Living Through Fairy Tales

A review of Nathan Frechette’s “Cinderfella” in Whispers Between Fairies (Renaissance, 2020)

Nathan Frechette’s “Cinderfella” is a biotext, a story of Frechette’s own body and transition told through fairy tales. Frechette explores the way that fairy tales have shaped his life, from providing a world away from a harsh outside world when he was young to providing a text of transformation while he was going through his transition.

Frechette illustrates the need for more Trans fairy tales, especially since his tale explores the pain of transformation and the worse pain if he wasn’t able to transform. He reveals “Fairy tales and fantasy were such a safe world for me; tales of transformation in particular gave me hope that someday I could grow into myself, that someday I might find my true body, my selkie skin, that a blue fairy would descend from the skies and make me a real boy”. He explores the idea of a selkie skin, an image he also explored in his story “Skin” in Over the Rainbow (Exile, 2018). A selkie is a creature from Irish and Scottish lore who is a human who wears the skin of a seal. If this skin is stolen, the Selkie becomes under the power of the person who steals that skin and becomes their obedient and powerless partner. This notion of shedding and returning skin is a powerful one for Frechette, allowing for the examination of the way gender, body, and identity are intertwined with social expectation and social control. Frechette uses the image of the selkie to explore his own transition, interweaving this with the image of Pinocchio’s magical transformation by the blue fairy.

However, Frechette also examines the pain and work of transformation. He observes that “Just like a fairy tale, though, everything came at a price. There were trials, and I had to prove my worth, mostly to myself. Just like the little mermaid, I had to sacrifice my voice and endure pain as my transformation got underway. Just like Pinocchio, I had to struggle through the lies I told myself to find my truth and be worthy of change. Just like Cinderella’s prince, I had to see through the appearances and misconceptions of the world to find and embrace my love”. Transformations and transitions both take time and come with barriers and new ways of looking at the world.

“Cinderfella” is a tale of self discovery and the magic of seeing fundamental truths about oneself. Frechette says “There once was a little boy whom no one could see. All who looked upon him could only see the girl he appeared to be. The illusion was so complete that even the boy could not perceive his true nature, only a sense of discord and discomfort with his false skin, and an uncontrollable, unfathomable, and ever-growing rage”. Frechette powerfully describes the pain of dysphoria and the internal conflict inside of himself before he transitioned.

In “Cinderfella”, Nathan Frechette writes his own body through fairy tale, using ideas of transformation from multiple fairy tales to weave them through his own narrative and in some ways his own body. The act of rewriting is a powerful one for Trans authors, a way of articulating one’s own identity where society had originally written a different identity upon our bodies. In “Cinderfella”, Frechette rewrites not only the fairy tale traditions he draws upon, but the texts that have been written over his body in the past and through this weaving of tales, he articulates himself.


To discover more about Nathan Frechette, visit his website at https://nathancarofrechette.ca

To find out more about Whispers Between Fairies, visit https://renaissance-107765.square.site/product/whispers-between-fairies/197?cp=true&sa=false&sbp=false&q=false&category_id=2

Reviewed By Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)

The Golem of Frankenstein

A review of Chadwick Ginther’s “The Enforcer” in Rhonda Parrish’s Earth: Giants, Golems, & Gargoyles (Tyche Books, 2019).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Chadwick Ginther’s “The Enforcer” is part of a collection on the element of Earth by Rhonda Parrish, titled Earth: Giants, Golems & Gargoyles, yet his vision of the earth is unique. He associates the earth with the things that go in it – bodies. “The Enforcer” is a necromantic tale, a story of raising the dead and challenging the barrier between the living and the dead. It’s about things that rise from the earth.

Ginther’s take is a Frankensteinian story, with a character named Frank who happens to be an assemblage of different body parts. Of course, he isn’t the original Dr. Frankenstein’s famous creature, but he, like the classic monster, is made up of parts of dead bodies. Where Dr. Frankenstein reanimated his monster through science, Frank is resurrected through magic performed by a cult. He is made up of parts of the bodies of multiple soldiers. Frank is a creature defined by his parts, defined by memories and thoughts of multiple different soldiers that intrude on his consciousness. He isn’t one thing. He is always a multiplicity. Frank’s body is shaped by pain and he is constantly in pain. Ginther imagines possibilities for a fragmented life filled with pain for his monstrous hero.

This is a narrative of autonomy and control, exploring what it is like to have control over a body that is fundamentally resistant and what it means to unify multiple minds and resist external control.

Ginther imagines Frank in a way that several scholars have done – picturing him as a golem made of flesh rather than of earth (because flesh becomes the earth and is placed in the earth). For those who haven’t encountered the mythology of the Golem, it is a figure from Jewish folklore who takes on a human shape, but is made entirely from mud, clay, or earth. Often the golem is created to work for someone or achieve a task for them. In Frank’s world, golems are creatures made of earth that often have a dead body at the centre of them. They are figures that are brought to life by necromancers. So although Frank is made of flesh, he has something in common with these figures of earth. Frank is also an artificial body made up of matter.

Ginther centres his narrative in Winnipeg, imagining a magical undercurrent to the city and secret clubs and bars only available to the undead. In this strange underbelly to Winnipeg there are constant struggles over who has control over life and death and Frank finds himself trapped in the middle of these struggles, needing to find a way to survive.

To find out more about Earth: Giants, Golems & Gargoyles, visit Tyche Books at http://tychebooks.com/earth-giants-golems-gargoyles

To find out more about Chadwick Ginther, go to https://chadwickginther.com

A review by Derek Newman-Stille, MA, PhD ABD (They/Them)

Loa in Dreamland

Loa in Dreamland
A review of Nalo Hopkinson and Neil Gaiman’s House of Whispers Vol 1: The Power Divided (DC Vertigo, 2019) 

By Derek Newman-Stille

For those of you reading Speculating Canada over the past few years, you have probably noticed that I am a huge fan of Nalo Hopkinson’s work. I’m also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and of comics, so I was extremely excited to find out that the two collaborated on the comic series “House of Whispers vol 1: The Power Divided”, set in the Sandman Universe and to see their voices mingle in an exploration of the potential of that imagined universe. 

Hopkinson and Gaiman have always demonstrated a continuing fascination with border crossing and the implications of the collision of the physical and spiritual world and “House of Whispers” happens at that point of contact when the spiritual realm of the Loa (Afro-Caribbean deities) is partially pulled into the world of dreams and the goddess Erzulie finds herself outside of her space of worship and cut off from the world she knows and her ability to help her worshippers.

At the same time, a spiritual virus is released amongst the human population, making the infected feel as though they are dead, yet alive. Medical practitioners can’t see anything wrong with the infected people, but they are left without feeling or joy or connection to the physical world. Their spirits are sent to the world of dreams and they are left empty, wandering meaninglessly across the world. This virus is spread by words, through a phrase, and this instantly reminds me of the Canadian film Pontypool where a zombie virus is coded in language. It makes me wonder if there is a trend occurring where people are both recognizing the power of language and also questioning what language can do. Hopkinson has always demonstrated a fascination with the power of language in her novels and short fiction, linking words to magic, exploring the way that language shapes us, and playing with the sounds and taste of language. 

The description of the living death that Hopkinson describes not only evokes the idea of the zombie, but also evokes depression. Most of our society looks at depression as a form of sadness, but for those of us who experience clinical depression, we often feel a sense of emptiness, a disconnect, and a hollowness that strongly differentiates depression from sadness. The feelings of the characters in House of Whispers evoked this sense of depression. This depiction is as powerful as it is painful to read. I could feel myself resonating with the sense of loss and pain that the characters were experiencing. Hopkinson’s creative energy wound itself throughout this powerful narrative, giving it life.

As always in her work, Hopkinson highlights diverse bodies and identities. The majority of her characters are BIPOC, which is a fantastic change from the normally excess of white characters in comics. Moreover, her narrative focuses on diverse body sizes and Erzulie, for example, is represented as fat, which is an exciting shift that allows for the recognition that fat is beautiful (especially since Erzulie is the Loa of love, desire, and beauty. Hopkinson also features disabled people and LGBTQ2IA relationships including lesbian couples and nonbinary characters. This is a comic that engages the multiplicity of human experience, and it is so much stronger for that reason. Her characters are highly developed, relatable, and carry so many waiting to be told stories in their every sentence. This is a rich comic that is filled with the potential of narratives yet to come. 

Like most comics, House of Whispers: The Power Divided is a collaborative work, both with other writers such as Gaiman and later with Dan Waters, but also with artist Dominike Stanton, whose artistic talent brings Hopkinson’s words to visual life and adds to the power of the story she tells, particularly by emphasizing bodily diversity and evoking the beauty of the human (and magical) form. Set partially in a dream world, this comic is a form of dreaming given physical form.

To read more about House of Whispers Vol !: The Power Divided, go to https://www.dccomics.com/comics/house-of-whispers-2018/house-of-whispers-1

To find out more about Nalo Hopkinson, go to https://nalohopkinson.com/index.html

No More Magical Cures

No More Magical Cures

A Review of Jamieson Wolf’s “The Descent” in Nothing Without Us edited by Cait Gordon and Talia C. Johnson (Renaissance Press, 2019)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Jamieson Wolf’s “The Descent” explores a trope of disability that is often apparent in fantasy literature – the Magical Cure. Frequently, this trope is used because abled authors can’t imagine the possibility of someone being disabled and still being able to live a happy life, so the author writes away the disability in one pen stroke. The Magical Cure trope isn’t limited to actual magic. It is also used for the instant scientific inventions or the writer has the character conquer their disability with willpower (both incredibly offensive tropes). Wolf takes on this constant representation of the Magical Cure trope by having his narrator  Jefferson deal with magic and his own magical abilities.

Jefferson learns magic to try to gain the ability to get rid of his disability. Instead, he separates his disability into a separate individual, and personifies it under the name Max Shadow. When Jefferson has to descent down a flight of stairs (Jefferson’s real arch nemesis) to an oracle that is supposed to be able to give him the tools to erase his disability, Jefferson ends up not fighting Max Shadow, but instead fights his own internalized ableism that has resulted in his desire for a Magical Cure.

“The Descent” is a powerful story that involves the intersection of disability and queer identity and Wolf is able to weave his story with a bodily experience that is shaped from his own queer, disabled identity. His story is about ideas of desire and desiring, an idea that frequently arises in queer literature, but rarely in Disabled literature, and Wolf is able to examine the critical question of what it means to desire disability – to not just reject it or seek to erase it, but instead to embrace disability.

To find out more about the Magical Cure Trope, check out my Disability Tropes 101 post on Dis(Abled) Embodiment https://disabledembodiment.wordpress.com/2019/10/22/disability-tropes-101-the-magical-cure/

To find out more about Jamieson Wolf, go to https://jamiesonwolf.com

To discover more about Nothing Without Us, visit https://nothingwithoutusanthology.wordpress.com and to buy your own copy, go to Renaissance Press’ website at https://renaissance-107765.square.site/product/nothing-without-us/117?cp=true&sbp=false

In The Shadows of Giants

In The Shadows Of Giants

A review of Liz Westbrook-Trenholm’s “White Rose, Red Thorns” in Over The Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales From The Margins (Exile, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Liz Westbrook-Trenholm intertwines multiple fairy tales in her story “White Rose, Red Thorns” while giving complexity to the characters involved. She tells a tale of a giant’s tiny human caretaker and a young thief named Jack who looks far too much like her former lover, Snow, though with male features instead of female. 

The giant’s caretaker finds herself trapped between the cruel world of giants in the clouds and the cruel world of humanity below, at home in neither space and always having to hide who she is. Westbrook-Trenholm reminds readers that older women often have to hide their power in order to not be considered threatening for having it, and the giant’s caretaker has to use cunning to make herself seem weaker and more insignificant than she is. 

Westbrook-Trenholm tells a tale of loss, mourning, and hiding, but also reveals the hope that can come from letting go of secrets and embracing who you are. “White Rose, Red Thorns” is a beautiful mix of fairy tales, combined in a way that exposes the magical thread that runs through them. 

To discover more about Over The Rainbow, go to https://overtherainbowfairytale.wordpress.com and to get your own copy, visit Exile’s website at https://www.exileeditions.com/shop/over-the-rainbow-folk-and-fairy-tales-from-the-margins/

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

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

Mute Power

Mute Power

A review of Savannah Houston-McIntyre and Andrew Hewitt’s Amya Vol 1 (2014)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Amya Vol 1 is a fantasy tale of mystery and suspense, filled with secrets and magic. It is about two kingdoms on the brink of war and the possibility of the return of a divinity who may be able to save everything. This is a tale of a secret, sacred history that is revealed in pieces.

Houston-McIntyre and Hewitt tell a story of a mute noblewoman who has incredible magical potential, the power to create illusions… but there are hints of something more about her personality. Amya touches the lives of those around her, changing them through her contact, but she begins to draw together a group of adventurers who are interested in supporting her. Though Amya is mute, she is not portrayed as defenceless and she is not someone who is seeking a “cure” for her mutism. She is a complex and powerful character.

Amya vol 1 is a tale of political power plays in a world of change, where there is a fight for half-elf rights, where patsies are set up as regicides, where young noblemen escape from family lands, and where myth and reality intersect in forging a new future.

To discover more about Amya and the creators of the comic Savannah Houston-McIntyre and Andrew Hewitt, visit http://www.amyachronicles.com/about/the-amya-team

First Couple of Rows Might Get Glittered

First Couple of Rows Might Get Glittered.

A review of Buffy The Vampire Slayer the Musical: Once More With Feeling at The Theatre on King in Peterborough, Ontario. Produced by Eryn Lidster, directed by Samantha Mansfield.

By Derek Newman-Stille.

I fell in love with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Once More With Feeling” when I was doing my undergraduate degree. We would gather in the common room and watch Buffy episodes together and the episode Once More With Feeling left us singing for weeks.

I had thought that Buffy was a hallmark of an older generation, so I was extremely excited to see that the Theatre on King brought Buffy right into Peterborough, transforming my town into Sunnydale for a few magical minutes.

When I had first watched “Once More With Feeling” on television, it was aired with an “adult content” warning because of a lesbian kiss, so it was wonderful to see that there was no need for a content warning in the performance at the Theatre on King and there were children in the audience. It is hopeful to see a space where queerness wasn’t censored.

Although presented without the magic of television special effects, the show allowed for some of the magic to be brought close to the audience with glitter, make up, and great performances. The smaller theatre space also allowed for an intimacy with the characters and their experiences that television or even a larger theatre wouldn’t permit. The cast were able to access the power of local theatre and make Buffy’s story their own.

The cast was able to capture the nuances of the original Buffy cast while bringing their own understandings of the characters and their own dynamics to their parts. This was Canadian local theatre at its best and it will leave you singing about demons, witches, and vampire slayers until you burn up with passion and excitement.

To discover more about the Theatre on King, go to http://ttok.ca