Happy first day of Autumn, 2021! And while we’re at it, yesterday was the Mid-Autumn Festival! If it seems a bit jarring that we’re celebrating the first day of Autumn after the Mid-Autumn festival, it might help to know that the Mid-Autumn festival is based on the traditional Chinese calendar (which is lunisolar*), whereas the first day of Autumn is determined by the fall/September equinox.
I’m going to be focusing on the Mid-Autumn Festival, but the fall equinox also sees Persephone joining Hades back in the underworld. Interestingly, it’s another couple that is celebrated/remembered during the Mid-Autumn festival too: Chang’e and Hou Yi. There are many versions of the tale – whether Chang’e did it out of selfishness, desperation, or selfless sacrifice for mankind – but it all ends in the same way: Chang’e becomes immortal and lives on the Moon**, while her husband Hou Yi is stranded on Earth as a mortal. Whether she saw no choice but to drink it when a thief came into the house to steal the elixir while Hou Yi was out (so as to prevent the thief from achieving immortality); or if she drank the immortality elixir to prevent Hou Yi (who, in one version of the tale, had let the power of being a worshipped hero go to his head and become a callous king) from becoming immortal and inflicting his cruelty on everyone for even longer; or perhaps even the selfish version where she drank the elixir in order to be raised to the Heavens (when presented with the choice of sharing the full elixir with Hou Yi and becoming immortal together on Earth, or one of them drinking all of the elixir to become a god/dess/Heavenly figure), choosing herself over her life together with Hou Yi (and in some versions regretting it as she was very lonely on the moon), it’s a whole muddle and there doesn’t seem to be one accepted version of the tale – which is perhaps just fine, since I feel like this allows this tale to contain the possibility of meaning beyond a straightforward standardized version might bring.
In July, uber-cool film studio A24 released The Green Knight in theatres, but with the new school year starting and sweater weather approaching, I feel there’s no better time to delve into an old Arthurian legend than autumn (except maybe Christmas, when the story takes place). If you haven’t seen the film, it is an adaptation of an anonymously-penned chivalric romance from Medieval England about Sir Gawain (one the famed Knights of the Round Table). And if you have seen the film, you’re probably like, “what in the world did I just watch?”
Arthurian legends in media are in no short supply. We all at least vaguely know the names King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Excalibur, right? You might have seen Disney’s The Sword in the Stone as a child (featuring, iconically, a Converse-wearing Merlin), or maybe the old parody staple, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government”). More recently, there was BBC’s Merlin, in which the titular wizard is a young man when he befriends the weirdly jock-like Arthur (cue shipping). Historically, the old tales have been interpreted in countless paintings as well (you might recognize this one especially, of Elaine of Astolat, harboring an unrequited love for Lancelot). No matter the version, they’re always recognizable as being Arthurian. The departure from that recognition, from the usual tropes, names, and places, is what makes The Green Knight such a bizarre, and modern, take.
It is no secret that K-Pop has recently become a larger part of the American music scene in recent years, especially with the rise of BTS on the Billboard charts and their 2020 Grammy nomination. This development has also brought about a new YA book subgenre: K-Pop books! As a lover of both K-Pop and reading, I was a bit skeptical about all these new books. Can a book really describe the visual and auditory aesthetics of the music category? I was pleasantly surprised to find that a book really can do all that.
K-Pop Confidential by Stephan Lee focuses on 15 year-old Candace Park, a Korean-American teenager who loves music and wants to become a singer. Despite her parents dismissal at first, Candace ends up passing an audition to become a trainee at one of Korea’s biggest entertainment agencies. The book chronicles her journey to become an idol and readers will root for Candace as she follows her dreams.