Shifts and Changes

A review of Tony Pi’s “Swan’s Grace” in Anathema Magazine isssue 1 (2017)By Derek Newman-Stille


Tony Pi’s “Swan’s Grace” is a complex intersection of fairy tales, drawing on features from The Wild Swans, selkie tales, and from fox shape-shifter tales to create a powerful narrative that explores the relationship between human and animal. Fairy tales frequently explore the complexity of human experiences around the natural world and our strange desire to position ourselves above other animals on our planet. Yet, on some level human beings recognize that we fundamentally are animals, and we see the power of animal experiences, which is why we create so many tales of animal-human shape shifting.

Tony Pi’s animal tale brings together multiple human-animal shifters, blurring the boundaries we place to separate ourselves from the complexities of animal experience. He examines the beauty of the animal experience, revelling in images of flight, while creating a complex mythology and cultural history for his swan shape-shifters. This is a world of ancient gods of chaos that have been locked away, but linger close to the surface, waiting for ancient enmities between foxes and selkies to break down the barriers that keep them trapped. Like many fairy tales, Pi’s is one of secrets, with a narrator who only knows fractions of her history and the mythology that shapes her. She is a swan princess who learns bits of mythology for her own purpose, learning about Basilisks only because her people are able to gain powers from the mythical creatures they encounter. She learns about the mythical underpinnings of her world only so she can gain further abilities, but, like many fairy tale heroines, she learns that things are much deeper than they appear on the surface, and she learns that every gain comes with incredible sacrifices. Knowledge comes with a price, but acting without complete knowledge always causes deeper sacrifices. 

“Swan’s Grace” is a tale about the power of patience and learning, a reminder that the world is more complex than it may reveal on the surface.
To discover more about Tony Pi’s work, visit his website at https://tonypi.com
To discover more about Anathema Magazine, visit http://www.anathemamag.com 

The Yellow Brick Road Less Travelled

A review of Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die (Harper Collins Publishers, 2014).By Derek Newman-Stille

Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die is a tale of travel as much as it is one about the killing of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Amy Gumm grew up in Kansas just like Dorothy did, but unlike that heroine of a classic story, Amy wasn’t seen as a personification of sunflowers and rainbows. She was a kid who was teased about living in poverty and called “Salvation Amy”, gossiped about constantly by the other kids in her school. She lived in a trailer with a mother who told Amy regularly that she ruined her life, and Amy had to constantly help her mother out after she passed out drunk each night. 

Paige’s narrative is one of travel, illustrating the parallel lives of Amy and Dorothy, two girls who wanted to get out of Kansas. The only difference between them is that Amy isn’t sure she wants to go back to Kansas. From early youth, when her mother told her that their trailer was like living in a travel adventure to her voyage to Oz, Amy always desired travel. Dorothy Must Die is a travelogue for a girl who couldn’t get out of Kansas until a tornado picked her up and dropped her into a narrative she was already familiar with from television.

The Oz that Amy is dropped into has changed. Dorothy returned to Oz after her travel back to Kansas, but she has changed from the girl who just wanted to go home into a power-hungry tyrant who rules Oz with a gingham fist. Dorothy has been mining Oz of its magic, leaving holes in the realm and gathering all magic to herself. She has enslaved all of the peoples (and animals) of Oz.

Amy’s experience of her mother’s addiction has prepared her to deal with Dorothy, a woman addicted to magic. Paige problematically links greed with addiction in this narrative – the constant desire for more. Addiction isn’t a desire for more. It is a compulsion. Dorothy is a character who constantly wants to be somewhere and someone else, not satisfied with the way she is or the way things are. Amy has some fear of becoming like Dorothy, of moving from wanting a better life for herself to wanting everything.

Amy and Dorothy form distorted mirror images of one another, full of the potential for a switch in positions, a change in their ideologies. Amy has been asked by the witches of Oz to assassinate Dorothy, but in the process of confronting her, perhaps Amy has more to learn about herself.

To find out more about Danielle Paige, visit her website at http://daniellepaigebooks

Tales within Tales

A review of Malinda Lo’s Ash (Little Brown, 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Ash (2009)

 

Malinda Lo’s Ash is a narrative of change where everything is in flux: people, life/death, and the environment. Lo creates a chimerical narrative where nothing is certain.

 

Ash is living her own fairy tale at a time of conflict. The wealthy in her society have started adhering to a new religion espoused by philosophers who resist the old green witch religion that embraced fairy tales as part of its belief system. Ash’s own parents were on opposite sides of the debate – her father an adherent to the religion of the philosophers, and her mother believing in the green witch and sharing tales of fairy abductions with her daughter. Ash is shaped by the beliefs of her mother, and finds herself caught in a fairy bargain that could lead her into the fairy realm. This change in religion brings up the classic subject of the Cinderella tale – class change. The class changes of this narrative aren’t just about a girl transcending her perceived class, but about class ideologies themselves changing as religion and class become intertwined and fairy tales become an aspect of the lower class that are disparaged.

 

Yet, the fairies themselves, the subject of fairy tales, still adhere to their aristocratic ideas and Ash ends up coming into contact with the fairies, experiencing their ideas of ownership and their exercises of power. She is given the opportunity to become a fairy princess, though that bargain comes with uncertainty about the fairy world.

 

Like most Cinderella stories, time plays an important factor in Ash, but it is even more exaggerated in this tale because there is an intrusion of fairy time, and the idea that time in fairy runs differently than human time.

 

This is not a tale of ballroom dresses and the marriage of princes. In this tale, Ash wishes for a hunting outfit, a way to change her world by dressing as a Huntress and running with human hunters. She is not someone who relies on her potential lover to free her from the bonds her family has placed on her. Instead, she makes her own way in the world by forging alliances with others and ensuring that she has her own wishes met.

 

Ash is a tale of the transformative power of love, but also the transformation of the understanding of love. Love for many people in the tale means ownership, but Ash discovers that love is expansive, and contains multiple meanings. She discovers that love, for her, means doing anything in her power to bring happiness to the Huntress, the woman she loves. This is not the fairy tale love of ownership and obligation, but instead a love born from mutual respect.

 

Ash is a queer Cinderella tale, and one that questions and challenges the traditional narrative.

You can discover more about Malinda Lo at https://www.malindalo.com/

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/