A Signing Snow White

A Signing Snow White

A review of Roz Rosen’s “Snow White” in Deaf Culture Fairy Tales (Savory Words, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Roz Rosen’s Snow White is a Deaf princess born to hearing parents. Her parents don’t know how to act around a Deaf daughter and decide instead to call a doctor, who tells them that the princess needs a speech therapist to be taught to speak English and speech-read instead of learning ASL and teaching it to Snow White. 

Snow White tries to explain to the Queen that the attempt to force her to learn spoken language is preventing her access to other education, but is told that she needs to adapt to a hearing world. She is told to sit on her hands and forced to use sound to achieve her needs. When people spoke around her, they refused to include her in their conversations, telling her “later”. 

As occurs in Snow White tales, the Queen becomes jealous of Snow White’s beauty, but she ads to her discrimination of the princess by saying “I will not be outdone by a deaf-mute”. 

When Snow White is able to escape from the Queen’s clutches, she finds herself at the home of seven Deaf Dwarfs who have an immersive Deaf home with lights that flash instead of relying on sound and the regular use of sign language. These Dwafs, rather than being miners, turn out to be human rights advocates who work for The National Office of Deaf People and fight for the right to quality accessibility, access to employment, the right for Deaf people to own land, marry, and have children, and access to sign language for children. They introduce Snow White to the world of Deaf culture, giving her a world that runs counter to the audist, ableist world that she came from. 

When Snow White is poisoned by the Queen and awakened by a Prince, the first thing that she does is sign to him. When he indicates that he doesn’t understand sign language, she immediately goes back to her poisoned sleep, unwilling to be awakened into another world of audism and ableism. 

Rosen’s tale reveals a sense of wonder and magic beyond the regular fairy tale kind – a magic of finally discovering that there is a whole world of Deaf culture available and that there is an escape from audism and ableism. This is a tale of transformation, but not transformation brought about by a kiss, but, rather, transformation wrought of understanding and access to language and human (or Dwarf) rights.

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

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Redemption?

Redemption?

A review of Jen Calonita’s “Flunked” (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

What would we do with fairy tales if they didn’t have villains? Fairy Tale villains are so delightfully exciting and they inject that needed bit of challenge and excitement into a tale. They have so much potential for complexity and depth. Jen Calonita’s “Flunked” is a tale that brings together fairy tale villains from narratives like Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Red Ridinghood, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel in a tale of redemption and relapse into villainy.

When Cinderella’s evil stepmother Flora recognized that she was living in a society that rejected her for her villainous path, she sought to redeem herself in the eyes of her fellow citizens by creating a school devoted to the reformation of villains and those who show signs of wandering toward villainous paths. She created the Fairy Tale Reform School, devoted to turning villains into heroes and giving them the skills that would allow them to be successful. Employing the Evil Queen from Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf from Red Ridinghood, and the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid, this school is a rogues gallery of fairy tale villains and it makes for an interesting, if terrifying, experience.

Gilly has had to become a thief in order to keep her family fed since Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother started wholesale manufacturing the glass slippers that Gilly’s father invented and the boot-maker became poor, barely able to keep his family fed and their boot home safe and cozy. But, when Gilly gets caught stealing to provide for her family her parents and the police in their fairy tale community send her to Fairy Tale Reform School to find out how to be a hero and what she finds there are mysteries, friendship, her own desire to make the world a better place… and a lot of near-death experiences.

Even though Calonita’s “Flunked” is a fun and playful story, it is also filled with social questions and critiques. Calonita raises questions about poverty and social inequality, illustrating what Gilly has to do in order to keep her family fed and raising questions about the morality of theft. She creates a connection to figures like Robin Hood by portraying Gilly stealing from the wealthy to provide for her family.

Calonita uses the figure of the princess and the almost-worship they receive in order to ask questions about celebrity culture and ponder why so many people envy the wealthy and popular even when their policies may hurt those who are impoverished. Yet Calonita also questions social stigma and abjection, exploring the way that those who have been judged to be villainous have to constantly strive to escape from the stigma attached to them. The creation of the Fairy Tale Reform School is as much about finding a safe space for former villains as it is about creating a space where people can acquire new skills and find the hero within them. With a Sea Witch who keeps forgetting everything she is doing and a spell to erase memory, the theme of erasing the past is a key one in “Flunked”, pointing to the way that one’s history continues to haunt one. Calonita asks questions about the boundary between hero and villain and challenges the easy morality of most fairy tales by complicating her characters.

Gilly is uniquely suited to solving the world’s issues because she recognizes that villains have unique skills that others don’t and that sometimes a villain has to do what a hero isn’t capable of doing.

To find out more about “Flunked”, and discover more about Jen Calonita, visit http://www.jencalonitaonline.com/MG_Flunked.html

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/ 

The Art of Snow White – The Poisoned Apple

Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins

The Art of Snow White – The Poisoned Apple
By Derek Newman-Stille

Snow White was originally published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 and has been revisited in retellings and explorations since that time. It’s central features are the magic mirror, the poisoned apple, the glass coffin, and the heart. It is a tale of vanity, ageing, and revenge.

Ever since the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), much of the imagery around Snow White has been influenced by the film.

Rebenke – Snow White Burton

snow_white_burton_by_rebenke-d6cis20

Rebenke’s Snow White is dressed in the Disney Snow white colours with a tall white collar and blue, red, and yellow colours, yet each of these colours is shaded, the colours darkened.

The Evil Queen is portrayed in her disguise as an elderly woman, and she is portrayed with her mouth open in a cackle showing jagged, yellowed teeth. Her jaw…

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Psychological Reflection

Psychological Reflection
A review of Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen (Disney Press, 2009).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All is a tale of mirrors and of mirroring behaviour. Valentino provides a backstory for the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, giving this tale of terror a darkly psychological quality by dipping into the mind of the Evil Queen to find out what sort of shadowy past can produce such misery. This tale of mirrors is deeply reflective.

Mirrors have shaped the Queen’s life. She was born to a mirror-maker and was ultimately despised by him because she was the mirror image of her mother who died while birthing her. He is unable to look at her without seeing a reflection of everything he once loved and was ultimately turned to sorrow and horror, so he tells her that she is a hideous monster, someone that no one will ever care about. His abuse ultimately shapes the way she sees herself, building in her a fundamental lack of self confidence and need for external acknowledgement. 

Like many people who have experienced abuse, the Queen is haunted by the spectre of her father, a father who appears in her mirror, always seeing his face overlaying hers, illustrating the way his control of her keeps overtaking her individual will. 

Valentino reveals that this is not a Queen who is poisoned by vanity, but rather a queen who is poisoned by self-loathing brought on by abuse. She is a Queen who becomes isolated and whose own heart is crushed by the notion of love lost that is not able to be retained. This tale of mirrors is a tale of reflection. 

To find out more about the work of Serena Valentino, http://www.serenavalentino.com 

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

Hungry

Hungry
A review of Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” in By Blood We Live, edited by John Joseph Adams (Night Shade Books, 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Skin as pale as snow, lips as red as blood… what could Snow White be other than a Vampire? Neil Gaiman explores the Snow White tale as vampire fiction in “Snow, Glass, Apples”, imagining the princess as a figure of living death and the “Evil Queen” as a witch trying to protect her people from a monster. 

This Queen, like the one in the canonical Snow White tale, uses a mirror. However, her mirror is not a vessel of vanity used to compare herself to other beauties. Instead, it is a vessel of prophesy, telling her of her future with the king and this young girl. Like the canonical tale, this one is also a tale of aging, but rather than the queen fearing her own aging and envying the youth of the princess, this Queen fears what the eternal youth of the princess represents because there are unnatural things in the world that don’t age. A vampire tale is a perfect adaptation for the Snow White exploration of age.

The Queen interacts with her own story, telling us that people told tales of her being given the heart of an animal, when in fact she was given Snow White’s vampiric heart and she tells readers that she did not eat the heart as some tales suggest. “Lies and half truths fall like snow”. She is an active agent in telling readers her own story, one that allows her to be the hero instead of the villain. 

Snow White is left without her heart in the forest, but that heart is not stabbed through as in traditional vampire stories and the princess rises from the grave, from her sleep curse.

The queen discovers that Snow White has been hunting the forest folk when she looks into her scrying glass. She realizes she needs to use her knowledge of witchcraft to cope with the girl and adds her blood to apples, again playing with the theme of blood and the crimson of apples.

Gaiman creates a tale of reversals, with a vampire-hunting queen, a necropheliac prince, and a Snow White shaped by hunger. He probes the boundaries between life and death evoked by the original tale and infuses it with blood.