All Hail Snow White: A Heroine on a Hero’s Journey

By Julie Wu

You look very fetching in mail.

The Huntsman to Snow White


I recently took a roundtrip flight directly from JFK toTaipei.  That’s 15 hours each way, enough time in one seat to induce post-traumatic stress disorder in most people.  But I am not most people.   I am a mother of small children, and on this flight I had my own TV screen with my own menu of movies and my own remote.  This privilege was, by itself, almost worth the cost of the flight.

I watched Snow White and the Huntsman, The King’s Speech, and Inception.  I recognized that of the three, Snow White was not technically the best.  But it was the only one I watched both to and from Taipei in entirety because, actually, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  (I did watch the opening of Inception two or three times just to figure out what the heck happened.)

What was it about Snow White that captured me?   Was it the gorgeous, fantastical visuals?  Well, they were dazzling, though I could have done without the androgynous fairies, the cute little bunnies, and the computer-compiled dwarves who deprived eight real height-challenged actors of a life-changing opportunity.  Was it the love story?  I very much enjoyed the twist in this, too, and the fact that this movie’s definition of true love required something deeper than the usual physical infatuation that is so sadly prevalent in movies, fairy tales and yes, novels, too.

What really got me though, I think, was that Snow White is a great heroine.  She’s everything I wished my heroines were when I was growing up.  Yes, she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t seem to [Read more...]

Filling in the blanks: When a Society Acquires Freedom of Speech


By Julie Wu

Tonight, I will be flying to Taiwan.  A pluralistic democracy, Taiwan has freedom of speech and a free press.  To Americans, these descriptors sound ho hum, but in the context of Taiwanese history, they are a miracle.

In my parents’ suburban Boston home, we had a 1971 World Book Encyclopedia that was printed in Taiwan.  Though it was in English, it had a fundamental difference from the 1971 World Book at my school library: it was censored.  In our Taiwanese edition, Chinese history ended in 1949.  The pages where Mao was supposed to be were blank, both in the China section and in the M volume, and the Communists never won China.  In fact, Communism, along with the border between Mongolia and China, simply did not exist.

Our World Book was printed during the White Terror in Taiwan, a forty year period (1949-1987) under the Nationalist Chinese government during which saying the wrong thing or even just owning the wrong book could result in arrest, torture, imprisonment, and even execution.  It has taken decades for me to find out what really happened during that time—I’m still learning, as are many Westerners and even many Taiwanese.  But because of that World Book, I never doubted for a moment the repressive nature of the regime at that time. [Read more...]

Window or Mirror: How Did My Reading Scope Get So Narrow?


By Julie Wu

I once visited a woman whose bookshelves—all of them—were filled with Harlequin romances of a certain series.  Each spine was identical to the next, except for the title.  She had, as far as I could see, no other books.  She held a half-read identical book in her hand as she conversed.  It was extraordinary.

But who am I to judge?  The woman had found what she liked and was content to stick with it.  And, come to think of it, just how adventurous a reader am I?  I do read more than one imprint, but in a library or bookstore I make a beeline for “General fiction,” or “Literature” and breeze right by aisles upon aisles of mysteries, thrillers, romances, fantasies, biographies, social science, history, essays, and poetry.  Sometimes I catch myself and backtrack to those sections and wonder, what in the world has happened to me? [Read more...]

A Girl’s Love for Batman: The Possible Cost of Segregating Stories by Gender

By Julie Wu

Yesterday, my four-year-old daughter got Batman sneakers.  They go nicely with her Batman shirt, Batman socks, and (temporary) Batman tattoo.  She has a Batman costume and wants a Batman backpack.  She watches Batman shows and I read her Batman books.

My daughter’s Batman craze makes some people uncomfortable.  She is, according to the Zeitgeist, supposed to like Belle and Ariel.  Or, if she is going to like superheroes, Batgirl or Wonder Woman.

But here’s why I don’t mind my daughter’s obsession: Batman is a great character.  He has a tragic past and is driven by both tremendous anger and guilt in his quest to stop crime, yet he is not vindictive.  His only superpowers are will, ingenuity, and brute force.  In groups of superheroes, he is the one who leads, not Wonder Woman or even the ridiculously superpowered characters like Superman and Green Lantern, whom my kids deride as being “cheap.”  (Your only vulnerability is Kryptonite?  You can make anything you want out of your ring?  Come on.)

In contrast, who is Batgirl?  She is admirably brave but weak, second string even to Robin, who is himself secondary (interestingly, there are Robin costumes commercially available for girls and women).  And the only thing that strikes me about Wonder Woman is her corset and go-go boots.  The woman has no personality.  As for Belle and Ariel, not to mention all those princesses, am I really supposed to try to get my child to drop a great hero like Batman to worship a pretty, pleasantly spunky girl whose life’s drive is fulfilled by a handsome guy and a drop-dead dress?

[Read more...]

The Big Rush, or What I Learned from Sending a Story Out Too Soon


By Julie Wu

I stood outside Columbia’s main gate at 116th and Broadway with Professor K.  It was evening, after his fiction workshop, and he smoked as always, squinting and throwing his cigarette butts after the receding tail lights of roaring buses and yellow cabs.  He was, to me, the quintessential, old-fashioned writer–a Raymond Carver contemporary who had drunk and smoked away the decades, who lived by himself and told stories about his lady friend, a former escort.  Sometimes we went, with or without a bunch of my classmates, to a café to schmooze, but I was in a rush to study for an exam.  It was 1996, toward the end of my final semester of medical school–the only semester in which I’d been able to take a writing course.

“You should get published as soon as possible,” Professor K said in his ravaged voice.  “Because then, when you see your name in print, you’ll feel obligated to write more.  Now, as for the story of yours that’s most ready to go out as is—” He punched the air with his cigarette, and named one of my stories.

I moved to Boston for my medical residency.  Between shifts, I researched literary magazines and sent out that story.  Of course, Professor K and the rest of the class had given me critiques.  Several people complained that the story’s ending—the protagonist’s final choice, wasn’t convincing.  I changed a sentence here or there, and thought that should be enough.  I liked my story and the man had said, “as is,” so I sent it out.

[Read more...]