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/

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 

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