Accessing The Mermaid

Accessing The Mermaid

Accessing the MermaidA review of Angeline Woon’s “The Mermaid and the Prince of Dirt” in Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories, edited by Kaitlin Tremblay and Kelsi Morris (Exile, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

In “The Mermaid and the Prince of Dirt”, Angeline Woon takes the exploration of essential otherness in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and reworks it into a tale of disability and trying to fit into a world that actively prevents spaces of accommodation. The Little Mermaid was already a tale about ideas of belonging and spaces that prevented access, but Woon’s reimagining of the tale focuses on the way that our social and physical environments are made to exclude and reject certain bodies. 

Woon’s narrator is a mermaid who sought the land not due to her obsession over a human prince, but because she wanted to escape the control of her older sisters who regularly made decisions for her. As a mermaid, she already felt like an outsider. Annalee seeks out a witch who can give her access to the surface world and, like the mermaid in Andersen’s tale, Annalee gives her voice in order to gain the ability to walk on the surface world.

Annalee doesn’t rankle at her loss of voice and finds that as long as she can move and dance, she can express herself, but her sisters view her as incomplete without having a voice and decide that she can’t be complete unless she has one, so they unilaterally make the decision to trade with the witch to get Annalee’s voice back. The witch decides to take away most of Annalee’s legs as part of the bargain and Annalee becomes a wheelchair user. Decisions over her body are still being made by her sisters and she is assumed incapable of making her own decisions.

Rather than seeking a prince, Annalee finds Liam, a person who experiences mental health issues, but is also willing to believe her when she says that she is a mermaid, which most people refuse to do. Although Liam doesn’t come from noble blood, he is a prince to Annalee because he is one of the few people who is willing to make spaces accessible to her body. 

Woon’s reworking of The Little Mermaid becomes social commentary, bringing attention to the way that accessibility is still not a priority for most people, issues with government financial assistance (both the lack of it, and the constant requirement to prove disability), and the willingness and readiness of our society to assume the worst of people experiencing mental illness. 

To discover more about Those Who Make Us, visit https://thosewhomakeus.wordpress.com and http://www.exileeditions.com/shop/those-who-make-us-the-exile-book-of-anthology-series-number-thirteen/

To discover more about Angeline Woon, visit https://angelinewoon.wordpress.com

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Rage

RageA review of Serena Valentino’s Poor Unfortunate Soul (Disney Press, 2016).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Poor Unfortunate Soul, the last book in this series by Serena Valentino wasn’t as powerful as the other two tales, and part of that may be because Ursula didn’t have the same sort of sympathetic portrayal that the Evil Queen or the Beast did. Valentino’s Ursula was a creature shaped by understandable rage, but unlike the other villains with greyed morality, Ursula is portrayed as distant, a figure of rage from afar rather than the close-up pain and frustration we feel with the protagonists of the other two books.

Valentino provides a background for Ursula that allows us to understand her anger, frustration, and pain, giving us a glimpse into an undersea world where she was constantly ostracized for her appearance in a realm that could only accept one particular body type. She resisted this bodily narrative, being herself even though she was pushed to the fringes of her society for it. Ursula in Valentino’s narrative is the sister of King Triton, king of the mermaids and Ariel’s father. 

Ursula’s rage is justifiable in this narrative since it comes from the pain of years of isolation. It is also the kind of powerful rage that could be transformative, and that could overturn a kingdom that reinforces a strict status quo. Valentino hints that King Triton’s patriarchal control is at the centre of Ursula’s pain and rage, noting that the king imposes beauty standards on the women around him, a male hegemony that positions women as beings to be looked at rather than to wield power. This could have been a powerful feminist tale tale with Ursula challenging the patriarchy and trying to push for an overthrow of a system that disempowers its public, and it seemed to be building toward this at the start, but there is a sudden shift in the narrative toward positioning Ursula as a creature distant from the reader instead of the reader getting the chance to see the world through her eyes. We get pulled out of that dark potential where change is possible and thrust onto the surface while we watch the status quo become re-established.

To discover more about Serena Valentino and Poor Unfortunate Soul, visit http://www.serenavalentino.com/projects/ursula/ 

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

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/

Medicalized Mermaids

Medicalized Mermaids
A review of Joe Brusha, Meredith Finch, and Miguel Mendonca’s “Grimm Fairy Tales Presents The Little Mermaid” (Zenescope, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

“Grimm Fairy Tales Presents The Little Mermaid” was initially a bit off-putting since the art seemed to mirror the comic book exploitation of women’s bodies, but Brusha, Finch, and Mendonca present a Little Mermaid tale that explores the clash of science and fairy tale. Erica, the mermaid, has spent her life uncertain about her background or parentage, but she knows that she is able to take the form of either mermaid or human. Her destiny and identity are taken away from her by scientists who seek to unravel the magic of her body to adapt it for military purposes. Her body ceases to be a vessel of magic and becomes a vessel of war as her biological uniqueness is spread to others.

Erica finds herself caught between worlds as the armies of Atlantis clash with the scientifically constructed creatures of the surface.

Like Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, Zenescope’s comic is a tale of fluidity, of change with a mermaid trapped between worlds and identities, seeking out an understanding of herself and her position in a world that has been torn in two. This is a story of science clashing with magic, medicine colliding with wishes, and above all, it is a story about uncertainty.

The graphic medium of the story allows for an exploration of the physicality of the mermaid, illustrating Erica’s transformation between forms and the horror that runs like a tide through this story of different types of embodiment.

To discover more about “Grimm Fairy Tales Presents The Little Mermaid”, visit http://shop.zenescope.com/the-little-mermaid/