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/ 

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The Sweet Taste of Mortality

The Sweet Taste of Mortality

A review of Jackson Pearce’s Sweetly (Little, Brown and Company, 2011).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Hansel and Gretel is a tale of hunger and displacement. Focussing on the two children losing their home due to hunger and eating of a witch’s house and inspiring her to try to eat them, the tale is one where a loss of home and hunger are intertwined. Jackson Pearce sets her Hansel and Gretel revision in small town America where populations dwindle as people search for homes in areas where they can get work and where the economy is starving. 

Her brother and sister team are re-named Ansel and Gretchen and they end up moving into a small town candy shop owned by a young woman named Sophia. Sophia has been blamed with the loss of young women who leave each year to seek work in larger cities and she is ostracised because she is seen to be responsible. In this blame game, Jackson Pearce points to the other side of the fairy tale, the side of gossip and the tales that spread through small towns as people seek to find people to blame for the social issues that occur in their town. The town is also living its own “once upon a time” by constantly trying to portray itself as the quaint but prosperous community it once was, glorifying its past to hide from the issues in its present.

Where the town is glorifying the past, Ansel, Gretchen, and Sophia are all trying to hide from their pasts, changing themselves from the people they once were to avoid the threat of traumatic memories. They carry traumas of the past with them as they seek to re-make themselves and find new possible ways of interacting with the world, wanting to change themselves. 

Yet, this is not just a tale of economies in small town America. The woods are places full of horrors and places where no one wants to wander off or get lost. Pearce’s tale is filled with magic, but it is also filled with horror and fear. Ansel, Gretchen, and Sophia are all linked by a desire to make things better, but they are also linked by a shared fear, an uncertainty about the future and the threats that proliferate around them.

To discover more about Jackson Pearce, visit her website at http://jackson-pearce.com/sweetly/