Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 25: A Discussion of Helen Marshall’s Work

In this episode, I focus on the work of author Helen Marshall. Helen wasn’t able to make it in to the studio for an interview, but I enjoy her work so much that I felt it needed a show of its own. Helen Marshall is the author of “Hair Side, Flesh Side”, “The Sex Lives of Monsters”, and “Gifts for the One Who Comes After”. She is a brilliant short fiction author whose work always evokes a sense of wonder in me and leaves me thinking about her stories for hours afterward.

As listeners who have been following my show know well, I often talk about the under-representation of short fiction in reviews, so I bring attention to some of the ideas, thoughts, and speculations from Helen Marshall’s short fiction in this discussion.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

 

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

A Love Letter to Story-telling

A Review of Helen Marshall’s Gifts for the One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Helen Marshall’s “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” is her love letter to storytelling. Marshall examines the way that we are shaped by the tales we tell ourselves and the stories that are told about us. She reminds the reader that we are made up as much of stories as we are of matter, and that they shape the way we think about ourselves and those who are around us.

Marshall’s exploration of stories is not a fairytale lens of joy, but rather an exploration of the potential for tales themselves to capture a quality of the grotesque, the terrifying horror that we can be shaped by words and ideas outside of ourselves. From capturing the horrifying perceptions of children, the dark, strange worlds they carry around in their heads to exploring the shifts that occur between our expectations of a story and their reality, “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” is a text of mythical magic, but not the easy, happy, uncomplicated myths of modernity, but the dark, deep, blood-soaked myths of the past. Her tales are not made to reassure, but to challenge our perceptions, to push the reader into those places where we try to bury our stories.

Marshall focuses on children and the elderly, the people with most associate with either being shaped by tales or shaping us by telling tales to us. She examines the idea that the bonds between us are made of strings of words and occasionally these strings tighten around us like a noose. “Gifts” looks at the innocent games of youth and illustrates the nightmarish content of them from children prophesizing in the woods by bringing themselves close to death, to the dark undertone in the desire for magic, to the horrifying imagination of children, to the desire to stand out and be considered important. It looks at the aged in their desire for immortality by sharing stories, keeping memory alive, resisting forgetting and loss, the connection to tradition, and through the assumptions we create about the elderly.

Stories are the methods used to imagine the future, reflect on the past, and explore the hidden corners of the present. Exploring the dark potential of the future through omens, dreams, and prophesy, the past through memory and collective tales, and the present through gossip and rumour, Marshall highlights the potential for stories to create a morae-like thread through time, weaving possibilities together in a nighmarish tangle of possibility.

To read reviews of some of the short stories from this collection, visit:

http://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/11/26/the-horror-of-childhood-logic/

http://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/11/14/spin-the-bottle-with-death/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/witching-perceptions/

To read more about Helen Marshall’s work, visit her website at http://helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about Gifts for the One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/gifts-for-the-one-who-comes-after

Witching Perceptions

A Review of Helen Marshall’s “Secondhand Magic” in “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Childhood and the desire for magic are something that we have constructed as intertwined in our Disneyfied society, seeing magic as a manifestation of imagination which we relegate almost exclusively to the realm of children and a few eccentric artists. Yet, Marshall illustrates her ability to play with her reader’s perceptions in “Secondhand Magic”, a tale at first illustrating the vulnerability of youth and the threat of elderly single women… the traditional expected folkloric tale. Sayer, a child with a stutter who just wanted to perform magic steals a hat from an older neighbour’s snowman, and when she comes looking for him, she pulls the hat over him, consuming him and leaving the community in mourning. The tale constructs for us an easy view of vulnerability and exploitation, creating youth as a categorical innocence, a figure to be protected. Fortunately, Marshall shifts this expectation.

The typical caricature of the witch in this narrative is uncontrollably drawn to take the actions to remove Sayer from the world, yet the boy resists any of her attempts to return him. His desire for magic creates a predatory, vampiric quality in the boy, viewing witches as sustenance for his quest for otherworldly power. Marshall inverts the expected fairy tale narrative of youthful innocence threatened by the presence of independent femininity and instead reveals the threat of a child who imagines the possibility of their own power and is willing to feed on powerful women to sustain his perception that he is entitled to power and ability without those being tempered by wisdom and the slow acquisition of skills.

To read more about Helen Marshall’s work, visit her website at http://helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about Gifts for the One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/gifts-for-the-one-who-comes-after

Mute Ghost in a World of Words

A review of S.M. Beiko’s The Lake and the Library (ECW Press, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo for The Lake and the Library courtesy of ECW press

Cover Photo for The Lake and the Library courtesy of ECW press

S.M. Beiko’s The Lake and the Library is nominally a story about growing up, and the feeling of nostalgia for things lost and things changing. It is about the discovery of a library filled with books that are gateways to fantastic worlds, pages that become birds, clouds, and wings to lift her to new highs of fantasy. The library is a shifting space, becoming other worlds as walls are expanded by the great breadth of adventure and fantasy within the covers of the books it houses, literally shifting to become fantastic spaces from beloved classics. And the library holds a boy, unable to speak aloud, but able to speak volumes in the universal language of fantasy with Ash as his co-creator of worlds of adventure.

The first part of the novel evokes the highs of an escape, new experiences, exiting distortions of reality, and only in the latter half of the novel does it become clear that this is an addict’s tale. Ash begins to experience the dangers and draws of being in a continual state of escape. Reality begins to wear thin for her and she begins to distance herself from anyone who doesn’t enable her habit, anyone who pulls her back to reality. Friends, family, all begin to be sacrificed to her need, her desire to get away from herself, her world, and all that feels too mundane, too real to matter.

The world outside of the library begins to shift, become unstable for Ash, losing its substance as something grows within her, thorns that tear into her skin, holding her, consuming her from the inside and pulling her back to the library. Fantasy begins to eat into reality, making the real a pale and lifeless substitute for the highs of the fantastic. And when reality gets to be too much, a sound like rushing water surges through her, enveloping her in its wash of abstraction, removing her from a world that seems too harsh, too sharp, too real for her to touch. The water cushions her while it draws her deeper, washing away signification and everything that made her who she was.

The library is haunted by memory, nostalgia, the dreams of things lost and forgotten, and yet it has power, a deep hold like thorns in the veins of those who seek to escape, those willing to uproot themselves and lose the ground that feels like it is only holding them in place.

Libraries are beautiful places, deep places, charged with a depth made of the weight of tales, and this depth can both add to one’s story, but can also consume and obscure one’s story. Ash finds herself suspended in a depth of tales that renders her as a drop in a lake, her story washed away by the weight of other worlds more alluring to her than her own life.

To find out more about the work of S.M. Beiko, visit her website at http://www.smbeiko.com/ .

To read more about The Lake and the Library, visit ECW’s website at https://www.ecwpress.com/lake

 

 

 

 

RagnaROCKING Manitoba: The Road to Hel

A review of Chadwick Ginther’s Tombstone Blues (RavenStone, 2013).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of Tombstone Blues courtesy of RavenStone books

Cover Photo of Tombstone Blues courtesy of RavenStone books

This second book in the Thunder Road trilogy takes a turn toward the dark. The dead have risen, and Thor, who has been sitting in Hel since Ragnarok… has become dark and twisted by years of post-mortem torture.

When Thor encounters Ted Callan, the first thing he notices is that Ted has been tattooed with Norse artifacts… including Thor’s own hammer Mjolnir…. and he wants it back. Ted has become used to the powers that were granted to him by his Norse tattoos, so, when Thor rips Mjolnir from Ted’s body, he has to adapt to the changes in his body, finding new ways to cope with the magical and mythical world that continues to surround him and finding new ways to deal with the dead who have risen guided by a dark Thor and twisted Valkyries.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the same can be said with the role to Hel, the Norse goddess of death (and the name for her hall and her realm). All of Ted’s acts of heroism, his attempts to save the world have only made it more vulnerable. The wall that Odin placed around Midgard (Earth) to keep otherworldly beings out only allows these beings to influence those who have already been touched in some way by the otherworldly. Unfortunately, that means that every one of Ted’s heroic acts has created a potential victim, marking them for transgression by mythic and magical beings. In his attempts to protect his fellow humans, Ted has unintentionally weakened the barrier around Midgard, and the supernatural is getting closer. His good intentions paved a road for Hel to Earth and as the fog and mists of Nifleheim, the hellish realm between, roll out across the Earth, nightmares are able to visit a human race no longer prepared for the otherworldly, lost in the technocracy we have created.

The Dwarven tattoos carved into his body gave Ted the ability to walk on air, super strength, near invulnerability, power over the weather… and all of this has given him a hero complex, a belief in his ability to solve problems through brute force. But, despite the whisperings of Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn, which should grant him wisdom, Ted is only given information rather than wisdom. Power without knowledge and thoughts about consequences is a feature of many of the heroes our society manufactures, but in Tombstone Blues, Chadwick Ginther forces Ted to face responsibility for his acts, to question and debate his belief in his own moral rightness and question what may happen if he makes the wrong choice. Ted realises that he is only part of a greater world which can be changed by his actions, and not always in the positive way that he intends. A man of action, Ted is forced to reassess those actions, to stop, pause, and speculate about what he is doing and why.

Ted’s own bodily vulnerability, brought on by Thor’s act of ripping Mjolnir from his body allows him to think of wider vulnerabilities in the world, changes and dangers that may be too large for one person’s heroism to change. Like himself, the world has become wounded, and instead of blood, it is leaking the mists of Nifleheim, a fluid that is no less deadly.

To read more about Chadwick Ginther’s work, visit his website at http://chadwickginther.com/ .

To discover more about Tombstone Blues, visit RavenStone’s website at http://www.ravenstonebooks.com/spec-fic/tombstone-blues.html .

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 24: An Interview with Jay Odjick and Discussion About Kagagi

In this episode, I discuss Jay Odjick’s Kagagi and then air an interview that I conducted with Jay Odjick at Can Con. Jay is the creator of Kagagi, a comic book that has recently been made into a television show for APTN (The Aboriginal People’s Television Network). In my discussion of Kagagi, I explore the representation of aboriginal peoples in past comics, particularly those written by non-aboriginals and the stereotypical portrayal of aboriginal peoples in popular comics. I contrast this with Jay Odjick’s Kagagi, an aboriginal superhero written by an aboriginal person and focus on the depth of character portrayed in Kagagi. I conduct a short analysis of the artistic style of the comic and compare it to other comics and other artistic styles.

In our interview, Jay Odjick and I talk about the origins of Kagagi, the history of the legends that shaped the idea of this superhero, trickster figures, aboriginal justice, comparisons between superhero figures, zombies, the horror aesthetics of the comic, and so much more.

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Remember to check out the Kagagi website at http://kagagi.squarespace.com/ and A Tribe Called Red’s website at http://atribecalledred.com/. They are the brilliant and amazing folks who did the theme song for the Kagagi television show.

Ectoplasmopocalypse

A review of Orrin Grey’s “Persistence of Vision” in Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post Apocalypse (Exile Editions, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of Fractured courtesy of Exile Editions

Cover photo of Fractured courtesy of Exile Editions

Shaped by movie imagery with comparisons of the events of the story to a Hollywood film, Orrin Grey’s Persistence of Vision uses the unreality of film to contribute to the notion of an apocalypse that no one believes in. The notion of the end is difficult for anyone to conceive of, but Grey’s characters are especially confused because their end comes from the spectral presences of the past. People begin dying under odd inexplicable circumstances – pursued by shadows, picked up by spectral hands, scared to death.

After a scientific experiment with an old computer that was discovered beneath an asylum, the undead return to the earth… but not the expected undead that we have seen in post-apocalyptic survival film after survival film… instead Grey brings us a return not of the body but of the essence, a return of ghosts to the mortal realm. The world becomes crowded with the haunted presences of our past, the dead returned to wreck spectral violence on the living.

Grey creates an undead apocalypse far more frightening than the zombie apocalypse because these undead beings aren’t corporeal, their bodies can’t be destroyed. They are lingering presences that demand our attention by bringing us into their world.

Rather than a story of triumphant survivors challenging the odds and making a new world, Grey asks readers what sort of person would want to live in a post-apocalyptic world, particularly one where all one can do is hide, wait, and just survive. Although ghosts have returned from the otherworld, it is the living human population who are in limbo. They are the ones who wait in a meaningless stretch of time.

To find out more about the work of Orrin Grey, visit http://orringrey.com/

To find out more about Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post Apocalypse, visit Exile Editions’ website at http://www.exileeditions.com/