Thursday, October 11, 2012

Psycho-sexual Ravenloft: Dance of the Dead II

Eventually, seeing Larissa prance about in her stage costume like some sort of Ravenloftian Shakira proves too much for Raoul, so he concocts a bizarre plan to have her attacked by a sailor so that he might save her; his theory seems to be that in return for his protection Larissa is sure to give him a little sugar. Larissa reacts with an almost surprising level of horror when Raoul attempts to force himself on her, runs away, and is aided in her escape by some witchy guy from the swamp. Of course, she eventually returns to her “Uncle's” boat even though he just tried to molest her. What a tease or something.

Larissa has to run away from Raoul and his magic showboat again. She takes refuge in the swamps of Souragne, where she meets a spirit of nature known as the Maiden. Up until this point the novel had been cruising at a median depth—neither good nor bad, just plowing along in a workmanly paperback fashion—but once we get to the scenes of Larissa and the Maiden things plunge back into the terribleness I've come to expect from a Ravenloft novel. You see, the Maiden endeavors to teach Larissa...DANCE MAGIC! And the scenes in which Larissa learns to channel elemental magic through the power of DANCE are more than a bit like the scenes in Dirty Dancing where the Swayze teaches Baby to shake it like a Polaroid picture. This is, horrifyingly enough, the Gothic Fantasy equivalent to a training montage from Flashdance or Fame.

But, being a Christie Golden novel, it's got to get a bit sexually weird. The Maiden demands that Larissa where something skankier to...make the MAGIC DANCE better or something: “To Larissa's annoyance, the Maiden made the dancer remove her clothes and tear them into pieces for new garments. Larissa bound her breasts with a halter made of the skirt's material and fashioned a skirt of the lighter-weight chemise. She fastened the skirt about her slender waist and glanced at the Maiden for approval. 'No,' the Maiden chided. She tugged the skirt from Larissa's waist and retied it so it hugged her hips. 'The only time I've ever worn this little is when I was bathing,' Larissa muttered.” What happens in the swamp, stays in the swamp.

But then, this focus on Larissa's body is pretty typical of Golden's writing style. I don't know how else to put this, but she writes about women the way a fourteen year old boy would. From the way the narrative lens glides over feminine bodies throughout the novel it's clear that we, as readers, are meant to be complicity elided with the male gaze that evaluates and objectifies the physicality of women. For example, check out the weird pit stop this description of a woman's anger takes to dwell on her tits: “Her cheeks were flushed and her green eyes sparkling. Her low-cut dress, the same one she had worn at dinner revealed the tops of her breasts. She was absolutely stunning in her rage.” Translation: she is really mad but also she has great titties.