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/

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/ 

Sleep the Sleep of the Aged

Sleep the Sleep of The AgedA review of Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle illustrated by Chris Riddell (Harper Collins Publishers, 2014).

By Derek Newman-Stille


As a sleeping curse spreads across the land, who would be better to awaken the sleeping princess at the centre of the sleeping curse than a queen who was once a princess who slept for a year in a coffin of glass. Neil Gaiman re-imagines the Sleeping Beauty tale by infusing it with a visit from Snow White. His tale is one about age and the fear that has been instilled in ageing women about the transformation into old age and the loss of beauty and youth that are treasured by patriarchy. Like the Snow White tale, Gaiman’s revision is a tale about the theft of youth and the fear of ageing. 

Gaiman links the image of the spindle, the sharp pointed tip and skein of yarn to the things that move while everyone sleeps – the roses with thorns sharp and cruel and the spiders that spin their own yarn over the sleeping populace, entwining them in a tapestry of magic. There is a macabre beauty to Gaiman’s twining of spiders and thorns and the evocation of the image of the spindle whose prick caused this 80 year sleep. 

Gaiman lets readers see the formation of a fairy tale as the people who are encountered in the tale each tell their own version of what has happened to this Sleeping Beauty, revealing the power of tales to shape themselves out of oral narratives and speculations. Gaiman plays with the power of names in fairy tales by bringing into the narrative the power of names, the forbidden quality of unspoken names, and the idea that names can be lost to years of history. 

As Gaiman often does, he misleads the reader, taking him or her down a path of uncertainty for a familiar tale, knowing that Gaiman’s path always diverts from the well-worn ones and into the darker parts of the woods that are strung with vines of potential.

Riddell’s artwork transforms Neil Gaiman’s story into a mixture of a Medieval illuminated manuscript and a grimoire that casts spells of enchantment over the eyes of the reader. Riddell’s art style keeps colour simple, mixing black and white with gold to add that gilded quality of an illuminated manuscript. His style is similar to the pre-Raphaelite painters with a focus on almond eyes and sleepy beauty – a perfect look for a tale about the spell of sleep. Text becomes part of the spell as letters drip into spindles of yarn, fall into spider webs, and form into rose thorns, binding the art to the text of the story. 


The Sleeper and the Spindle is a potion brewed of the distilled essence of Gaiman and Riddell’s styles, combining them into a form of magic that evokes the imagination and transforms fairy tales into tales of change and speculation.

To discover more about Neil Gaiman, visit http://www.neilgaiman.com

To discover more about Chris Riddell, visit http://www.chrisriddell.co.uk

To find out more about The Sleeper and the Spindle, vist http://www.harpercollins.ca/9780062398246/the-sleeper-and-the-spindle

Sakimichan’s Gender-Swopped Fairy Tale Creations

By Derek Newman-Stille

Sakimichan is a Canadian artist who, among other things, creates beautiful gender-swopped fairy tale figures. We had a chance to meet briefly at Fan Expo Canada a few years ago. I had encountered her work before on Deviant Art and was impressed with her ability to challenge the firm gendered ideas of Fairy Tales produced by Disney.

Sakimichan challenges gendered boundaries and produces new ideas by swopping the genders of different characters.

 

 

Maleficent

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This gender swopped Maleficent features the classic Maleficent horns and triangular collar from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty creation but this male Maleficent combines armour into his outfit.

 

He has a vampiric quality to his appearance with pointed canine teeth, pointed ears and yellow eyes. He has a tattered cloak and a kinky quality to his look with studded wrist bands and a studded collar and belt.

 

Sakimichan provides a classic “booby window” that is often part of superhero comic exploitations of women (featured in characters like PowerGirl). She simultaneously subverts the gendered construction of women as sexual objects by projecting these features onto male bodies while also revealing the implicit beauty in Disney’s original Maleficent with her classic cool green look, high cheekbones and powerful, curving brows.

 

Sakimichan infuses her image with Maleficent’s haughty arrogance and one can almost see this bad fairy yelling “fools” at all of us. The power of Maleficent’s pose is highlighted by his sweeping wings, the twist of thorny vines around his body and the sparkling of green fire highlighting his body.

 

 

 

Beauty and the Beast

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Sakimichan’s Beauty and the Beast challenges the image of the male as a beast and woman as a demure, bookish figure who tolerates his oppression by switching their genders, opening up a new set of imagined possibilities. This Beauty plays with ideas of gendered movement by portraying a man with a sweeping neckline, curving his neck and looking up romantically at his lover, eyebrows raised and lips parted. The femininity of Beauty’s pose illustrates the potential for gender blurrings.

 

Sakimichan’s Beast is wrapped around her beauty, showing her awkwardness by adjusting the hair around her face. She has a thicker frame and stronger musculature to illustrate her protective pose.

 

Lumiere in the background illustrates the feminine potential of a candlestick, with a curving of her hip and generous wax lips. This Lumiere follows the Disney version’s exuberance of movement and performative quality.

 

 

 

Little Mermaid

 

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Sakimichan’s Little Mermaid captures the innocence of Disney’s Little Mermaid image with wide eyes, a slightly opened mouth and raised eyebrows. This Ariel’s sweeping hair ties in with the burst of waves surrounding him, both feathering out at the edges.

 

Sakimichan makes reference to the Disney film by showing a fork tied to the Merman’s bicep. The fork is tied on with seaweed, allowing the Merman to seem tied to his ocean environment even though he desires a life above the waves. This is a Merman who wants to connect to the world of wonder and newness above, but also wants to anchor himself in the world beneath the sea.

 

Flounder is feminised in this image by having a flower in her dorsal fin. Flounder’s femininity is captured by her eyelashes and the hair-like quality of her dorsal fin.

 

Sakimichan captures movement and a sense of wonder in her take of the Little Mermaid, the bridging of worlds of life above and below the waves, but also bridging the gendered binaries inherent in most fairy tales.

 

 

 

 

Ursula

 

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Sakimichan didn’t end her Little Mermaid art at Ariel and her take on the Ursula infuses elements of Ariel’s painting into this villainous world. Ursula is surrounded by a movement of waves, but instead of being at the surface, this Ursula is stirring up bubbles in the deep.

 

Ursula’s tentacles writhe about his body, accentuating his musculature as well as his fluidity and connection to the depths of the ocean.

 

Although Disney’s Ursula is fat – which is problematic itself by portraying only the villain as fat – the muscular appearance of this male Ursula represents a quality of fat-erasure, assuming that only muscularity is attractive.

 

This Ursula is darkly attractive like Sakimichan’s Maleficent with arching brows, pointed ears and sharp canines. There is similarly a vampiric quality to this figure and the alabaster look to his skin emphasises the dark potential of this body.

 

 

 

 

 

Sakimichan’s gender-bent figures illustrate the fluid gender possibilities of fairy tale rewritings. These figures bring attention to the way that gendered behaviours have been encoded in our fairy tales, and also point to a way to imagine gender otherwise.

 

You can check out Sakimichan’s work at her Deviant Art site at http://sakimichan.deviantart.com/gallery/