Overly Translated

Overly Translated

A review of Yei Theodora Ozaki’s Japanese Fairy Tales (2015 [originally 1908], JMJ Publishing)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Filled with magic and wonder with supernatural beings and powerful animals, this is a fascinating volume of tales. However, reading through it, it is clear that it was meant for an anglo-American audience and the tales collected are highly modified for those intended readers. Although in some cases, Japanese phrases are used, much of the collection favours the words and phrases and telling style of Anglophone fairy tales. The volume reveals its age by translating even words which have entered common English parlance such as Samurai (instead translating it as “knight”) and “oni” is translated as “ogre”. Instead of Kami and Yokai, spirits in this collection are called “fairies”, a label that doesn’t quite fit them.

However, these are still powerful tales about human encounters with a complex and confusing world. The stories explore intergenerational issues and misunderstandings, jealousy, love, loyalty, and honour. The tales are populated with arrogant figures needing to learn their lessons, cruel-hearted people needing to transform, and acts of violence that need to be atoned for. They are tales where help appears in strange and unexpected places and where any stranger could be a spirit in disguise.

Curses and Blessings

Curses and Blessings

Curses and Blessings
A review of Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted (Harper, 1997)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Ella Enchanted is a fascinating take on the Cinderella tale that exposes issues of patriarchal control in fairy tales. Ella of Frell is given a gift by a fairy at birth, something that in other fairy tales would be a blessing, but Ella comes to see her “gift” as a curse. Thinking young women should be compliant, the fairy Lucinda gives her the “gift” of obedience. No matter what she wants to do, she has to follow any command given to her. Being a person with a powerful personality, Ella does not submit easily, but finds ways to rebel against her curse by resisting it as long as she can (often to the point of pain) and by finding ways to comply with someone’s command without granting them their desires.

Gail Carson Levine’s version of the Cinderella tale is one of resistance and of a woman who seeks to make her own way in the world while everyone around her tries to control her. It is a tale that critiques recent Cinderella tales that espouse the idea that wishes can come true and that magic always helps. In Ella Enchanted, magic is dangerous, often bringing with it dire results.

Gail Carson Levine critiques fairy tales on multiple levels in her tale. By making Ella a person who loves fairy tales, Carson Levine makes her character a critical witness to the creation of fairy tales. Ella is given a book of fairy tales by a fairy that gives substance and character development to the tales. We are told by Ella that she encounters  “a real fairy tale this time, “the Shoemaker and the Elves.” In this version, though, each elf had a personality, and I came to know them better than the shoemaker. And I finally understood why the elves disappeared after the shoemaker made clothes for them.” Carson Levine provides us with a microcosm of what she is doing with Ella Enchanted, providing readers with a fairy tale where characters are given personalities and substance and supernatural beings are more than just deus ex machina. Where most traditional fairy tales, like those of the Grimm Brothers, tend to focus on the story over the personalities of the characters, Gail Carson Levine creates a character-driven narrative that allows the reader to have an insight into the personalities of the characters.

To discover more about Gail Carson Levine, go to https://www.gailcarsonlevine.com/index.php

To find out more about Ella Enchanted, go to https://www.gailcarsonlevine.com/ella.html

Truth, Faith, and Goblins

Truth, Faith, and Goblins
Truth, Faith, and Goblins

A review of George MacDonald’s “The Princess and the Goblin” (Strahan & Co., 1872)

By Derek Newman-Stille

The Princess and the Goblin is a beautiful tale with contrasting imagery of light and darkness. It features a princess who is described as the embodiment of virtues (most of which problematically involve obedience) and honesty who is lost and encounters a figure claiming to be her great great great grandmother. This grandmotherly figure communicates with doves, spins spider webs into magic string, had a hearth made of roses that are also flames, is described as transcendently beautiful… and can only be seen by the princess. In contrast to this image of heavenly beauty are the goblins – a race that was tossed out of the kingdom in ages past and has lived under the mountain in darkness. They are described as horrendously ugly and misshapen. MacDonald’s tale interweaves these images of darkness and light, intersecting in the space of the mines, where human and goblin worlds collide.

MacDonald explores imagery of being lost, using this as an allegory for faith. It is when the princess is lost that she is able to find her grandmother, and it is only through faith that characters find each other. The princess’ grandmother spins a string for her that she must believe in and follow to find her way and that others must believe in to find the princess. MacDonald playa with ideas of faith as a solution for confusion and feeling lost, using areas like the mines as metaphors for the labrythine confusion of the human experience. Truth and fiction interplay in The Princess and the Goblin and MacDonald explores the idea that disbelief in someone is a form of insult and faith in someone’s word is an important marker of respect.

Like many fairy tale authors, MacDonald examines the complexities of interactions between adults and children, and, in particular, explores the theme of children being ignored and viewed as faulty witnesses. MacDonald challenges adults to believe in the stories of children instead of dismissing everything they say as idle fantasy. In The Princess and the Goblin, disbelief always causes harm to the characters, but it also causes harm to the relationships between people, and that harm is harder to overcome. As the princess says “When I tell you the truth, you say to me “Don’t tell stories”: it seems I must tell stories before you will believe me.” She tells others that she would have to lie to be believed and she refuses to lie.

MacDonald’s tale is one of belief and faith, involving truths that only some people can see and constant questions about the nature of reality. Characters are constantly asked to believe in things that they cannot see and to have faith in people who see things that others cannot. MacDonald tells his audience “Perhaps some people can see things other people can’t see”

Murder, Murder On The Wall

Murder, Murder On The Wall

Murder, Murder On The Wall

A review of Murder She Wrote Season 5, episode 21: Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

By Derek Newman-Stille

I have often thought that creating a murder mystery story around Snow White would be an exciting and engaging idea. However, fairy tales are engaged in constant revisioning and reimagining and I found out that my vision had already been realized, though with more realism and less fairy tale content… and it had been realized in the strangest of places – on Murder She Wrote. For those of you unfamiliar with Murder She Wrote, it ran from 1984 until 1996 and featured widowed mystery writer Jessica Fletcher who travelled from place to place solving murders. The show engaged in a lot of meta activities, engaging in cross-overs with other shows, proposing solutions for murder mysteries filmed in the 40s, and, as I discovered, even playing with fairy tale narratives.

The two-part episode Mirror, Mirror On The Wall is a fairy tale adaptation, but brought into the world of Jessica Fletcher and the fictional Maine town of Cabot Cove. Like the fairy tale Snow White, the story features attempted murder, and, of course, a poisoned apple. It is also a story that features jealousy. However, rather than engaging in the ageism of Snow White, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall features two women of roughly the same age. It does still engage in jealousy, but is instead about one writer, Eudora McVeigh, who used to be a best-selling mystery author who is now experiencing writer’s block and her jealousy of Jessica Fletcher’s rising success in the genre. By featuring two ageing women, Mirror, Mirror On The Wall intentionally disrupts the idea of older women being threatened by and afraid of younger women, instead placing the interest of the episode on the competitive world of creative writing and one woman’s fear of another’s success.

Although Murder She Wrote has anti-feminist elements, often directly criticizing feminists, it, perhaps unintentionally, brings attention to the problem of women who don’t engage in ideas of sisterhood and instead seek to oppress each other. Rather than directing her anger at a system that only favours one female mystery writer at a time, Eudora begins the episode by wanting revenge on Jessica, seeing her success as inherently threatening to her own instead of seeking revenge on her publisher who is setting her aside in favour of Jessica. She ignores the men who are oppressing her and instead turns her anger toward another female writer, not seeing the potential for a united front by both of them sharing resources and challenge the patriarchal system and male publisher who is seeking to pit them against each other.

Fascinatingly, Eudora keeps referring to Cabot Cove as a little fairy tale town, pointing out the town’s perceived simplicity and wholesomeness… however, as we who read fairy tales know, there is a dark side to fairy tales, and not only does this fairy tale end in violence and murder (like so many), in this episode, the Sheriff (who moved from New York for a nice, simple life), points out one of the key issues of the show – for a small, quiet little town… there are the highest number of murders per capita. The show features about 24 episodes per year, many of them set in Cabot Cove, and lasted for 12 seasons… and there is at least one murder per episode in addition to multiple attempted murders. Cabot Cove’s quaint, dreamy, fairy tale setting is constantly being undone by murder in order to keep the show progressing.

Ultimately, like most Murder She Wrote episodes, the fairy tale storyline is secondary to the main focus on the show – murder. Ultimately, it is a story that engages with human psychology, clues, criminal slip ups, and the all-important confession.

A Pinocchio Tale That Isn’t Wooden

A Pinocchio Tale That Isn’t Wooden

A Pinocchio Tale That Isn’t Wooden

A review of Charlie Petch’s Daughter of Geppetto.
By Derek Newman-Stille

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In their performance “Daughter of Geppetto”, Charlie Petch takes the fundamental idea of Pinocchio – “I want to be a real boy” – and turns it into a Trans tale, asking questions about what “real boy” means and the questions this poses about gender and performance.

Petch performs a one-person play, using multiple media including a sound board that lets them echo sounds and play with soundscapes to provide context for their act of storytelling, music performed by Petch, and shadow puppetry to invite the audience to think about ideas of echoed voices, overlapping waves of sound and the idea of puppetry itself (since Pinocchio is, ultimately, a puppet). Petch brings attention to the ways that theatre is made and the theatricality of theatre, breaking down the boundaries between audience and stage. They invite their audience to think about performance itself and the ways that we perform our identities off stage, pointing to the scripted way that we express gender in our society.

Like much of Petch’s work, “Daughter of Geppetto” defies simple categorization, encompassing theatrical performance, puppetry, musical performance, spoken word poetry, and fairy tale.

“Daughter of Geppetto” illustrates the craving and need for fairy tales in the Trans community and the power that fairy tales have to shift and change and adapt to new voices. For a community that is constantly being told about tradition and that we don’t fit into tradition, the idea of adapting fairy tale traditions for the Trans community is important because we need these stories. We need to play with our fairy tales and see ourselves in and through them.

“Daughter of Geppetto” is a powerful, evocative, and, yes, transformative tale. It is beautifully dark while also delightfully light and playful. It is new and innovative while also playing with and illustrating the magic of traditional tales.

 

To find out more about Charlie Petch, visit their website at http://www.charliecpetch.com

Check out a trailer for “Daughter of Geppetto” here https://youtu.be/YYt5NHfYB_U

Father Christmas’ Childhood

Father Christmas’ Childhood

Father Christmas’ Childhood

A review of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2015).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Matt Haig’s adorable children’s book A Boy Called Christmas sets out to fill in the details of holiday tradition and fill in gaps in the folklore and mythology of Father Christmas (the British name for Santa Claus), and specifically to fill in details that would be relevant to his target audience by asking the question “What would Santa Claus’ youth be like?” The story starts with an 11 year old boy living in poverty who has been nicknamed Christmas because his birthday fell on Christmas and takes him on a magical quest fuelled by his belief and his desire to see his father who had gone to the North. Like many magical quest narratives, he undergoes the traditional fantasy narrative of picking up helpers along the way. These helpers allow him to encounter the “Other” and learn from those experiences, becoming changed by the animals and supernatural characters he brings along with him on his voyage.

Haig follows the tradition of writing Santa’s life as a fantasy tale that was established by L. Frank Baum in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. He provides details to his tale, specifying where each of Father Christmas’ traditions come from as he battles the monstrous and spreads joy. Most tales have tended toward leaving gaps in knowledge and leaving it up to the reader’s imagination, rather than setting down specific origins for Santa’s behaviour as Baum and Haig have done. Haig’s tale details how Father Christmas first gets his red hat, why he first begins putting toys in stockings, how he comes to acquire toys from elves, how he begins to use his distinctive laugh, and, perhaps most importantly, what motivates him to believe that he needs to spread joy through gift-giving.

Yet, A Boy Called Christmas isn’t just a detailled mythology. In choosing a boy living in poverty with only a turnip carved like a doll as a toy, he brings attention to issues of poverty and how they affect children, while also bringing attention to the fact that many human “naughty” behaviours have come from living under constant oppression. His character, Father Christmas, uses his knowledge of human nature to begin searching for ways to increase human happiness and decrease misery and he situates expressions of joy and caring as the central feature for a better society (one that shares resources and takes time to enjoy life).

Haig initially portrays the elves in this narrative as people who have become xenophobic and joyless as a result of fear mongering by the elf newspaper and explores the power of overthrowing regimes that are based on isolationist policies and racism. As much as this is a story about Christmas, it is also a tale about revolution and calling into question hate-based and fear-based discourse.

This is a book of enlightenment – not just because of the happy, joyful content, but because it reminds readers that they have the power to stop being afraid and make positive changes. It is a book about growing up as an individual, but also growing up as a society.

To discover more about Matt Haig, go to http://www.matthaig.com

To find out more about A Boy Called Christmas, go to http://www.matthaig.com/a-boy-called-christmas/

A Krampus-fur Dress for Cinderella

A Krampus-fur Dress for Cinderella

A Krampus-fur Dress for Cinderella

A review of Steven Grimm’s “Villainess Ascending” in He Sees You When He’s Creepin’: Tales of Krampus (World Weaver Press, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Folklore and fairy tale collide in Steven Grimm’s “Villainess Ascending”, a tale that adds a monstrous twist to the tale of Cinderella. Grimm begins his story with the mythology that there have been multiple past Cinderellas and this one has gone through the same things as the others – a dead devoted mother, a remarried father, a stepmother and two stepsisters and like the other Cinderellas, this one doesn’t want a life of domestic servitude. Yet, Grimm adds a twist to the tale, setting the Prince’s ball near Krampusnacht, a time when the Austrian devil of Christmas, Krampus, is out prowling the world for people in need of punishment.

Krampus and Cinderella have something in common. They both want justice… and the punishment of those they view as wicked and Grimm intertwines their narratives in a way that adds nuance to both the folklore of Krampus and the fairy tale of Cinderella. Grimm’s tale draws on other figures from Austrian holiday legends as well, bringing in Frau Holle and Frau Perchta. Frau Holle (about whom the Grimm Brothers have also written a fairy tale) is able to bring on snowfall by shaking out her bedding and her tales generally revolve around rewarding people for hard work and punishing people for laziness. Frau Perchta has a more sinister presence in Austrian folklore and is generally portrayed as having two faces – one kind and gentle and the other demonic. During the yule holidays, she shows her good face to good children and gives them treats… but shows her demonic face to naughty children to punish them. Frequently she is portrayed slitting open the bellies of children, removing their organs, and filling their bodies with pebbles and straw. Steven Grimm’s Perchta isn’t quite as terrifying though she is connected to Krampus. Instead, she is a force of nature with otherworldly magical powers and an interest in seeing humanity become good rather than corrupt.

“Villainess Ascending” is a tale about the damage that patriarchy does to humanity. It is a story about the way that patriarchy has taken away rights from women and has often only allowed women success in the world through marriage rather than through their own skills and abilities. Steven Grimm’s story focusses on the messages in the Cinderella tale about beauty meaning success, about the only way for women to rescue themselves from poverty is through marriage to a rich man, and about the intentional toxicity of the prince’s ball and generating jealousy between women.

Grimm subverts the simple idea of the punishment of the wicked by pointing out that “wickedness” has social roots and is created by social structures that damage people in oppressed groups.

To find out more about He Sees You When He’s Creepin’: Tales of Krampus, visit https://www.worldweaverpress.com/store/p121/He_Sees_You_When_He%27s_Creepin%27%3A_Tales_of_Krampus.html