Registration is OPEN: New Course on the Legend at the Carterhaugh School

We have posted before about the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic, an online center for courses on folk narrative and fantastic literature run by two of our founders, Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman.

Registration has just opened for the next course, a 10-week series on the legend. You can read more about it and register here. We’re particularly delighted to say that our third founder, Derek Newman-Stille, will be joining us for a guest lecture on the fairy blast and disability!

Here is the tentative schedule:

July 1st – Introduction to Legends

Supernatural Legends Unit
July 8th – Fairy Legends
July 15th – Vampire Legends
July 22nd – Cryptozoology Legends
July 29th – Sea Legends

Urban Legends Unit
August 5th – Ghost Legends
August 12th – House Legends
August 19th – Internet Legends

Historical Legends Unit
August 26th – British Legends
September 2nd – American Legends & Wrap Up

Don’t hesitate to contact Sara or Brittany if you have any questions!

Interview with Erin Kathleen Bahl

When we first founded TTW, I knew I wanted to interview and feature the work of Erin Kathleen Bahl, a digital humanities scholar with an interest in folklore. Her interdisciplinary scholarship is often, at its core, about how we tell stories through text, images, objects, memory, and more. Her beautiful webcomic “Citrus and Canaries: The Witch’s Orchard Charm,” which she created for TTW, can be viewed here.

1) Tell us a little about yourself! What kind of work do you do?

I am a PhD candidate working at the intersections of digital media, composition, and folklore. I’m especially interested in varying forms of visual narrative; my creative work most definitely informs and is informed by my scholarly work in return. I’ve worked with collaborators on projects involving magical girl anime, 3D motion capture of classical Indian dance, and digital remixes of traditional fairy tales such as “The Singing, Springing Lark” and “The Bremen Town Musicians.” Ultimately, I’m interested in acts of creative making across a range of media environments, and in creating knowledge and telling stories with digital technologies.

2) How did you become interested in traditional narratives? And how did you become interested in digital media?

I was extremely fortunate that my small-town middle/high school offered a storytelling category on our speech and debate team. I competed as a storyteller for six years; the repertoire included a range of traditional stories such as folk tales, fairy tales, and wonder tales from around the world. It was incredible to me how one person could create an entire world for their audience with just their face, voice, and body, and I loved to see how each storyteller brought new life to the tale based on their unique style and individual interpretation.

My interests in digital media were sparked via Wagnerian opera. I worked on Siegfried for several months as a dramaturgy intern at the Hannover State Opera House and was entranced by Wagner’s theories of Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total artwork” that incorporates multiple media and sensory channels. Digital media became a route for me to explore multimedia possibilities as an individual composer, without the resources afforded by a full opera house.

3) What are your thoughts on mixing folk and fairy tales and digital media? What inspires you to pursue this kind of work?

I’m most definitely inspired by the creative community around fairy tales that I’ve encountered both in person and online. There are so many individuals doing beautiful, intriguing, exquisitely crafted fairy tale-related work in a range of contexts, from poetry to jewelry to fashion to music and more! My creative making happens to be primarily digital, and I hope to contribute in my own way alongside others’ inspiring, magical work.

4) Is it different to work in that kind of media with such old materials as your start? Why do it? Does it lend itself better to presenting the unheard stories somehow?

I don’t necessarily see a sharp break between “new” media and “old” story materials—in fifty years or so (or five, even!) the tools I’m working with now may very well be considered ancient! I still feel so new to digital composing in many ways that it’s very comforting to work with familiar stories as a starting point. Working with a fairy tale gives me an underlying structure to rely on in generating ideas, from which I can then feel free to experiment with images, text, and panel structure. I hope to be one of many contemporary voices in dialogue with a vibrant tradition of creative storytelling, in which familiar narratives move across the media forms available in a given time and place.

5) Do you feel that oral storytelling and digital media are connected? How?

In some ways, yes! Both are tools that can be used to create one instance of variation on a traditional source tale. Both deliberately use multiple mediating channels to design an audience’s experience of a story; an oral storyteller might make use of voice, face, and gesture, for example, while a digital media composer might choose to include visual, textual, audio, or video elements. With multiple mediating channels, too, come multiple potential channels of access, which is especially important in working so that audience members of varying abilities have equally rich access to the narrative experience.

6) Do you have any thoughts about how digital media can make traditional narratives and fairy tales more accessible?

I mentioned access for differing abilities briefly above; I also think digital technologies can make traditional narratives more accessible through increased ease of transmission and distribution. Stories from around the world, from multiple traditions and cultures, can be read and shared much more easily today than a century ago. With the online groups I’m part of, additionally, I can see how other individuals may have interpreted and responded to a story differently based on their own unique perspectives and experiences. I come to understand and appreciate more fully the complex layers at the hearts of familiar tales when I have the chance to look at them through other peoples’ eyes.

7) What is your favorite fairy tale?

That’s a hard one! I would have to say “Thousandfurs”—as someone who wears a lot of dresses and skirts, I’ve always loved the imagery of dresses as golden as the sun, as silvery as the moon, and as glittering as the stars. (I would totally wear the golden one every day!)

8) What inspired you to create the piece you made for TTW?

I tend to be inspired by a single image that captures my attention, and that I want to explore in more detail. In the case of this comic, what grabbed me first was the idea of the witch in an orchard full of canaries (i.e., what if the canaries emerging from the stolen oranges in the source tale were not exceptions, but part of a larger flock?) I knew I wanted to build up to that moment, and as I worked the piece slowly picked up more sinister undertones—by the end, the explosion of canaries was no longer a moment of delirious joy, but a fleeting, fragile moment of sunshine in a cold world. I’d like for my work to be rich in suggestion and short on explanation, though, so I’m curious to hear how others respond to and interpret the piece!

9) Where would you like to see digital art inspired by folklore go next? Are there any projects you’d like to do or that you’d like to see happen?

I’d love to see it go everywhere! I’m currently working with Brittany Warman on a creative web-piece called “Facets”—we combine poetry, illustrations, and web design in varying arrangements to present a critical/creative reading of “The Singing, Springing Lark.” I’m also working with Margaret Price on a creative digital scholarly project that uses “The Bremen Town Musicians” to explore audio description of visual narrative as an integral part of a more broadly accessible storytelling experience. In general, I’d love to see more collaborative online spaces like Through the Twisted Woods that fuse scholarship and art, and that are committed to foregrounding marginalized voices in fairy tale and folk narratives. I also hope to see (and help create!) more short-form comics, print or digital, that engage traditional narratives as source material or stylistic inspiration—there’s a lot of great work out there, but there’s always more to explore!

Erin Kathleen Bahl is a doctoral candidate in the English department at the Ohio State University studying digital media, composition, and folklore. Her research investigates the possibilities that new media and digital technologies offer for creating knowledge and telling stories. She is currently working on a dissertation exploring processes of invention and design in composing new media scholarship. Her work has been published in The Nashville Review, Composition StudiesHumanities Journal, Harlot of the ArtsSigns and Media, Showcasing the Best of CIWIC/DMAC, and Computers and Composition (print and online).

“Citrus and Canaries: The Witch’s Orchard Charm” by Erin Kathleen Bahl

TTW is thrilled to publish this beautiful fairy-tale webcomic, “Citrus and Canaries: The Witch’s Orchard Charm” by Erin Kathleen Bahl, a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University. Erin’s academic and creative work bridges the fields of RCL, digital humanities, and folklore. We conducted an interview with Erin about her work, which you can read here.

 

Erin Kathleen Bahl is a doctoral candidate in the English department at the Ohio State University studying digital media, composition, and folklore. Her research investigates the possibilities that new media and digital technologies offer for creating knowledge and telling stories. She is currently working on a dissertation exploring processes of invention and design in composing new media scholarship. Her work has been published in The Nashville Review, Composition StudiesHumanities Journal, Harlot of the ArtsSigns and Media, Showcasing the Best of CIWIC/DMAC, and Computers and Composition (print and online).

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/ 

Review: Your Name

I’ve had the limited Columbus theatre run of Makoto Shinkai’s film Your Name on my calendar for months, and last week, I finally got to see it. (Ok, I saw it twice, and dragged fellow TTW founder Brittany with me the second time because it’s that good.)

[Image from funimationfilms.com]

I debated whether I should do a review of Your Name for TTW because it is not strictly based on folk narrative- though I have seen reviewers suggest that it is in part inspired by an ancient Japanese poem, “Torikaebaya Monogatari,” which Wikipedia helpfully notes translates as “The Changelings,” a promising folkloric title if there ever was one. However, this connection seems tenuous at best, and, more importantly, I do not have the background in Japanese folk narrative to speak to this with any authority.

Yet even without relying on this potential narrative connection, there is something distinctly folkloric about this film. Academics often talk about folklore as the ever-shifting dynamic between continuity and change- the conversation between tradition and adaptation (see the work of Barre Toelken for more on this.) Folklore is about repetition, communication, identity, and links between the future and the past. And Your Name is absolutely about all these things.

Your Name explores a magical connection between Mitsuha, a girl from a fictional town in rural Japan, and Taki, a high school boy living and working in Tokyo. Mitsuha lives with her grandmother and younger sister next to a shrine that they maintain, and she feels ambivalent and often outright furious at the way she is anchored to the past and to rural life. At one point, she participates in an elaborate ritual at the shrine and is deeply embarrassed when her classmates make fun of her. It is her wish to be “a handsome Tokyo boy” in her next life that seems to somehow catalyze her connection to Taki, whose backstory is decidedly secondary. Much of the initial plot revolves around mysterious body-swaps between the pair and the confusion they experience when living each other’s lives. Mitsuha has to learn to navigate Tokyo and fast-paced work at a restaurant, while Taki struggles with traditional braiding and travels to a sacred location associated with Mitsuha’s family’s shrine. They initially find each other’s lives baffling, and they leave each other notes in their phones (and occasionally on each other’s bodies) to provide guidelines, advice, and scoldings. Communication between the two, despite never having met, is crucial to keeping their lives intact.

I’m avoiding spoilers in this post, so I’ll just say that time and memory are in constant flux throughout the film. Your Name asks its audience to consider what happens when some stories are lost and if they can be revived. It asks what we can learn from other people’s lives and perspectives and presents beauty in the mundane and in the magical- and that is folklore at its best.

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/