Rage

RageA review of Serena Valentino’s Poor Unfortunate Soul (Disney Press, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Poor Unfortunate Soul, the last book in this series by Serena Valentino wasn’t as powerful as the other two tales, and part of that may be because Ursula didn’t have the same sort of sympathetic portrayal that the Evil Queen or the Beast did. Valentino’s Ursula was a creature shaped by understandable rage, but unlike the other villains with greyed morality, Ursula is portrayed as distant, a figure of rage from afar rather than the close-up pain and frustration we feel with the protagonists of the other two books.

Valentino provides a background for Ursula that allows us to understand her anger, frustration, and pain, giving us a glimpse into an undersea world where she was constantly ostracized for her appearance in a realm that could only accept one particular body type. She resisted this bodily narrative, being herself even though she was pushed to the fringes of her society for it. Ursula in Valentino’s narrative is the sister of King Triton, king of the mermaids and Ariel’s father. 

Ursula’s rage is justifiable in this narrative since it comes from the pain of years of isolation. It is also the kind of powerful rage that could be transformative, and that could overturn a kingdom that reinforces a strict status quo. Valentino hints that King Triton’s patriarchal control is at the centre of Ursula’s pain and rage, noting that the king imposes beauty standards on the women around him, a male hegemony that positions women as beings to be looked at rather than to wield power. This could have been a powerful feminist tale tale with Ursula challenging the patriarchy and trying to push for an overthrow of a system that disempowers its public, and it seemed to be building toward this at the start, but there is a sudden shift in the narrative toward positioning Ursula as a creature distant from the reader instead of the reader getting the chance to see the world through her eyes. We get pulled out of that dark potential where change is possible and thrust onto the surface while we watch the status quo become re-established.

To discover more about Serena Valentino and Poor Unfortunate Soul, visit http://www.serenavalentino.com/projects/ursula/ 

Hooked

Hooked
A review of Garth Nix’s “An Unwelcome Guest” in Troll’s Eye View edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Viking, 2009).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Garth Nix’s Rapunzel isn’t a girl who is easily trapped in a tower. She isn’t willing to sit passively waiting for her prince to arrive. She climbs into the witch’s tower, using her hair and a grappling hook woven into it… but her hook also comes in handy as a weapon.

The witch’s cat Jaundice wants desperately to be a fearsome beast, an evil servant of a wicked witch, but her “wicked” witch would much prefer dinner parties to danger…. and Jaundice is much more interested in returning mice to their nests than eating them. But what does a not-so-wicked witch do when she has a trespasser, especially one who is not easily intimidated like Rapunzel?

Nix reverses the trapped narrative of Rapunzel, making the witch the woman who is trapped by her respect of guests… even unwanted ones. Politeness is tough, especially when there are brownies and other spirits around who will take offence if a guest isn’t treated with respect.

To discover more about Garth Nix, visit http://www.garthnix.com/

Home is Where the Monsters Are

A review of Delia Sherman’s “Wizard’s Apprentice” in Troll’s Eye View edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Viking, 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Fairy tales frequently deal with ideas of children being lost away from home. Frequently, their parents are cruel but aren’t depicted as the villains of the tales, excused of their mistreatment of children. Delia Sherman’s “Wizard’s Apprentice” explores a young person who is perpetually trying to escape from home and from the violence of his home. Sherman explores the notion that home is not always equated with a sense of comfort, care, and safety. For people who are abused, home is frought with the sort of horrors that fairy tale children encounter out in the woods. Home can be a space populated by monsters. 

Sherman complicates notions of home, reminding her readers that violence is not something distant, but frightfully close and present. Sometimes the only option is to escape the monsters of home, and sometimes the only way to do that is to find someone even more frightening because what frightens bullies more than someone stronger than them who refuses to be bullied.

Sherman gives her protagonist, Nick, a chance to find himself and forge a new type of family structure for himself, complicating simple ideas of family and home. She creates a family based on shared knowledge and opportunities to find new methods of overcoming seemingly impossible conditions, using magic to complete household tasks that wouldn’t be possible without learning. Nick is a dynamic character, able to shift perspectives as easily as he learns to shift shapes. 
To find out more about Delia Sherman, visit http://www.sff.net/people/kushnersherman/sherman/

Critical Re-Writing Assignment

Critical Re-Writing.By Derek Newman-Stille
I am currently teaching a course at Trent University on Fairy Tale revisions, and one of the assignments I asked students to complete was their own re-writing of a fairy tale. I wasn’t certain about the response from students because I knew that creative projects are often criticized in academia. I was worried that they may not take this assignment seriously. However, I balanced this with the potential power that I saw in re-writing as a critical, questioning action.

I was at a meeting of the American Folklore Society in 2016 and noticed that many of the people I encountered who were doing critical work on fairy tales were also involved in creative projects – either doing fairy tale revisions, erasure poetry, or visual arts. Through conversations with these academics who harnessed the critical power of creativity, I began to observe that their creative projects frequently gave them new insights into the fairy tales they were exploring that they may not have gotten through simple analysis. I wanted to harness this for my own students, to see if they could use critical creativity to re-envision the fairy tales they were examining and gain new insights through acts of shifting the voice of a character, shifting the time period, shifting the personality of a narrator, playing with gender, with ability, race, class, and orientation. These creative shifts could open up new analytical positions about the way that these tales construct identity.

After doing analyses with students about the way that identities, social perspectives, and social constructs were manifested and reinforced in fairy tales for the first half of the course, I asked students to put some of these critiques into practice and do a critical revision of a fairy tale. They had already, by this point in time, been asked to do an analytical close reading of a fairy tale, so my hope was that they would be able to use these analytical lenses to explore their fairy narrative.

Since many students were uncertain about creative writing and questioned whether they had the skills to do creative writing, I decided to have them do a “pass the story” activity in class first. I passed out (at random) the titles of fairy tales they had read in class. Students were then asked to begin writing their own take on the fairy tale, leaving enough of the original tale in their revision to let the next student know what tale it was while also not giving it away too easily. After writing for about ten minutes, I then asked them to pass their story to the next student, who would add to it, and so on until I asked the students to conclude their tale. This activity gave them some confidence in creative writing and allowed them to feel that they could write a tale on their own.

The creative writing assignments I got back varied, some exploring single tales and some exploring multiple. Students examined constructions of gender in fairy tales, the role of food, ideas of hunger and poverty, critiqued the heterosexual happily ever after, questioned tropes of ageing, critically engaged with ideas of the rural. These tales represented an engagement with theory and text.

In some cases their creative critical re-writing was stronger than their close reading assignments, allowing them to explore textual issues. Where many of them were resistant to ask the critical question “why?”, their creative assignments interrogated the question of why certain images were prevalent in a narrative, why characters were positioned in certain ways, and why different tropes were employed in the narratives. There was a shift in the STAKES of the narrative: instead of the narrative being about someone else’s tale, the tale now became THEIRS. It became something that they were invested in constructing, and so their process of rewriting also became a process of reinvesting themselves in the narrative and in what the narrative was saying. This was no longer the work of the Grimm Brothers, it was their own.

The act of critically writing allowed students to examine what other fairy tale revisions are doing, how they are adapting the tale and what allows the tale to be so open to adaptation and fluidity.

Fairy tale Noir

A review of Bill Wittingham’s Fables Vol 1: Legends in Exile (Vertigo, 2003)

By Derek Newman-Stille

fables-vol-1

Fables volume 1 begins with the words “Once upon a time in a fictional land called New York City” and with that, the graphic novel opens up the complications between ideas of reality and fiction, fairy tale and memory. It is a tale that questions and complicates the easy separation between the real and the fairy tale. This is a tale of fairy tale characters who have been exiled from their homeland and had to cross over to the mundane world, concealing their fairy tale nature and living “in the closet”. These characters are stretched between two different homes – their original home in the realm of fairy tales and their new settlement in what they call “The Mundy”.

As part of their movement into the mundane world, characters were required to forgive each other and stop referring to the past in order that hero and villain of fairy tales could get along together. But, things become complicated when Rose Red disappears under suspicious circumstances leaving her apartment splattered in blood.

Wittingham blends together elements of detective noir with elements of fairy tale in order to examine ideas of truth and fiction and the way that narratives explore these. Detective novels are about discovering an essential truth that is obfuscated by the people who have something to gain by keeping secrets – they are about sorting through the gossip and misleading stories in order to find the truth. Fairy Tales are about the power of stories to get at truths of humanity, using fiction to find essential truths that transcend stories. By combining these two narratives that play with fiction and truth, Wittingham invites readers to question ideas of truth and fiction and pay attention to the power that narratives have to shape our understanding of the world. He invites us to look at the world as a series of stories, asking us to view our own lives as a “once upon a time”

To discover more about Fables, visit Vertigo’s website at http://www.vertigocomics.com/graphic-novels/fables-vol-1-legends-in-exile

 

An Interview with Margaret Yocom

Through the Twisted Woods interviews folklore scholar, poet, and specialist in women’s folklore Margaret Yocom. Dr. Yocom took time out of her busy schedule at the American Folklore Society Conference to talk to us about feminist folklore studies, searching for women’s voices in fairy tales where female characters are silenced, and her work on the fairy tale All Kinds of Fur both as a scholar and as a poet since these roles are interlinked and scholarly insights can be gained through the process of creative writing. Dr. Yocum discusses the power of erasure poetry to find powerful messages.

 

Dr. Yocom has been kind enough to provide us with some example pages from her erasure poem “Kin s Fur” below.

 

kin-s-fur_page_1kin-s-fur_page_2kin-s-fur_page_3kin-s-fur_page_4kin-s-fur_page_5kin-s-fur_page_6

 

Explore our interview with Margaret Yocom at the link below

Through The Twisted Woods Audio

You can visit Margaret Yocom’s websites at:
http://mason.gmu.edu/~myocom/
https://margaretyocom.com/

To find out more about the work of the interviewer, Derek Newman-Stille, you can visit his website Speculating Canada at http://www.speculatingcanada.ca

K is for Klaus

K is for Klaus

A review of Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s Klaus (Boom Studios, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

klaus

This isn’t your regular right jolly old elf. Instead, this Santa Claus is a warrior, hunter, and rebel. Playing with the story of Santa Claus from the 1970 stop motion animated film Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Grant Morrison and Dan Mora’s Klaus is a warrior who shows up in the village of Grimsvig, where children have been forbidden to have toys. Even rocks used as playthings are taken away with severe punishment threatened. Grimsvig is a town where all joy has been removed. It is a nightmare of labour without reward where only the wealthy are allowed the pleasure of escape and imagination. Klaus returns to Grimsvig and is disgusted with what the town has become, and after being expelled from the town, encounters otherworldly beings who inspire him to create toys that he then brings back to the community.

 

In this comic, Morrison and Mora play with images of rebellion, having Klaus modify posters of the royalty around the town of Grimsvig with stylistic similarities to V for Vendetta, yet the poster of the baron has the rune for joy written on his chin instead of a beard. Klaus combines joy with rebellion, playing with the idea that joy can be a rebellious act. Klaus attacks guards and disrupts the monotony of the town.

 

Klaus takes on the role of Julernisse, the Yuletime Spirit, operating between myth and reality. Even within the comic, he is discussed as myth, disbelieved because of his stealth and ability to resist the perceived natural control of the baron. Klaus is described by various people as a man-wolf, a ghost, and a spirit, taking on the status of legend while alive.

 

Morrison and Mora create a story where play is an act of rebellion, a means of resistance and a way to assert change. They illustrate that play is not just a means to escape, but to creatively inspire transformation. Capitalism and joy clash in a world where anything that doesn’t generate profit is seen as suspect.

 

Klaus comes into conflict with the destructive, greedy impulse of humanity and battles for a better humanity that he imagines is possible. Drawing on Norse mythology, popular narratives about Santa Claus, and the rich folkloric imagery about Father Christmas, Morrison and Mora create a new fairy tale about Santa Claus to expand new possibilities for imagination and wonder.

 

To discover more about the work of Grant Morrison, visit http://www.grant-morrison.com/

To find out more about Klaus, visit Boom Studios at https://shop.boom-studios.com/series/detail/458/klaus