My, What Big Oppressions You Have

My, What Big Oppressions You HaveA review of Seanan McGuire’s “In The Desert Like A Bone” in The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (ed. Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, Saga, 2016)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Red RidingHood stands as a tale of warnings for girls about the threat of straying off of the path and into the deep woods, yet Seanan McGuire’s “In The Desert Like A Bone” recognizes that most violence against women happens in the home. Her Red RidingHood figure, Fox, stands in opposition to the traditional Red RidingHood tale. She has escaped from the violence of her father at home into the deep desert, where she has a sense of freedom and can explore herself and learn techniques for living from and with the land. This is a Cowgirl Red RidingHood with a wide-brimmed hat that takes on a russet tone who recognizes the power of becoming a predator, a fox, rather than prey. She sets out across the desert with Coyote, who teaches her while providing space for her to develop into her own person, recognizing that she needs to find her own voice and take her own actions rather than be a passive fairy tale heroine. 

McGuire’s Red RidingHood tale is one of female empowerment, exploring the power of a girl to move from being treated as property, as someone else’s tale to tell, to becoming her own person, owning herself, and creating her own tale free of confines or limits. McGuire plays with the line between fairy tales and gossip, exploring “prairie harpies” and “respectable housewives” who try to shape Fox’s tale as one of loss rather than one of freedom. 

Growing up being forced to be silent, Fox does not suddenly become talkative, rather she makes her silence work for her, learning to move on silent feet and speak only when she needs to to make her points more powerful. This isn’t a tale of sudden, magical changes, but, rather, one of subtle changes, recognizing that there is a process to overcoming abuse and that there isn’t a fairy tale transformation that happens instantaneously. Fox recognizes that she can learn, change, and grow over time as she hones her own skills and strengths. 

Fox resists the Red RidingHood of myth, becoming an empowered being who copes with her wolf. 

To discover more about The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, visit http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-Starlit-Wood/Dominik-Parisien/9781481456128
To find out more about the work of Seanan McGuire, visit http://www.seananmcguire.com/ 

Animal Instinct

A review of Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet (Square Fish, 2013).

By Derek Newman-Stille

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Scarlet is a Red Riding Hood tale with a twist. Scarlet continues Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles that began with Cinder. Like Cinder, Scarlet is a tale of family secrets and the danger of family secrets. Like Cinder, Scarlet has been raised with family secrets and has now become uncertain of her own history and the relationships she created with her family. Scarlet discovered that her grandmother was kidnapped and she realizes that in order to save the woman who raised her, she needs to find out more about her family and herself.

 

Like many Red Riding Hood re-envisionings, Meyer reimagines the wolf as a werewolf, but this is a werewolf with a twist, a soldier of an invading army from the moon. Meyer envisions a battle of instincts with the wolf in the man fighting the man in the wolf. This wolf is torn between two sets of instincts, uncertain what parts of him are real and which parts are genetically manufactured.

 

Cinder’s discovery that she is a Lunar princess continues through this novel as she struggles with this knowledge about herself and debates which part of her behaviour is biological and which part is learned. She wants to find out if she is the product of her Lunar biology or if she is a product of her human upbringing. All that mediates between her two identities is her cyborg programming, which keeps her Lunar powers in check, preventing her from using the biological power the Lunars have to control the minds of others.

 

This is an intertwined tale of Cinderella and Red Riding Hood, but it is also a twined tale of body and identity formation.

 

To discover more about Marissa Meyer, visit her website at http://www.marissameyer.com/

Bisclavret Reimagined

A review of Joanne Findon’s “That Time of the Month” from The Horrors: Terrifying Tales book 2, edited by Peter Carver (Red Deer Press, 2006).

By Derek Newman-Stille

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As a researcher who has given papers on Bisclavret, I was excited to read Joanne Findon’s werewolf tale “That Time of the Month. Findon remapped the Medieval tale Le Lai de Bisclavret by Marie de France into her modern werewolf tale. She modifies the werewolf from male (as Bisclavret was in the original tale) to a female character named Lupa. Lupa is a teen in high school who is going through bodily changes, as many teen girls do. Using a teenage female main character, Findon is able to bring attention to the connection between moons and menses, body shame and the pressure for girls to hide their bodies, interactions between ideas of family and independence that are central for teen life, and peer pressures and how they shape choices.

 

“That Time of the Month” preserves many of the powerful narratives that Marie de France captured, illustrating that Le Lai de Bisclavret has the power to extend beyond its Medieval context to speak to the human experience. Bisclavret was a tale that dealt with a man who needed to disappear frequently to assume the shape of the wolf. He did this by removing his clothing and was only able to return to his human form by putting human clothing back on. Bisclavret’s wife becomes jealous of him, seeing his disappearances into the woods as indicative of his disinterest in her. This evokes her jealousy and causes her to make him explain what he does in the woods. When he reveals his secrets, she brings her lover to steal Bisclavret’s clothing and forces him to stay in wolf form. She then begins a relationship with her new lover. Bisclavret proceeds to terrorize towns until he meets a king, who he immediately bows to in human fashion. The king becomes convinced that Bisclavret is more than a wolf, but has something about him that speaks more to courtly behaviour. The king adopts the wolf as a pet and Bisclavret becomes entirely passive until his wife shows up at court, whereupon he bites her nose off. It is this sudden change in behaviour that makes the king suspect that Bisclavret is a man in wolf form and he interrogates Bisclavret’s wife until she reveals the truth. The king is able to restore Bisclavret’s human form by providing him with new clothing.

 

Findon plays with these themes in her reimagining. Bisclavret’s world was one of hierarchy, so it made sense for Findon to situate Lupa’s tale in a high school – the epitome of hierarchy relationships in modernity. Lupa has to cope with social stratification, encountering the popular kids. Clothing is also an essential feature for translating this tale into a modern context. Women in our society both explicitly and implicitly have their clothing choices policed, told what not to wear, threatened when they wear something that patriarchy considers sexually evocative. In the current climate, girls have frequently been sent home because their clothing is “too revealing” and might distract male students. The role of nudity and clothing therefore became essential to Findon’s re-mapping, exploring Lupa’s connection to her own body through her nudity and the transformative power of clothing, which, like Bisclavret, is needed to change Lupa from human into wolf and wolf into human. Where Lupa differs is that she expresses a desire to change permanently into a wolf in her feelings of conflict between her humanity and her animality. “That Time of the Month” also reexamines jealousy, switching from Bisclavret’s jealous wife, to Lupa’s jealous boyfriend (who is illustrating the patriarchal connection between jealousy and ideas of ownership. The topic of secrecy functions so well in the modern high school experience, where one’s secrets can make the difference between social inclusion and social ridicule (particularly when there is a person who has a bodily or cultural difference). I don’t want to give too much of this story away… but noses also feature heavily in Findon’s story.

 

Findon, while creating a completely distinctive and powerful narrative, is able to illustrate the endurance of a medieval tale, and its power to express a distinctly human condition that is open to re-tellings, re-imaginings, and re-mappings.

 

To discover more about The Horrors: Terrifying Tales book two, visit Red Deer press at http://www.reddeerpress.com .