have to be a woman, but she is, and I am happy she is, in her own resourceful, opinionated, intelligent, feeling way.

New Yorker columnist Emma Rosenblum pities Ellen Page for having to wear the “rags” that are Ariadne’s outfits, and I go “uhh, what, now?” I don’t know what Ms Rosenblum normally wears when running around in action dreams, but I was personally very relieved to see a female character in sensible clothing. Men’s glam clothes are pretty practical; they’re usually just more fitted, expensive versions of daily wear. But women’s dressed-up, the stuff Marion Cotillard’s Mal wears, is highly unpractical. Your fall in heels, you can’t run in dresses. I love that Ariadne wears pants she can run in, t-shirts and cardigans, and that she doesn’t need to flash her curves in every single scene. Rosenblum calls it asexual (although desexualized might be a better term), I call it realistic. It’s relieving to have a female lead who does shit instead of smooches her hero boyfriend, and who wears clothes she can accomplish things in. Speaking of desexualized, by the way, didn’t Arthur steal a kiss? And didn’t Ariadne seem to like it, in a darling, smug sort of way?

The real problem with Ariadne is that she is a kind of  audience surrogate; through her ignorance, we are given answers about what is going on. A lot of the time, her dialogue is pure exposition. Now, I admit to loving exposition like I love ice cream, but with a lesser actress, it would undoubtedly have become boring, or at least tiringly transparent after a while. Not with Page. She does a great job of making her lines sound authentic. I believe her, all the way through.

And look at her. Not only is Ariadne a star student at what appears to be a prestigious Paris school, she supposedly a better Architect and maze-maker than Cobb was, she immediately calls him on his shit in a way Arthur never has. She has skills and a fetching personality, and Arthur seems to like her from the start. She is the only person in the team to question the morality of inception, and when Cobb gives up, she’s the one who takes command and makes sure they all get out alive. It pretty much doesn’t get more kick-ass than that.



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