Pop culture

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.)

Anger-induced aneurysms in my life

Please note: this is a translation repost of an entry from my Swedish blog. If the feel of the text seems somewhat off, it’s because I didn’t originally write it in English. Oh, and it’s from back in August, when the ad was just released.)

I wrote about racism against the roma a few weeks ago. About deportations, about molotov cocktails used against three-year-olds, about prejudice accepted by society. Today there’s more material in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, but I don’t have the energy to read it, don’t have the strength to cry while at work.

But I hadn’t thought of ONE thing the roma are good enough for in Western society: exotification, preferably with hypersexual characteristics. “Gyspy” comes to mean passionate, alien, wild, beautiful… basically your standard Wednesday afternoon orientalism. Sweeping skirts, dark hair and firelight are used as signifiers of Otherness and Availability (which in itself a part of the same phenomenon that narrates African-American women in a sexualized manner, an extension of their previous position as sexual pray within the legalizing context of slavery.) You get it. You’d think we’ve got further than that in 2010, but culture fucks you right back in your place. The makeup brand Illamasqua released their fall collection The Art of Darkness in September, and one of the looks is called “Queen of the Gypsies.”



WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK. This is what the official image looks like, if you don’t have the energy or inclination, I can inform you that is  a somewhat dark-skinned woman with long black hair and silver highlights. She is wearing a red bikiniesque top and a semitransparent red and blue skirt. She’s also wearing golden earrings, many golden necklaces and at least one anklet. Her upper arm is sporting either a tattoo or a tight bracelet. The only light in the picture seems to come from a candelabra behind her. The look is marketed with the following text: “No one can resist the Queen of the Gypsyies. This alluring temptress, famed for her seductive veiled dancing, knows how to use her art to get what she wants…”

I can’t, a the moment of writing, think of any way I could be more disgusted by this. Exotification is gross enough on its own, any woman of color could tell you that, but imagine  the above text being about a nationality, say, Japanese women. It wouldn’t be any better, but there had been a number of organizations, Japanese and non-Japanese, who has put their foot down, but some pressure on Illamasqua, made sure this was talked about. Right now, there’s just silence. The particular exposed situation of the roma population makes this campaign a little bit more cowardly, a little stupider, a little bit more disgusting.

(on a sidenote, the werewolf-styled ad also trivializes rape. Nice one, Illamasqua. I’m on a lifetime boycot, btw.)



  • Archives