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/

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

 

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

 

Matches for Vengeance

Matches for VengeanceA Review of Garth Nix’s “Penny for a Match, Mister?” In The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien, Saga, 2016)

In “Penny for a Match, Mister?”, Garth Nix ropes fairy tale into Weird Western, creating a Little Match Girl story that is as much about the vengeance of a Western novel. Nix combines the lawlessness of the Wild West with the injustice of poverty and a little girl who makes her living selling matches. Yet matches have something magical about them. They turn motion into energy, combusting with an eldrich light. And that something magical unites the weird and etherial of folklore with the violent mundanity of the wild west. 

Nix sets his story in a town that is a powder keg of crime and secrecy, where the local sheriff works with gangsters to keep them just outside of town limits, letting them pillage and murder as much as they want as long as their violence doesn’t cross the city line. But there are other lines in the world like those between this world and the next and, like the criminals in this little western town, these outlaw spirits also sometimes cross over, particularly when provoked. Nix examines a story of burning vengeance and the uncertain spaces between law and lawlessness.

Nix explores the power of the Little Match Girl, taking her out of a context of passively dying and instead instilling her with the power to change the lives around her. This little match girl burns with the ability to shape her own destiny, thriving from the lawlessness of the wild west and the disregarding of the feminine that is characteristic of the west.

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

To find out more about The Starlit Wood, visit http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/The-Starlit-Wood/Dominik-Parisien/9781481456128