Not Grimm… But Grim

A review of White as Milk, Red As Blood: The Forgotten Fairy Tales of Franz Xaver von Schonwerth – a translation of the ‘lost’ fairy tales collected by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth, translated by Canadian scholar Shelley Tanaka and illustrated by Canadian illustrator Willow Dawson.

Through The Twisted Woods

Not Grimm… But Grim

A review of Willow Dawson and Shelley Tanaka’s White as Milk, Red as Blood: The Forgotten Fairy Tales of Franz Xaver von Schonwerth (Alfred A Knopf Canada, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

When I first read the fairy tales recorded by Bavarian folklore collector  Franz Xaver von Schonwerth, the tales seemed whimsically short and light even though many of the tales featured the grim characteristics of fairy tales like abuse, murder, violence, hunger, and torture. This underscores the power of translation and the influence that it has on the way we read folk narratives. Simple things like word choice, tone, or presentation on the page can shift our readings of fairy tales.

When I encountered Willow Dawson and Shelley Tanaka’s White as Milk, Red as Blood: The Forgotten Fairy Tales of Franz Xaver von Schonwerth, my reading of von Schonwerth’s tales changed drastically, and I attribute…

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Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 67: A Discussion of Sandra Kasturi’s The Animal Bridegroom

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I explore the folkloric poetry of Sandra Kasturi’s collection The Animal Bridegroom. I explore Kasturi’s poetic re-imagining of several fairy tales and the power of the spoken word.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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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.

Putting Monsters on the Map

A review of Kate Story’s “Equus” in Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, edited by Dominik Parisien (Exile Editions, 2016)By Derek Newman-Stille


Fairy tale collides with steampunk in Kate Story’s “Equus”, where the past and ideas of futurity collide to create an uncertain present. Story narrates the experiences of Sir Sanford Fleming, an inventor known for proposing standard time zones and for his work on surveying and mapping. He is a historical figure who already brings to the narrative a sense of time and landscape, embodying these symbolic media through his own inventions. For Story, he became the perfect character to adapt to her tale, which is fundamentally one about the way that time plays out on a landscape and the way that maps and standardized time zones seek to standardise and explain a world that resists understanding. 

Story explores the power of the relationship between maps and margins and the idea that the more we try to chart and explore things – the more we attempt to rationalize them – the more the irrational reminds us of its existence. While Sanford Fleming is employing a new machine to survey Canada and establish barriers and territories, he is repeatedly haunted by his own past, the life he led before he came to Canada, and spirits of the world that defy the simple cartography applied to our world. History and ideas of progress come into conflict as characters begin to realise that the spreading of railways and communication technology are binding the land, forever changing it by adding elements of the human to natural landscapes. Fleming is forced to face the question of whether there is a price for progress and whether all change can be defined as progress. 

To discover more about the work of Kate Story, visit her website at http://www.katestory.com
To find out more about Clockwork Canada, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com/singleorders2016/clockwork.html
And Dominik Parisien’s website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/clockwork-canada-anthology

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 49: An Interview with Vincent Marcone

In this Episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I conduct an interview with author/artist Vincent Marcone. Vincent Marcone’s graphic novel “The Lady Paranorma” (ChiZine Publications, 2015). I had a chance to see some of Marcone’s artwork at Fan Expo Canada and wanted to talk to him both about his writing and his artistic work and the integration of art and writing in “The Lady Paranorma”. Marcone and I discuss perspective, art, the power of folklore narratives, the relationship between text and image, the power of darker narratives in folklore, the nature of queer fiction and LGBTQ stories, and challenging cultural assumptions about graphic novels.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below.

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.

You can explore Vincent Marcone’s work at http://www.mypetskeleton.com/ and discover more about his graphic novel “The Lady Paranorma” at http://chizinepub.com/books/lady-paranorma

Depths

A Review of A.E. Van Vogt’s The Silkie
By Derek Newman-Stille

Van Vogt’s creation, the silkie is both human and fundamentally alien, integrating elements of “us” with the “Other”. Possessing senses beyond human understanding -enough to reframe the entire sensory network – the silkie sees the world through different eyes, yet it is forced to take a human mate and live as a human for periods of time. It is at home in the depths of the ocean and in the expanse of space, able to shift its form from an aquatic being, to a human form, to a space-fairing form capable of swimming through the stars, it possesses the ability to move beyond the limits of human exploration, both sets of depths.

The name “silkie” is borrowed from mythology, from the figure of the “selkie”, an entity that is capable of shifting from the form of a seal to a human form. In myth, the selkie is often female and is trapped into a marriage relationship when a male human being takes her seal skin and she forgets her life under the sea and becomes subservient to him. Van Vogt’s silkie is male, forced by genetic manipulation to take a weaker, human state in order to mate with human females on a cycle to ensure that the silkie maintains its allegiance to Earth. Van Vogt plays with the myth, inverting gender and inverting the impulses of the creature. It is still a creature that can occupy a human form, but is capable of travelling into depths that are inaccessible to humans, and it is imbued with the “Otherness” that comes from having a transformative body and that comes from venturing into places of the unknown or unfamiliar.

Van Vogt’s silkie challenges the alien in other forms – alternating between human and alien bodies, it is capable of confronting difference in the form of invading aliens. Although its body is transformative, the silkies of Earth have been made police officers, enforcing the status quo and resisting change. They challenge alien invaders and eliminate them, sometimes incorporating elements of the alien into themselves in order to best them like an undercover police officer confronting the criminal underworld while allowing him or herself to meld with it.

Thanks to James Kerr for lending me this book. This book is currently out of print, but is available through used bookstores and used book retailers.

Interview with Nancy Baker

An Interview with Nancy Baker by Derek Newman-Stille

Author photo courtesy of Nancy Baker

I have been an admirer of Nancy Baker’s work for some time, so I was really glad that she agreed to do an interview on Speculating Canada. Nancy Baker is the author of novels such as The Night Inside, Blood and Crysanthemums, and A Terrible Beauty. I will let her introduce herself and share some of her incredible insights on the vampire, and on horror and fantasy.

Spec Can: To begin the interview, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Nancy Baker: I’m Canadian, older than I like to think about, have a day job in the business end of the magazine publishing field and can find a thousand ways to avoid writing, including reading other people’s writing, gardening, making jam, and attempting to do a headstand.

Spec Can:  What is unique or different about your vampire fiction from that of other authors?

Nancy Baker: At the time I started seriously writing my first novel (the late 1980s, just to date myself more), there was a reasonable diversity of vampire fiction being written, much of it very good.  There were scary vampires (Salem’s Lot), sympathetic vampires (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint Germain) and just plain weird vampires.  What interested me in the first book was what happened if you were an ordinary person who was transformed into a vampire, when becoming a vampire didn’t automatically make you rich, smart, or amoral.  How did you not only survive but have a satisfying existence?  How did you make money? What did you do all night? How did you deal with the choices you had to make?  What was your relationship with your creator like?  If you’re an old vampire, how do you adapt to a world which changes far faster than the one into which you were born? To me, these were interesting questions to explore, which shaped the type of vampires I created.

Spec Can: Is there a “Canadian vampire”, a particular style of vampire that speaks to a Canadian audience or from a Canadian perspective?

Nancy Baker: One reviewer called my characters “kinder, gentler vampires”, which strikes me as very Canadian.  I certainly felt that you could not have the kind of violent, predatory vampires in Toronto that seemed common in U.S. vampire fiction – though one New York writer I shared a radio panel with seemed appalled at the idea that I assumed you could leave dead bodies all over Manhattan and no one would care.  However, I don’t think there’s any particular type of Canadian vampire.  Mine might be “kinder and gentler” but those are the last words you’d use to describe the vampire in Michael Rowe’s Enter, Night. One of the interesting things about that book is that the demons that must be confronted are deeply rooted in the book’s Northern Ontario setting and in a part of Canadian history we’re conditioned to think of as something boring to study in public school.  The evocation of nature as a shaping, often inimical,  force is one of the things that is considered traditionally “Canadian” and it works brilliantly in that book.

Spec Can: Why is the vampire such a popular figure at the moment?

Nancy Baker: Vampires never seem to be out of style, though how hot they are at any given time depends on what books and films are popular.   I think that reflects the flexibility of the mythology, which can be scary, seductive, funny, or tragic.

Spec Can: How does the vampire ‘speak’ to today’s audience? What inspires us about the vampire and what social issues can the vampire express?

Nancy Baker: Vampire fiction has been used to look at issues of addiction, oppression, disease, predation, and sexuality.  It’s also been used just to scare the hell out of us.  Every new generation of readers and writers has the advantage of looking at what came before (from the classics such as Carmilla and Dracula to Salem’s Lot and Interview with the Vampire to Twilight and The Passage) and reacting to it, either by emulating it or turning it on its head.  There’s probably a great social media vampire novel waiting to be written.

Spec Can: How does the vampire relate to our obsession over beauty and youth?

Nancy Baker: As the poster for The Lost Boyssaid “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a

Cover photo of A Terrible Beauty courtesy of Nancy Baker

vampire.”   The idea of eternal youth and beauty is an ancient one, from Greek mythology to The Picture of Dorian Grey to our own culture’s reliance on surgical intervention.   It was important to me in A Terrible Beauty that Sidonie’s beauty was not human beauty and that when she transforms in the end it is not into a flawless teenager but into a woman with the marks of her long existence on her.  The peril of perpetual youth is, of course, that you never actually grow up, and that does seem to be particularly common with vampire characters.  One of the great strengths of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s series is that St. Germain is an adult and, over the course of the books, you can see him gain his hard-won wisdom and self-knowledge.

Spec Can: What can the monster in literature do to inspire us or challenge us?

Nancy Baker: At its best, horror and fantastic literature can show us the darkness that humans are capable of and to reveal that the reader shares that potential.  It can also show us that the “other” is sometimes as deserving of compassion as we hope that we are.

Spec Can: Why is the vampire so often paired with the sexual or with romantic questions?

Nancy Baker: Entire treatises have been written on this subject so I’ll just touch on a couple of points that interested me.  There’s the obvious sex without consequence element – no choice therefore no guilt and, practically, no pregnancy.  For more traditional vampire fiction, the eroticism is all about foreplay and anticipation, which has an appeal for female readers.  It’s also lots of fun to write.  Most vampire novels that I’d read focused on the romantic/sexual prelude but very few seemed to deal with the fact that vampires end up turning their partners into themselves, and therefore the same relationship is no longer possible.  What is fidelity to a vampire?  These were some of things I wanted to play around with in Blood and Chrysanthemums, through the evolving relationship between Ardeth and Rozokov.

Spec Can: What is the role of the outsider in your work? Why do social outsiders make such great stories?

Nancy Baker: I’ve always thought that my vampire novels were actually quite conventional, by the standards of many of the other books in the genre.  The “outsider” status of the characters is mostly self-imposed or psychological. Ardeth [from The Night Inside and Blood and Crysanthemums] is not really an outsider, though she perceives herself as one, because she’s an introverted grad student.  When she becomes a vampire, she doesn’t feel “cool” enough to fit into the Goth scene that emulates the thing she really is. Matthew in A Terrible Beauty lives a self-consciously Bohemian existence but he always has the safety net of his family.

This was a conscious choice on my part, because I was tired of reading about cooler than cool punk vampires and the general

Cover photo of The Night Inside courtesy of Nancy Baker

assumption that becoming a vampire automatically made you sexually transgressive and adventurous right away.  Ardeth was a conventional heterosexual woman as a mortal and she’s a relatively conventional heterosexual as a vampire.  Of course, she’s a very young vampire, so her horizons will undoubtedly broaden as time passes.

Even Rozokov [from The Night Inside and Blood and Crysanthemums] and Sidonie [from A Terrible Beauty] are actually fairly sedate, as vampires go, mostly because they’ve had time to get their wilder desires out of their systems centuries earlier.  By the time of the novels, they’ve settled into being essentially who they are.  Their challenge is to continue to find a reason to exist, to be more than simply predators who must keep consuming or die.

Spec Can: Your novel A Terrible Beauty features an artist who eventually paints a vampire. The image of mirroring, reflecting, and representation seem to figure very significantly in this story. What is the role of reflection in your work? How does the vampire challenge us to reflect on things that we take for granted?

Nancy Baker: In all the books, I was interested in the gap between the popular image of the vampire and the reality that the characters were living.  Ardeth’s recreation of herself as a vampire is unavoidably shaped by Goth, by Dracula, by Louise Brooks, by a thousand media images she’s seen and associated with seduction and vampirism.  Without Rozokov to teach her how to be a vampire, she goes by the only guides she has – movies and books. In Blood and Chrysanthemums, Fujiwara filters all his real experiences as a vampire through the literary conventions and popular culture of many eras.   This was partially because that was the only way I could handle a thousand years of Japanese history but it worked very well for his character.  In the absence of any folklore to name him, he has to use the ghost stories and mythology of his world to construct a definition of what he is.  It also conveniently cast his truth as fiction, should his diary be exposed.

The art in A Terrible Beauty was based primarily on fin-de-siecle painting and was heavily influenced by the book Idols of Perversity, which deals with the ways in which women were defined through art in the 19th century.  Painting is Matthew’s method of dealing with his captivity and exploring his reactions to Sidonie.  Sidonie has not seen her own face for thousands of years and takes his representations for the truth though, ironically, they’re not.

Spec Can: Captivity features very strongly in your novels The Night Inside and A Terrible Beauty. What is the significance of captivity in your work?

Nancy Baker: I’m not sure there’s any specific significance.  The Night Inside grew out of a short story idea.  Interestingly, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine begins with almost exactly the same scenario in a completely different context and I love what she did with it.  The situation in A Terrible Beauty was driven by the source fairy tale.  I think in both cases the captivity gave me a way to force the characters to confront each other in a situation that required them to move beyond their preconceptions.

Spec Can: What do you hope your readers will take away from your stories? How do you hope your stories will change or inspire them?

Nancy Baker: I hope that readers find something of value to them in the stories – a character they like, a phrase that resonates.   I suppose the biggest compliment for a writer is that a reader wants to read your next book as well – or your old ones again.  I’m also thrilled if someone says that one of the books made them want to try writing something of their own.

Spec Can: Is there anything further you were interested in mentioning to our readers, anything I haven’t covered?

Nancy Baker: Thanks for all the interesting questions.  It was a pleasure to think about these things, since when you’re in the throes of writing, many of these things happen organically and it’s not until someone points them out to you that you realize you’ve done them.

I want to thank Nancy Baker for this fantastic interview. Much like her books, this interview shows her extensive knowledge of the vampire subject and her passion for providing new insights about vampire fiction and its relationship to society and I was pleased to be able to interview her and share these insights with readers.

You can explore more of Nancy Baker’s work at http://www.nancybaker.ca/ .

UnBuried, UnSettled, and UnEarthed

A review of UnEarthed: The Speculative Elements Series Volume 3 Edited by Sherry Ramsey, Julie Serroul, and Nancy Waldman (Third Person Press, Cape Breton, 2012).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Photo of UnEarthed Courtesy of Third Person Press

Once again Third Person Press has illustrated the incredible speculative work of Cape Breton authors with the third instalment of their Speculative Elements Series: UnEarthed. This volume, focussed on the element of earth, demonstrates the diversity of speculative stories that can originate from something as simple as the theme of “Earth”. Stories in this volume range from horror, to science fiction, to fantasy, and all of the genre-crossing points between them. Earth in this volume are related to themes of life and death, the hidden, buried things that resurface, notions of home and diaspora, and the general unsettling that can occur when the foundations of the world we live in are shaken, making Earth a ubiquitous symbol for exploring ideas of selfhood and our relationship to the world around us. Although speculative in format, these stories explore classic Canadian themes such as the unearthing of family secrets, unearthing hidden social issues, and unearthing buried memories.

The Earth theme serves as a great platform for the classic speculative quality of questioning the hidden aspects of the world around us, and encompasses the horror element of turning the normative, the predictable, the familiar into an unpredictable quality, an unsettling of the norms around us. The stories in this volume range from stories that feature alien mud worlds, spirits of the landscape, zombies crawling from their earthen graves to question ideas of conformity, threats from and to the natural world, buried memories, things hidden beneath the earth, social issues that are buried to make society seem more civilised, the animal buried beneath the surface of human civility, the haunting nature of the past, and notions of home made unfamiliar or violated.

This volume explores different forms of knowledge and many of the stories contained within it explore the idea that folklore and story-telling is itself a valid system of knowledge. This is made all the more clear based on the quality of the stories contained in this volume and the ability for these story-tellers to evoke new thoughts and ideas in the reader, unsettling the taken-for-granted notions that they have built around them.  UnEarthed illustrates the pedagogical value of story-telling, reminding readers that stories are told to educate and teach the reader that nothing is as it seams and that everything should be questioned, uncovered, and unburied.

After reading this book you will never look at things as normal as grass, mud, herbs,  or even your own home the same way again. Prepare to have all of your hidden thoughts, worries, and questions unearthed.

You can discover more about UnEarthed and the Speculative Elements Series at Third Person Press’ website: http://www.thirdpersonpress.com/ . You can also find a review of one of the short stories in this volume on Speculating Canada posted on September 10th.