A Deaf Cinderella

A Deaf Cinderella

A review of Roz Rozen’s “Cinderella” in Deaf Culture Fairy Tales (Savory Words, 2007)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Roz Rosen tells a tale of a Deaf Cinderella who has been encouraged in her use of sign language until her mother dies and her hearing step mother and step sisters prevent her from using her own language. Indeed, from the moment she meets Cinderella, the stepmother feels disgust at her step daughter for being death, describing her as “burdensome”. Despite talking about her as a burden, the stepmother forces Cinderella to do all of the work around the house, refusing to learn sign language and instead yelling at her step daughter. 

Cinderella experiences extreme isolation in her inability to express herself to her family and their prevention of her using her own language. She is only able to sign when she is by herself, engaging in sign singing with the animals around her while she works, tying a close bond to her animal friends and expressing her need for a change in the oppression she is experiencing every day of her life. Her community of animal friends refuses to let her give up on her dream of a change in her life, signing at her that she can make the impossible possible. 

When Cinderella encounters her fairy godmother, she discovers that the words her animal friends have been signing to her are a magic spell and she uses them to transform her rags into a magnificent gown. When this Cinderella finally meets her prince, she fears that he won’t accept her once he discovers that she is Deaf and will treat her the way that her stepmother and stepsisters have. But, when he sees her sign, he responds in sign, telling her that his kingdom uses sign language on the battle field. Before she can share details about her identity with him, she is forced to leave and loses her glass slipper on the steps.

This Cinderella is able to distinguish herself from other women in the kingdom not by fitting into a glass slipper, particularly since her stepmother breaks the slipper, but, rather, through her ability to use sign language and she and the prince are able to create a kingdom of access by making sure that ASL is taught throughout the kingdom, preventing others from experiencing the isolation of being surrounded by those who can’t or won’t speak to them. 

Rosen’s tale is one of linguistic isolation as much as it is about being treated as a servant. It is about a denial of access to Cinderella’s language and culture, her ability to express herself, and her ability to be part of conversations around her home. This is a tale about a revision of a society that privileges spoken languages into one that provides a space for bilingualism, allowing for ASL (standing for Amina Sign Language) and English. Rosen’s Cinderella doesn’t just change social status as many Cinderella characters do in fairy tales, rather, she changes the status of Deaf people in her kingdom, creating a space where language multiplicity is the norm.

To find out more about Deaf Culture Fairy Tales, visit http://www.savorywords.com/dcft-by-roz-rosen-2/

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Under the Slippers

Under the Slippers

A review of Sarah Pinborough’s Charm: A Wicked Cinderella Tale (Titan Books, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille

What does it mean to live your whole life imagining court life and fantasizing about princes and castles only to be offered everything you’ve always wanted? What does it mean to grow up in a household where your stepmother and stepsisters come from noble bloodlines but you come from more humble origins? Is beauty or noble blood more important?

Sarah Pinborough’s Charm transforms the quintessential Love at First Sight story into a gothic romance, populated with hidden truths, secrecy, locked doors with hidden keys, curiosity, jealousy, dusty old turrets, and dark corridors hung with cobwebs. Pinborough explores the darker side of Cinderella, warning her readers of the danger of getting everything you wish for and pointing out that sometimes the dream is better than the reality you dream of. 

Pinborough highlights the potential problems of Cinderella’s magic slippers, pointing out the issues of consent for a Prince who has been forced by magic to fall in love with a woman that he couldn’t even recognize outside of her slippers. She asks what happens when the slippers come off and the prince goes back to his non-spell-addled self. Court life isn’t the dream that Cinderella imagined and full of a lot more darkness than she had envisioned. Just like her slippers, Cinderella is about to discover that her imagined perfect life is nothing more than outer dressings.

To discover more about Sarah Pinborough, visit https://sarahpinborough.com/

One Drop at a Time

A review of Sarah Pinborough’s Beauty (Titan Books, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille 

In Beauty, Sarah Pinborough draws on the dark ink of multiple fairy tales, pulling them together into a cauldron to remake them into a new tale with a twist. She draws together resonances between traditional stories, looking for those murky edges where they can connect together, weaving a tapestry between Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, Red Ridinghood, and Rumplestiltskin and pulling together their grim possibilities. 

Pinborough twists these tales, leaving threads of familiarity for her readers, but weaving them into a new, uneasy tale.

Pinborough challenges some of the characteristics that people frequently associate with fairy tales, using the voice of her Little Red Ridinghood character to call attention to the difference between peasant narratives and those of nobles, drawing attention to the problematic ideas of consent around the kissing of a Sleeping Beauty, pointing out the dangerous nature of love-at-first-sight and its relationship to ideas of control. Beauty invites questions about wishes and the danger associated with getting the things you ask for. It points out the dangers of privilege. It plays with the allure of magic and the complications that come with power. Beauty is a tale of warnings and an invitation to constantly ask questions, particularly when things seem to come far to easily. 
To discover more about Sarah Pinborough, visit https://sarahpinborough.com/

The Yellow Brick Road Less Travelled

A review of Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die (Harper Collins Publishers, 2014).By Derek Newman-Stille

Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die is a tale of travel as much as it is one about the killing of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Amy Gumm grew up in Kansas just like Dorothy did, but unlike that heroine of a classic story, Amy wasn’t seen as a personification of sunflowers and rainbows. She was a kid who was teased about living in poverty and called “Salvation Amy”, gossiped about constantly by the other kids in her school. She lived in a trailer with a mother who told Amy regularly that she ruined her life, and Amy had to constantly help her mother out after she passed out drunk each night. 

Paige’s narrative is one of travel, illustrating the parallel lives of Amy and Dorothy, two girls who wanted to get out of Kansas. The only difference between them is that Amy isn’t sure she wants to go back to Kansas. From early youth, when her mother told her that their trailer was like living in a travel adventure to her voyage to Oz, Amy always desired travel. Dorothy Must Die is a travelogue for a girl who couldn’t get out of Kansas until a tornado picked her up and dropped her into a narrative she was already familiar with from television.

The Oz that Amy is dropped into has changed. Dorothy returned to Oz after her travel back to Kansas, but she has changed from the girl who just wanted to go home into a power-hungry tyrant who rules Oz with a gingham fist. Dorothy has been mining Oz of its magic, leaving holes in the realm and gathering all magic to herself. She has enslaved all of the peoples (and animals) of Oz.

Amy’s experience of her mother’s addiction has prepared her to deal with Dorothy, a woman addicted to magic. Paige problematically links greed with addiction in this narrative – the constant desire for more. Addiction isn’t a desire for more. It is a compulsion. Dorothy is a character who constantly wants to be somewhere and someone else, not satisfied with the way she is or the way things are. Amy has some fear of becoming like Dorothy, of moving from wanting a better life for herself to wanting everything.

Amy and Dorothy form distorted mirror images of one another, full of the potential for a switch in positions, a change in their ideologies. Amy has been asked by the witches of Oz to assassinate Dorothy, but in the process of confronting her, perhaps Amy has more to learn about herself.

To find out more about Danielle Paige, visit her website at http://daniellepaigebooks

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/

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 

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/