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/

My, What Big Oppressions You Have

My, What Big Oppressions You HaveA review of Seanan McGuire’s “In The Desert Like A Bone” in The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (ed. Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, Saga, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Red RidingHood stands as a tale of warnings for girls about the threat of straying off of the path and into the deep woods, yet Seanan McGuire’s “In The Desert Like A Bone” recognizes that most violence against women happens in the home. Her Red RidingHood figure, Fox, stands in opposition to the traditional Red RidingHood tale. She has escaped from the violence of her father at home into the deep desert, where she has a sense of freedom and can explore herself and learn techniques for living from and with the land. This is a Cowgirl Red RidingHood with a wide-brimmed hat that takes on a russet tone who recognizes the power of becoming a predator, a fox, rather than prey. She sets out across the desert with Coyote, who teaches her while providing space for her to develop into her own person, recognizing that she needs to find her own voice and take her own actions rather than be a passive fairy tale heroine. 

McGuire’s Red RidingHood tale is one of female empowerment, exploring the power of a girl to move from being treated as property, as someone else’s tale to tell, to becoming her own person, owning herself, and creating her own tale free of confines or limits. McGuire plays with the line between fairy tales and gossip, exploring “prairie harpies” and “respectable housewives” who try to shape Fox’s tale as one of loss rather than one of freedom. 

Growing up being forced to be silent, Fox does not suddenly become talkative, rather she makes her silence work for her, learning to move on silent feet and speak only when she needs to to make her points more powerful. This isn’t a tale of sudden, magical changes, but, rather, one of subtle changes, recognizing that there is a process to overcoming abuse and that there isn’t a fairy tale transformation that happens instantaneously. Fox recognizes that she can learn, change, and grow over time as she hones her own skills and strengths. 

Fox resists the Red RidingHood of myth, becoming an empowered being who copes with her wolf. 

To discover more about The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, visit http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Starlit-Wood/Dominik-Parisien/9781481456128
To find out more about the work of Seanan McGuire, visit http://www.seananmcguire.com/ 

Psychological Reflection

Psychological Reflection
A review of Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen (Disney Press, 2009).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All is a tale of mirrors and of mirroring behaviour. Valentino provides a backstory for the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, giving this tale of terror a darkly psychological quality by dipping into the mind of the Evil Queen to find out what sort of shadowy past can produce such misery. This tale of mirrors is deeply reflective.

Mirrors have shaped the Queen’s life. She was born to a mirror-maker and was ultimately despised by him because she was the mirror image of her mother who died while birthing her. He is unable to look at her without seeing a reflection of everything he once loved and was ultimately turned to sorrow and horror, so he tells her that she is a hideous monster, someone that no one will ever care about. His abuse ultimately shapes the way she sees herself, building in her a fundamental lack of self confidence and need for external acknowledgement. 

Like many people who have experienced abuse, the Queen is haunted by the spectre of her father, a father who appears in her mirror, always seeing his face overlaying hers, illustrating the way his control of her keeps overtaking her individual will. 

Valentino reveals that this is not a Queen who is poisoned by vanity, but rather a queen who is poisoned by self-loathing brought on by abuse. She is a Queen who becomes isolated and whose own heart is crushed by the notion of love lost that is not able to be retained. This tale of mirrors is a tale of reflection. 

To find out more about the work of Serena Valentino, http://www.serenavalentino.com