An Interview with Margaret Yocom

Through the Twisted Woods interviews folklore scholar, poet, and specialist in women’s folklore Margaret Yocom. Dr. Yocom took time out of her busy schedule at the American Folklore Society Conference to talk to us about feminist folklore studies, searching for women’s voices in fairy tales where female characters are silenced, and her work on the fairy tale All Kinds of Fur both as a scholar and as a poet since these roles are interlinked and scholarly insights can be gained through the process of creative writing. Dr. Yocum discusses the power of erasure poetry to find powerful messages.

 

Dr. Yocom has been kind enough to provide us with some example pages from her erasure poem “Kin s Fur” below.

 

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Explore our interview with Margaret Yocom at the link below

Through The Twisted Woods Audio

You can visit Margaret Yocom’s websites at:
http://mason.gmu.edu/~myocom/
https://margaretyocom.com/

To find out more about the work of the interviewer, Derek Newman-Stille, you can visit his website Speculating Canada at http://www.speculatingcanada.ca

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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/ 

A Mirror Broken

A Mirror BrokenA review of Mercedes Lackey’s “The Sleeping Beauty” (Luna, 2010).

By Derek Newman-Stille

In the Five Hundred Kingdoms, The Tradition is the binding force of the universe, pushing people toward traditional tales whether they are happy-ever-after’s or tales of tragedy. The Fairy Godmothers are aware of the power of The Tradition, and it fuels their magic, but they need to be careful to push The Tradition toward happy endings and avoid fairy tale horrors. Fairy Godmother Lily has decided that the best way to help her kingdom to avoid misery is to teach the royal family about The Tradition and keep them attentive to the ways that tales may pull them into the grasp of a fairy tale narrative. 

Fairy Godmother Lily is contacted when the royal family notices a familiar pattern from The Tradition and realise that they are being pushed toward a Snow White tale and Lily, a godmother with power, a magic mirror, and the ability to perform decides to play the part of the evil queen in order to keep others who are actually wicked from taking the role. 

Mercedes Lackey entwines fairy tales together in a magic inkwell to write her tale of change and new beginnings in The Sleeping Beauty, combining elements from Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and the tale of Siegfried and Brunhilde. Rather than a kingdom asleep, she creates a kingdom awake, aware, and willing to take control of a destiny that seems to be pushing them toward predictable ends. There is nothing predictable about this combination of tales and from this cauldron of possibilities comes new potentials and new sources of empowerment. 

Rather than rendering her Snow White as a passive figure, waiting for a prince to awaken her, Lackey’s Rosa is a princess who is able to protect herself, her kingdom, and those who love her. She is a princess who learns magic, combat techniques, and the power to rule a kingdom through her curiosity and insights. Lackey depicts the domesticity of the traditional Snow White tale as a form of slavery, resisting the Disneyfied rhetoric that women belong in the kitchen, caring for men. Lackey’s Dwarves are cruel and misogynistic and literally chain her to the home, seeking to take away her freedom, but Rosa is able to persevere and is able to count on other women for support rather than relying on a rescuing male figure. 

When princess Rosa is required to chose a king, The Tradition pushes them into a contest of wills that would normally result in her being taken as a prize, depersonalized, disempowered and completely objectified, but Rosa and Lily are able to shift the assumed story line to build their own take on the tale, wielding The Tradition for their own purposes. Lackey projects herself into this tale as Rosa and Lily since Lackey herself is a women who is changing a traditional tale to empower women, taking away the bindings and constraints placed on Rosa constantly throughout the tale is a metaphoric release from the bindings of narratives and Lackey illustrates that any reader or writer of fairy tale fiction is capable of shifting the narrative from disempowerment to new possibilities. Like the other tales in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, The Sleeping Beauty is about the changeability and shifting nature of fairy tales rather than their constraints. Although The Tradition seeks to place the characters into stereotypical roles, characters are able to change those roles by self-realization, knowledge of new skills and ideas, and the tenacity to not give in to social pressure. 

Mirror mirror on the wall, whose tale is the most changeable of all?

To discover more about Mercedes Lackey, visit her website at http://www.mercedeslackey.com
To find out more about The Sleeping Beauty, go to http://www.mercedeslackey.com/books/the-sleeping-beauty-2010/ 

Roses with Thorns

Roses with Thorns

A review of Shveta Thakrar’s “Lavanya and Deepika” in Cabinet des Fees http://www.cabinetdesfees.com/2011/lavanya-and-deepika-by-shveta-thakrar/ 

By Derek Newman-Stille

Shveta Thakrar’s “Lavanya and Deepika” is an enchanting retelling of the fairy tale Tatterhood with an infusion of Indian culture. Thakrar’s tale plays with the interweaving of ideas of femininity, the landscape, and the resistance to patriarchal control. Her characters are interwoven with flowers because of their deep roots in their landscape but not because they are delicate. These are roses with thorns who can defend themselves. 

 Thakrar narrates Gulabi Rani’s desire to have a child without having a husband. Named after the rose, Gulabi Rani has to trade her flower to the yaksha from a neighbouring forest in order to receive a bottle of oil to allow her to become pregnant. As often happens in fairy tales, the rani is given a condition – she is told that she is only able to run enough oil on her belly to cover it, but the rani decides to use the whole bottle instead. 

Fairy tales often involve fantastic footwear and the yaksha gives Gulabi Rani shoes for her baby but instead of one child, the rani has two and her first daughter is born a deep red in colour with green hair like stems and sharp thorns. Her second daughter is born with skin as dark as the earth and dark hair. Lavanya and Deepika cement that connection to the earth with Lavanya’s rose-like body and Deepika’s earthy one. The children ask that the shoes be divided between them, separating gifts between them, which shapes the rest of their lives. 

Despite people taking an instant dislike to Lavanya for her unusual appearance, Deepika splits everything with her sister, and the two are inseparable. Nurses lock Lavanya away while giving treats to Deepika, yet the girls are connected by their love of stories and their love of nature. 

Once the girls become of marriageable age, a neighbouring raja, who has conquered all of the lands around those kept by Gulabi Rani, demands Deepika as a wife for his son. Lavanya and Deepika both bristle at being treated as an object. Thakrar explores the connection between land and marriage by having the raja treat Deepika as a perk of the landscape either to indicate its subjection to his control through marriage or, if marriage is denied, give him an excuse to use military conquest. The raja also demands that Deepika give up hunting, which had been her gift and pleasure throughout her life, wanting her to conform to a passive model of femininity. Women are treated as extensions of a passive landscape by the raja, allowing him to project his imperialism on their bodies and the land. 

When the two girls leave their mother’s land to try to prevent problems from occurring at home, they are pursued by a tiger and Thakrar furthers the clashing of ideas of freedom and domesticity when the girls mourn the tiger’s domesticity, triggering the tiger’s anger at being called domestic and under the control of others.

Thakrar plays with themes of the tame and the wild by infusing her story with disruptions between the ‘wild’ and the domestic by playing with the tiger’s desire to be wild, by Lavanya’s uncertain hybridity of the human and the vegetable world, and by exploring ideas of imperial control over women’s bodies. 

Thakrar’s fairy tale reshapes traditions into texts of speculation and imagination, envisioning the critical power of tales to adapt, change, and grow like Gulabi Rani’s roses and she infuses her tale with the air of magic that those roses cast. This is not a gentle flower girl tale – this is a tale with powerful thorns along with its beauty. 

To read Levanya and Deepika yourself, visit Cabinet des Fees at http://www.cabinetdesfees.com/2011/lavanya-and-deepika-by-shveta-thakrar/ 
To find out more about Shveta Thakrar’s work, visit her website at http://shvetathakrar.com

Critical Comedy Fairy Tale Messages by The Second City

The Advice for Young Girls from a Cartoon Princess series by The Second City Theatre Company offers a critique of the dominant patriarchal messages aimed at young girls. They present a Disney-style princess who speaks from the position of someone who has fully accepted the disempowering messages of Disnefied fairy tales in order to critique them from the inside by making the audience laugh.

These are some comedic skits that let you question the patriarchal messages that girls are experiencing through Disney films. This is definitely a set of short films you will want to pair with any Disney fairy tale viewing…. or if you just want a chuckle.

Second City gives us a chance to explore feminist comedy as a way to question portrayals of the princesses we are told to become.

 

The Little Mermaid

“My best feature is my voice, so I traded it for plastic surgery.” The opening line pretty much says it all – the little mermaid is a tale of a woman who changes her body for the desires of a man. Ariel tells her audience about her need to conform to a male ideal and that she sacrificed her skills and values for a “fairy tale” idea of love with powerful lines like “Don’t ever talk to a man until he kisses you first on the lips, then, as a woman, you are allowed”. Second City offers a tale of a society where women are constantly faced with pressures to modify their bodies to external ideals.

 

Belle (Beauty and the Beast)

The Second City’s Belle offers a reminder that there is an abuse narrative underlying the Beauty and the Beast tale: “Desire is when a man wants you so much that he is willing to yell at you and beat down your door and tell you that if you don’t eat with him, you don’t eat at all”. Belle gives us a chance to question how desire narratives tend to construct love as an act of violence and tend to encourage women to view violence as an expression of caring. Belle’s tale is one of isolation, a key feature in an abuse narrative. And remember, as Belle says “The longer that you are trapped with the same person, the more it will seem like home… Stockholm.”

 

Snow White

“Cook, clean, men”, Second City’s Snow White is a commentary on reducing women to their domestic potential in the Disneyfied Snow White narrative…. with a little bit of commentary about the ageism in Fairy Tales “Older women, when they are ugly, are very trustworthy, but when they are pretty, watch out – they are evil!”. This Snow White reveals a life shaped by jealousy and presents a critique of the image that all women should be turned against one another.

 

Find out more about The Second City at http://www.secondcity.com/