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

Advertisements

Fairy Tale Autobiography?

Fairy Tale Autobiography?

A review of Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Pandora Press, 1985).
By Derek Newman-Stille

In Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson creates a complicated tale of intersecting narratives, mixing elements of fairy tale, legend, and biblical verse into autobiographic elements from her own life. As much as this is a tale about Winterson’s own upbringing in a Pentecostal evangelical household and discovery of her lesbian identity, it is also a narrative about the way that our lives are shaped by stories. Autobiography and fiction interweave in a conversation that at times is contradictory, but always revelatory. 

Winterson’s abrupt switches to fairy tale narrative in the middle of scenes of her own life shape the intrusive and yet complementary power of stories to inform us and shape our lives. She reveals the way that her own tale has been shaped by stories, largely those from her mother, who begins by telling her that she is special and has a significant role in the world to shape the lives and beliefs of others, and those of her church, which tells her that she needs to sell religion to others the same way as one would sell a used car, and later tells her that her attraction to women comes from demonic possession. Narratives from evangelical voices seek to shape who she is to become, trying to mould her and her identity into the narratives they want to tell. WInterson acknowledges this narrative influence through her focus on their stories about her life, weaving them into her autobiographical elements, but also by titling her chapters after the books of the Christian Bible, frequently paralleling her life narrative with the biblical titles. She begins with Genesis, telling her own origins and early memories, moves on to Exodus and her experience of seeing the world differently once she is able to attend school, and continues through Leviticus, Numbers, Dueteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and concluding with Ruth. 

Yet, throughout the autobiographic elements of her tale, up pop fairy tales to open new insights into her experiences, converting them from biography (an individual experience) into fairy tale (an archetypal quality defined by its relateability). Tales provide moments of insight, intruding like a spell into her life with the words “Once upon a time…”. Her tales vary, telling stories of princesses who learn from old hunchbacks the secrets of magic, but frequently don’t end in the typical fairy tale ending and instead resolve themselves in princesses living simple lives away from the complications of royalty and the expectations and controls that come with being special. These tales help to elucidate Winterson’s own exploration of selfhood and the narrative of exclusion and exultation that was applied to her early in her life. Fairy tales occur at transformative moments in her narrative, offering counterpoints to a singular narrative and pointing out the polyphony in any story. Rather than creating a sense of the heroic and transcendent, these tales evoke the power of resisting the sense of being special.

The complexity of fiction storytelling works as a counterpoint to Winterson’s mother’s simple binarisms of good/evil introducing the idea that story presents a complicated morality, that one needs the context of story to explore moral systems that can’t be easily dualistic. She uses fairy tales to disrupt ideas of a singular perfection, situating a prince’s search for the perfect, flawless bride into a philosophical discourse about whether perfection and flawlessness are mutually dependent. 

Winterston complicates the assumed easy divide between fairy tale and real life, illustrating that our real lives are made up of tales told by us and about us. She complicates ideas of history, pointing out that history is also constructed as a truth narrative, but is changeable, shifting, and uncertain. She invites questions about her own life through Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, pointing out the narratological slipperiness of our lives and the shifting, unstable, and transformative aspects of identity. Like the fairy tales she includes in her narrative, life itself is able to contain a spark of transformative magic and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are constantly move and change. 

Winterson resists calling her book autobiography, listing it as fiction despite its close parallel to the events of her life to disrupt the easy binarism and duality of truth/fiction, real/fairy tale, history/story. Her personal narrative has already been shaped by simple dualities that others have tried to impose on her, attempting to fit her into simple boxes of saint/sinner, saviour/demon, good/evil, inside/outside of the church she grew up in. 

To discover more about Janette WInterson, visit http://www.jeanettewinterson.com

To read more about Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, visit http://www.jeanettewinterson.com/book/oranges-are-not-the-only-fruit/ 

Tales within Tales

A review of Malinda Lo’s Ash (Little Brown, 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Ash (2009)

 

Malinda Lo’s Ash is a narrative of change where everything is in flux: people, life/death, and the environment. Lo creates a chimerical narrative where nothing is certain.

 

Ash is living her own fairy tale at a time of conflict. The wealthy in her society have started adhering to a new religion espoused by philosophers who resist the old green witch religion that embraced fairy tales as part of its belief system. Ash’s own parents were on opposite sides of the debate – her father an adherent to the religion of the philosophers, and her mother believing in the green witch and sharing tales of fairy abductions with her daughter. Ash is shaped by the beliefs of her mother, and finds herself caught in a fairy bargain that could lead her into the fairy realm. This change in religion brings up the classic subject of the Cinderella tale – class change. The class changes of this narrative aren’t just about a girl transcending her perceived class, but about class ideologies themselves changing as religion and class become intertwined and fairy tales become an aspect of the lower class that are disparaged.

 

Yet, the fairies themselves, the subject of fairy tales, still adhere to their aristocratic ideas and Ash ends up coming into contact with the fairies, experiencing their ideas of ownership and their exercises of power. She is given the opportunity to become a fairy princess, though that bargain comes with uncertainty about the fairy world.

 

Like most Cinderella stories, time plays an important factor in Ash, but it is even more exaggerated in this tale because there is an intrusion of fairy time, and the idea that time in fairy runs differently than human time.

 

This is not a tale of ballroom dresses and the marriage of princes. In this tale, Ash wishes for a hunting outfit, a way to change her world by dressing as a Huntress and running with human hunters. She is not someone who relies on her potential lover to free her from the bonds her family has placed on her. Instead, she makes her own way in the world by forging alliances with others and ensuring that she has her own wishes met.

 

Ash is a tale of the transformative power of love, but also the transformation of the understanding of love. Love for many people in the tale means ownership, but Ash discovers that love is expansive, and contains multiple meanings. She discovers that love, for her, means doing anything in her power to bring happiness to the Huntress, the woman she loves. This is not the fairy tale love of ownership and obligation, but instead a love born from mutual respect.

 

Ash is a queer Cinderella tale, and one that questions and challenges the traditional narrative.

You can discover more about Malinda Lo at https://www.malindalo.com/

A House of Candy and Transformation

A House of Candy and Transformation

A review of Daryl Gregory’s “Even the Crumbs were Delicious” in The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales ( Ed. Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, Saga Press, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Hansel and Gretel is a tale that entwines poverty and childhood and its popularity for revision illustrates the endurance of the narrative of child poverty. In “Even the Crumbs Were Delicious”, Daryl Gregory tells a tale of homeless, abused, and rejected children who are in search of food… but more importantly, they seek an escape that can be provided by the candy house… especially this kind of candy.

The best send-off that Tindal could think of for Rolfe was to take Rolfe’s drug printer and print drugs over the entire inside of his apartment, but Tindal didn’t expect that he would find those walls of drugs being consumed by street kids. As the random cocktail of drugs pumps through the veins of a boy and a girl, they begin to shift into a familiar tale, seeing Tindal as a witch who has captured them through magic, and perhaps he does weave a form of magic over them (in addition to the magic of drugs), because they undergo transformations in perception around their circumstances.

But, Tindal also undergoes transformations, both in the drug-addled eyes of the children and in his own perception of himself and his place in the world. Tindal, in trying to do what every adult does – return children to their parents, but, through that process he discovers that childhood can be far more painful and far more challenging than he can imagine.

To discover more about the work of Daryl Gregory, visit https://darylgregory.com/
To find out more about The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, visit http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/The-Starlit-Wood/Dominik-Parisien/9781481456142