Harvested

HarvestedA review of Garth Nix’s “Hansel’s Eyes” in A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling (Aladdin Paperbacks, New York)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Hansel’s Eyes”, Garth Nix’s re-telling of the Hansel and Gretel tale, the two siblings cope with parents who are constantly trying to get rid of them. Set in a modern urban environment, Hansel and Gretel generally cope with these attempts at abandonment by bringing maps, compasses, water, and food. However, when their ‘hagmother’ decides to use chloroform on them, they wake up in an abandoned part of the city, run down due to economic decay.

Lured into a video game store that is the only thing still functioning in the abandoned parts of the city, Hansel and Gretel are abducted by a witch to be harvested for their organs and sold piece-by-piece to wealthy members of society. 

Nix transforms the original tale of hunger and cannibalism into a modern re-visioning of wealth disparity and the treatment of the poor as disposable commodities. Nix points to the issues with the current economic system in its exploitation of the bodies of the economically oppressed in order to make further wealth for the rich, but rather than exploiting the labour of these bodies, he makes this bodily deprivation literal, illustrating the dangers in de-valuing the lives of people in poverty and elevating the lives of the wealthy. Nix illustrates that we are already living in a cannibalistic society that feeds off of bodies in poverty through exploitation, funnelling the excess of wealth to a smaller and smaller population. 

The connection between organ harvesting and the Hansel and Gretel tale is made more explicit by portraying the witch as blind and wanting new eyes. Despite the ableist potentials of this tale by presenting a woman with disabilities as the villain (as so many fairy tales do), Nix creates a complex tale of the consumptive narrative of modern capitalism, making Hansel’s eyes just another part of the system that consumes bodies in order to benefit the wealthy and powerful. In this case, the power represented is magic and its seductive quality is illustrated by Nix in his portrayal of the allure of magic for Gretel and the danger of her forgetting where she came from in order to access this new level of influence and potency. 

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

Enchantments

EnchantmentsA review of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder (Square Fish, 2012)

By Derek Newman-Stille


As a person with disabilities and someone who loves fairy tales, I was excited to see Marissa Meyer’s exploration of the Cinderella through the lens of prostheses. For some time, I had thought that the Cinderella narrative’s focus on the foot made it an exciting possibility for examining ideas of mobility. Meyer’s Cinder has more than a leg prosthesis though – she is a cyborg in this futuristic fairy tale. Cinder lives in a world where cyborgs have been treated as second class citizens, their lives shaped by scientific and medical experimentation. In addition to being the product of medical intervention, their bodies are re-visited by science when they are experimented on to try to find a cure for a disease that has been spreading across Earth.

Cinder explores ideas of the stigma that come with disabilities, the social need to conform to an able-bodied norm, and the process of passing as able-bodied. Cinder is a woman who seeks belonging in a world where cyborgs are consistently reminder of their outsider status. The only belonging she is able to achieve early on is to be considered the belonging of other people – property. Like many people with disabilities, Cinder lives in a perpetual state of poverty, her livelihood based on the need to always be the best in her field in order to be able to attract customers. Being part machine, she is attracted to mechanical work and becomes a highly-sought-after expert in the area of machine repair. 

Cinder’s stigma is treated as contagious as she fears that being around her nation’s prince will mean that he will be viewed as somehow diminished by associating with a cyborg. Her stepmother similarly mirrors this concern about Cinder’s stigma when she worries what others will think of her for having a cyborg daughter. This stigma is made literal when Cinder fears that she may be spreading the disease that has been ravaging her planet. Her stigma is associated with her guilt and the belief of her society that anyone “abnormal” should sacrifice themselves for the “normal” population. 

Cinder discovers that the medical is political as political decisions are shaped by the need to keep the population safe and free of illness. Immunology and immigration intertwine in this tale of contagion and security.

Despite the identities she has created for herself, Cinder lives in a state of perpetual uncertainty about her identity. All of her memories from the first 11 years of her life have been erased and her uncertainty about her selfhood is further increased by her uncertain social situation in a society that generally ostracizes people like her. Her questions about identity are deepened by her awareness that people have begun using fake ID chips to disguise their identity, and no one around her is what s/he seems. 
In addition to the mechanical story, there is, of course, an element of enchantment to Meyer’s fairy tale. In this future society, the moon has been settled and it has allowed an offshoot of the human population to develop the ability to control the minds of others, to portray a glamour of beauty that is powerful enough to control others. The enchantment of this tale is tale is one of deception and control, allowing a powerful Lunar queen to rule her people by using her glamour to take away power from others. There are hints of a Snow White tale in this use of glamour since the Lunar Queen can’t bear to see mirrors since a mirror will rob her of her glamour by showing her the reality of her appearance. Reality and lies mix and mingle in Cinder’s experience since she, like a mirror, has an ability to reflect the truth and she is able to see an orange light when people lie. 

With an android fairy godmother, a prosthetic slipper, and a pumpkin of a car for a carriage, Meyer imagines a fairy tale that combines fantasy and science fiction, projecting tales onto the future instead of making them Once Upon A Time.
To discover more about Marissa Meyer, visit http://www.marissameyer.com

To discover more about Cinder, visit http://www.thelunarchronicles.com/books/ 

Candy Houses and Social Transformation

A review of Jewel Kats’ Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy tale with a Down Syndrome Twist  (Loving Healing Press, 2014).

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Many fairy tales portray disability as a problem of character, as something that indicates a problem in a character’s personality. Jewel Kats wrote a series of fairy tale re-workings and re-writings in picture book format that imagine disability as a factor of human life rather than as a symbol or indication of a problem. In her “Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy tale with a Down Syndrome Twist”, Kats explores the possibilities within folk and fairy tale narratives for opening up questions about disability.

Kats recreates Hansel as a person who has Down Syndrome. He experiences discrimination at home as his mother tries to protect him, telling him that he is “sick” and in need of protection. His father reminds everyone that he isn’t ill, he is someone who has Down syndrome. When outside of his come, Hansel feels a sense of freedom that he didn’t have in his home.

When Hansel encounters the witch in the narrative and her talking toad, he encounters discrimination because of his Down syndrome. Hansel responds to the witch seeing him exclusively as a walking disability by providing his name, showing that he is a complete person, not a symbol of disability.  When the witch assumes he is unintelligent, he responds by outsmarting her.

Kats creates a transformative tale that is about challenging assumptions about Down Syndrome and creating understanding between people who have Down Syndrome and those who don’t.

“Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy tale with a Down Syndrome Twist” is a fairy tale adaptation that combines excellent illustrations with a powerful narrative that reminds readers that fairy tales are transformative. It is written as a children’s book, but has those moments of re-thinking that allow people of any age to question ideas of disability.

To discover more about the work of Jewel Kats, visit her website at http://www.jewelkats.com/