The Art of The Emperor’s New Clothes

Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins

The Emperor’s New Clothes is an intensely visual tale, exploring ideas of dignity, performance, and the ostentatiousness of royalty. But, fundamentally, it is about what is not there – the absence of art, the absence of clothing.

Clothing is a way that we perform our identity, the way that we illustrate who we are. It is an art that is linked to identity. The Emperor in the tale is caught between the power of the spoken word to create clothing (by describing it and convincing the court of the presence of the clothing), yet the clothing is not physically present. It is not something that exists except in the descriptive sense.

Art work about The Emperor’s New Clothes is simultaneously about what is there and what is absent.

Harry Clarke

(from Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, New York: Brentano’s 1916)

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Clarke portrays the Emperor as a mix of nudity…

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Bisclavret Reimagined

A review of Joanne Findon’s “That Time of the Month” from The Horrors: Terrifying Tales book 2, edited by Peter Carver (Red Deer Press, 2006).

By Derek Newman-Stille

 9780889953383

As a researcher who has given papers on Bisclavret, I was excited to read Joanne Findon’s werewolf tale “That Time of the Month. Findon remapped the Medieval tale Le Lai de Bisclavret by Marie de France into her modern werewolf tale. She modifies the werewolf from male (as Bisclavret was in the original tale) to a female character named Lupa. Lupa is a teen in high school who is going through bodily changes, as many teen girls do. Using a teenage female main character, Findon is able to bring attention to the connection between moons and menses, body shame and the pressure for girls to hide their bodies, interactions between ideas of family and independence that are central for teen life, and peer pressures and how they shape choices.

 

“That Time of the Month” preserves many of the powerful narratives that Marie de France captured, illustrating that Le Lai de Bisclavret has the power to extend beyond its Medieval context to speak to the human experience. Bisclavret was a tale that dealt with a man who needed to disappear frequently to assume the shape of the wolf. He did this by removing his clothing and was only able to return to his human form by putting human clothing back on. Bisclavret’s wife becomes jealous of him, seeing his disappearances into the woods as indicative of his disinterest in her. This evokes her jealousy and causes her to make him explain what he does in the woods. When he reveals his secrets, she brings her lover to steal Bisclavret’s clothing and forces him to stay in wolf form. She then begins a relationship with her new lover. Bisclavret proceeds to terrorize towns until he meets a king, who he immediately bows to in human fashion. The king becomes convinced that Bisclavret is more than a wolf, but has something about him that speaks more to courtly behaviour. The king adopts the wolf as a pet and Bisclavret becomes entirely passive until his wife shows up at court, whereupon he bites her nose off. It is this sudden change in behaviour that makes the king suspect that Bisclavret is a man in wolf form and he interrogates Bisclavret’s wife until she reveals the truth. The king is able to restore Bisclavret’s human form by providing him with new clothing.

 

Findon plays with these themes in her reimagining. Bisclavret’s world was one of hierarchy, so it made sense for Findon to situate Lupa’s tale in a high school – the epitome of hierarchy relationships in modernity. Lupa has to cope with social stratification, encountering the popular kids. Clothing is also an essential feature for translating this tale into a modern context. Women in our society both explicitly and implicitly have their clothing choices policed, told what not to wear, threatened when they wear something that patriarchy considers sexually evocative. In the current climate, girls have frequently been sent home because their clothing is “too revealing” and might distract male students. The role of nudity and clothing therefore became essential to Findon’s re-mapping, exploring Lupa’s connection to her own body through her nudity and the transformative power of clothing, which, like Bisclavret, is needed to change Lupa from human into wolf and wolf into human. Where Lupa differs is that she expresses a desire to change permanently into a wolf in her feelings of conflict between her humanity and her animality. “That Time of the Month” also reexamines jealousy, switching from Bisclavret’s jealous wife, to Lupa’s jealous boyfriend (who is illustrating the patriarchal connection between jealousy and ideas of ownership. The topic of secrecy functions so well in the modern high school experience, where one’s secrets can make the difference between social inclusion and social ridicule (particularly when there is a person who has a bodily or cultural difference). I don’t want to give too much of this story away… but noses also feature heavily in Findon’s story.

 

Findon, while creating a completely distinctive and powerful narrative, is able to illustrate the endurance of a medieval tale, and its power to express a distinctly human condition that is open to re-tellings, re-imaginings, and re-mappings.

 

To discover more about The Horrors: Terrifying Tales book two, visit Red Deer press at http://www.reddeerpress.com .