Retail is Hell

Retail is Hell

A review of Elizabeth Twist’s “Prodigious” in Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus (World Weaver Press, 2014)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Retail is Hell… and it gets way more hellish around the holidays. The blaring of jolly music is only beat out by the screaming of customers who want what they want right away and the sound of cash registers. Elizabeth Twist has set her tale “Prodigious” in a toy store around Christmas time to tell the story of Krampus… a figure from Austrian Yule traditions whose whole job is to punish children who are naughty so that Saint Nicholas can reward the ones who are good. Krampus is portrayed as a demon with a long tongue, horns, and fur, holding a set of twigs that he uses to lash bad children with. In some tales he throws those naughty children into a bag and bring them down to hell.

He is the figure that I’m sure a lot of retail workers wish would be around to deal with naughty customers and Elizabeth Twist plays with this idea, having store employees play Krampus each year for the holiday party as a break from the artificiality of the canned Christmas music and ho ho hos of fake Santa Claus figures. Who wouldn’t want to play Krampus after having to deal with the Christmas rush every working day.

Twist’s “Prodigious” plays with traditional holiday narratives, subverting them into a retail revenge tale with occult undertones and even a love story because a Christmas demon may want some snuggles.

To find out more about Krampusnacht: Twelve Nights of Krampus, visit https://www.worldweaverpress.com/store/p66/Krampusnacht_%28ebook%29.html

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No Longer Isolated

No Longer Isolated

A review of Robert Dawson’s “Iron Jenny and the Princess” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile Editions, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Fairy tales have a propensity toward a “happily ever after” that results in a heterosexual marriage… yet that excludes a lot of people and suggests that only straight identities can be happy identities. Robert Dawson’s “Iron Jenny and the Princess” presents readers with a princess, Topaz, who has never had a desire to marry and whose mother tells her that she will either wed or be put in jail. Dawson explores the collision of duty and personal desire, of family and freedom examining the systems of controls placed on princesses.

Topaz is a princess who has always been different, always looked at as rough and gruff, yet when she is on her own, she is able to sing and be herself and to express more of herself than she can to others. It is in seeking isolation in her kingdom’s labyrinth that Topaz finally meets someone she can relate to: Iron Jenny, a woman made of iron.

As occurs in many fairy tales, Topaz has to prove herself to be worthy of marrying a prince by completing multiple tasks… and all of these tasks are related to her perceived eventual domestic role. Yet, Dawson writes a character who challenges assumptions about women’s work and about a princess’ role, offering a tale that disrupts heterosexual patriarchal ideas and presents characters with more nuance, complicating the idea of the “happily ever after” and a woman’s role in that traditional fairy tale ending.

To find out more about Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins, visit http://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com and check out Exile Editions’ website at https://www.exileeditions.com

These Beans Lost Jack

These Beans Lost Jack

A review of Ace Jordyn’s “The Story of the Three Magic Beans” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile Editions, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Do magic beans ever get tired of granting wishes? Do they ever get frustrated with having to fulfill everyone else’s dreams instead of their own? Do they ever crave a normal life without all of that magic where they can just soak up some water, nest in the soil, and get warm in the sun? Ace Jordyn’s “The Story of the Three Magic Beans” answers those questions with a resounding “YES!”. Where Rati Mehrotra’s story took readers into the animal world, Ace Jordyn’s tale brings us into the vegetative world.

Plants and plant products play an important role in fairy tales. They are often catalysts for change and transformation, but they don’t often get the credit they deserve. After all, who would Cinderella be without her pumpkin carriage? Who would Snow White be without the poisoned apple? Who would Jack be without his Beanstalk? Plants are figures of change, which may be why they appear as objects of transformation in fairy tales. They change from seeds, dropping roots into the ground and sending shoots of green up into the air where they feed on sunlight. They change with the seasons, sprouting leaves, bringing them to flower and bloom and sometimes to produce fruit and then letting those leaves change colour, dropping them to decay and becoming bare branches or retreating into the ground in a bulb. The vegetative world winds tendrils through our fairy tales, but often gets ignored. Ace Jordyn centralizes beans – transforming them from passive objects and foods into characters with agency, desires, and figures who go through their own transformations.

The beans of Ace Jordyn’s story not only question ideas about the passivity of plants in fairy tales, they also challenge limited ideas of family by exploring different family structures and ideas for raising young (seedlings). The beans go through their own adventures seeking a place to call home and a sense of belonging while also battling to keep themselves from being eaten, meeting other vegetables, and finding their way through a complicated world.

To find out more about Ace Jordyn, visit http://acejordyn.com

To discover more about Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins, visit https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com and visit Exile Editions at https://www.exileeditions.com

A Fable About Overcoming The Odds

A Fable About Overcoming the Odds

A review of Rati Mehrotra’s “The Half Courage Hare” in Over The Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile Editions, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Animals offer a fascinating element to folklore and fairy tales, often grouped into their own category of “animal tales”. These tales often use animals as symbolic representations of human characteristics, hyper-accentuating these characteristics. The animals are anthropomorphised (given human characteristics like speech, human cultural customs, and human behaviours) as part of this rendering of animals into the symbolic realm to speak about human experience. From Aesop’s fables to medieval bestiaries to the plethora of cartoon animal stories, we have been fascinated by our relationship with the animal world and with our belief that animals can reveal something about us and our experiences.

Fables are a form of folk tales that uses animals to convey lessons to people about how to operate in the world. One of the most popular fables is the Tortoise and the Hare, a tale that originated in Aesop’s Fables and conveys the lesson “slow and steady wins the race”. It is a common type of folk tale that explores power structures by illustrating two opponents of differing power (one who is believed to be much more suited to the task at hand, and one who seems underpowered) and by reversing the audience’s expectations about who will succeed and who fail at the task.

Rati Mehrotra’s “The Half Courage Hare” tells a tale many generations of rabbits after the initial contest, exploring a family of rabbits who have lost everything. Mehrotra mixes otherworldly entities into this classic fable who have stakes in the race, providing a potential sanctuary for the all-to-vulnerable animals who are trying to live out their lives close to a farm with a human farmer who likes to hunt.

“The Half Courage Hare” is a tale of the vulnerability of rabbits and the potential of the vulnerable to resist oppression and find new ways of rallying through community.

To find out more about Rati Mehrotra, visit https://ratiwrites.com

To discover more about Over The Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales From The Margins, visit https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com and visit Exile’s website at https://www.exileeditions.com

Not Malfunctioning

Not Malfunctioning

A review of Fiona Patton’s “I Am Not Broken” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (Exile, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In our ableist society, disability is treated as a flaw, as a malfunction. In “I Am Not Broken”, Fiona Patton explores the problematic assumptions about disability by abstracting the image of malfunctioning onto a robot who has been deemed to be malfunctional and is preparing for disassembly. By making this parallel, Patton explores the way that our society assumes that disabled people are “broken” and not capable of fulfilling a social role. Patton critiques ideas of bodily conformity by pointing out production lines and challenges ideas of standardized testing by pointing out that it can’t encompass the complexity of individual value. Her tale is a challenge to power structures that try to force a singular normative system and fail to recognize the power of complexity.

Although using a robot for her tale, Patton’s tale is wholly folkloric. She evokes the feel and experience of folklore by using repeated phrases and a cyclical story structure. As much as this is a story about a robot’s transformations and learning about themself, it is also a tale of animals and the teachings that they impart on a wayward traveller.

Patton breaks the bounds of simple definitions of folklore or fairy tales by brining her story into the galactic realm and teasing her story out with science fictional elements.

Patton opens up the potential for empowerment through diversity and of power through communal activities and working together toward resolutions that work for a wider number of people. “I Am Not Broken” is a story of resistance and reflection that invites the reader to expand their understanding.

To discover more about Fiona Patton, visit http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?796

To find out more about Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins, visit https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com and Exile Editions at https://www.exileeditions.com

Skin Deep

Skin Deep

A review of Nathan Caro Frechette’s “Skin” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins (2018, Exile)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Selkies are creatures from Scottish folklore (but also noted in the Orkneys and Shetlands) who are capable of transforming from seal to human by shedding their skin. In many selkie tales, female selkies are stolen from their watery home when a man steals their seal skin and then keeps the skin hidden away, forcing his new selkie bride to do his bidding. These are generally coercive tales where women (or their children) have to escape from the control of the skin thief by finding out where the skin is hidden and stealing it back to disappear into the ocean.

Nathan Caro Frechette reshapes the selkie mythos in his story “Skin”, which plays with the idea of skin and identity, turning the tale into a Trans story of self discovery and resistance. Frechette keeps the coercive element of the tale, but instead abstracts it onto the protagonist’s mother, bringing attention to the way that parents of Trans kids frequently try to control their children’s identities and prevent them from expressing their gender identity.

Using the figure of the Selkie, Frechette examines the way that Trans people are often cut off from the history and culture of other Trans people, exploring the idea that the abundance of cis-gendered (non-Trans) culture and the lack of representation of Trans culture has an impact on Trans youth, particularly as they search for a connection to others in their community.

Frechette, himself a Trans man, examines features of Trans identity through Ron that cis-gendered writers would not have the experiential knowledge of. Frechette examines what it is like to explore the world as a Trans person and examine the oppressions (whether intentional or unintentional) a Trans person experiences through things like misgendering, dead-naming, and erasure. Frechette is able to bring his real world experience of chest binding and feelings about bodily identity into the character. But this is not just a tale of gender dysphoria – Frechette examines the gender euphoria that comes when someone genders us by using our pronouns and names and accepts us for who we are.

“Skin” is a powerful story that tells a Trans tale of transformation and examines the power of folklore and fairy tales for expressing identities that have been traditionally underrepresented. Frechette writes his story to speak to a Trans audience, which is powerful since many people write Trans stories with a cis-gendered audience in mind and he proves that tales don’t need to be written for a cis-gendered audience to speak to a wider public because this tale is a tale that can speak to anyone who has examined their identity.

To discover more about Nathan Caro Frechette, check out his page at https://nathancarofrechette.ca

To discover more about Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins, go to https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com or check out Exile publishing at https://www.exileeditions.com

Yule Witchcraft

Yule Witchcraft

A review of Ami McKay’s Half Spent Was the Night (Alfred A Knopf, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

There’s magic in the air this holiday season, and with it a lot of witches and the Wild Hunt. In Ami McKay’s Half Spent Was the Night, readers are plunged into mystery surrounding the Yule season. It is a tale of three witches and the secrets and lies that surround them and a reminder that nothing stays buried or hidden for long. Half Spent Was The Night is a tale of unwrappings and new discoveries filled with occult potentials, yet, like many holiday stories, it is also a tale of family. In this case, it is a tale of found family – of the community surrounding three witches and their familiar.

Including recipes, poetry, spells, bits of folklore, and oh so much magic, Half Spent Was the Night isn’t only a tale, it is a grimoire of Yule magic and lore.

To discover more about Ami McKay, visit http://amimckay.com

To find our more about Half Spent Was the Night, visit https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/579980/half-spent-was-the-night-by-ami-mckay/9780735275669