Needles and Blood

Needles and Blood
A review of Ekaterina Sedia’s “Sleeping Beauty of Elista” in Once Upon a Time, New Fairy Tales, edited by Paula Guran (Prime Books, 2013). 

By Derek Newman-Stille


Sleeping Beauty is a tale of the transformative prick of a needle. It is a tale of the invasion of something external to the body into the blood that alters the experience of a young woman. Ekaterina Sedia takes the image of the needle’s prick, the image of blood and transforms it into a tale of blood and infection. In her tale, the needle’s prick becomes a tale about AIDS. Unlike most writers who engage with the topic of AIDS, Sedia doesn’t use her story as a means of shaming people with AIDS, but, rather, tells a tale of the ease at which a virus can spread. She brings attention to issues in AIDS narratives, pointing out that early on people refused to use the term AIDS, tried to ignore it, tried to demonize people for spreading it rather than critiquing a society that allowed for a negligence about AIDS.

“Sleeping Beauty of Elista” is a tale of infant AIDS and the early spread of AIDS by medical professionals who were unaware of the way the virus spread and unaware of the danger of improper sterilization. The “witch” of Sedia’s tale is a nurse who, like the rest of the medical staff, was re-using syringes without the proper cleaning of them, and yet because it happened to be the needles she was using to vaccinate children that ended up having the virus, she was scapegoated by her community, viewed as at fault for the spread. Sedia raises questions about the way that people are scapegoated rather than systems being repaired. Rather than focussing on the issues of the hospital’s policy of re-using syringes, the lack of resources provides for nurses to not have to re-use syringes, and the overall social pressure to ignore AIDS, this one nurse ends up being treated as a witch, fired from her job for negligence and treated as a curse herself. 

Sedia explores the power of folk stories, exploring the resonance between the fairy tale and the malicious power of gossip and scapegoating to create monsters, heroes, and easy moralities that ignore the complexities of the real world. 

To discover more about Ekaterina Sedia, visit her website at http://www.ekaterinasedia.com

To discover more about the collection Once Upon A Time: New Fairy Tales, visit Prime Books at http://www.prime-books.com/shop/print-books/once-upon-a-time-new-fairy-tales-edited-by-paula-guran-2/

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Ozpressed

Ozpressed
A review of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (ReganBooks, 1995)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Gregory Maguire’s Wicked is a tale of oppression and marginalisation. Maguire centralises his narrative on the life of the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, giving readers the opportunity to question the singular portrayal of a narrative and opening up the possibility that any narrative only speaks one truth among many. Maguire explores the Wicked Witch’s life from her own perspective, giving new context to her tale and examining her as a marginalised figure.

Like many figures who have been socially assigned to the category of “problem”, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, had characteristics that others could point to as “different”. She was the only green skinned person in Oz, making her a target for discrimination, assumptions about her origins, and threats to her safety. Even her own father thought that she was a physical manifestation of his own sin, illustrating the compulsion to moralize difference.

Elphaba’s birth and life come at a time when the social political situation of Oz is already uncertain. The citizens of Oz have sat by while the Wizard of Oz has exploited the existing discriminatory attitudes of the citizens to launch campaigns of rights denial, ghettoisation, and ultimately extermination for Oz’s marginalized populations. Elphaba, a person who has lived her entire life through the lens of discrimination, launches a campaign of freedom fighting against the Wizard, seeking to find a place for herself in the world by getting rid of the horrors of the world.

Steeped in philosophical debate about the nature of evil, battles of political discrimination, and, of course, fairy tale battles against those who inherit the title “witch”, Maguire’s tale is fundamentally one about belonging. It is about the desire for home, and the question of whether a home can be made or something one has to be born into. It is about what constitutes belonging and who doesn’t belong when we create barriers around belonging. And, of course, it is about the horrors visited on those who the people in power decide don’t belong.

To discover more about Gregory Maguire, visit http://gregorymaguire.com