A review of Kim McDougall’s Dragons Don’t Eat Meat (Wrong Tree Press, 2020) By Derek Newman-Stille
Part Valkyrie and part Dryad, Kyra Greene walks between worlds. She’s cut off from her Norse roots and has no connection with dryads, and perhaps this allows her to connect to other outsiders and others who are looking for homes. Kyra works in the magical creatures removal business, but most of the creatures she removes end up living with her in the menagerie that is her apartment.
Kim McDougall’s Dragons Don’t Eat Meat takes place in a post apocalyptic future where human beings damaged the Earth so much that she brought back magic and now most of the world is covered in spaces of magic that are dangerous to human beings. Cities like Montreal have created their own wards to keep chaotic magic and dangerous creatures out, but this is still a dangerous world and Kyra does a dangerous job dealing with magical creatures.
Kyra’s care for magical creatures is what brings her first into contact with dragons, who she had thought were mythical. When she sees poachers abusing and transporting dragons, she, as a compassionate person, needs to intervene, but her good intentions lead her into betrayal, new friendships, and a battle that could end the city of Montreal.
A review of Lydia M Hawke’s Becoming Crone (Michem Publishing, 2021). By Derek Newman-Stille
We hear popular, ageist phrases like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, and “past your prime”. In our society, ageing is presumed to be a process of decline, an increase in loss, and not a time of growth or learning. Yet, of course learning never ends and there are always new and exciting moments of growth and change throughout our lives. Becoming Crone is a revolutionary urban fantasy story because it presents ageing as a time of growth and not decline.
Lydia M Hawke’s Becoming Crone is a coming of age story that reminds us that coming of age is continually happening throughout our lives. Claire has just turned 60. It’s been a year since her divorce and she is expected to define herself exclusively as a grandmother. Her child and in-laws are constantly worried about her health and assuming that she is on the verge of decline. Yet something new is arising in her, a truth that she has denied while she has been complacent in her role of mother and grandmother. She has been seeing crows near her house and messages are arriving for her. She is about to undergo a massive change in lifestyle and begin a new set of learnings. She’s been chosen to be a Crone, a powerful priestess of the Goddess Morrigan. Nothing makes sense for her any more… and yet, in a way, everything makes sense. Suddenly she knows who she is and is becoming who she always needed to be.
Becoming Crone is Lydia M. Hawke’s challenge to ageist tropes and an opening up of new narrative possibilities that challenge the limiting views of women over 60. Hawke engages with social assumptions about ageing while reversing them with a bit of her own magic.
A review of Liselle Sambury’s Blood Like Magic (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021) By Derek Newman-Stille
Choices. They are something that beleaguer every teen. Teens are constantly having to think about the future, but also about how to acknowledge their past. Voya is known for being indecisive, but now she’s reached an age where she needs to make a decision that could have an impact not only for herself, but for her whole family. Voya is from a family of witches and their magic is passed down at puberty when they are given a challenge they have to complete in order to inherit their family’s magic powers. What makes things worse, her whole family could lose their magic if she makes the wrong choice.
Voya is suspended between obligation to her past and her future. She is finding out more about her family’s secrets and the things she didn’t want to believe about her family, but she also knows that her every decision could influence what happens to the people around her.
Liselle Sambury’s Blood Like Magic is a powerful near-future fiction book that blends science fiction with urban fantasy. With a smattering of genetic engineering and a lot of magic, Blood Like Magic defies easy genre definitions and creates something new, exciting, and compelling to read.
She was dressed in street clothes, which was really unusual for Dr. Townsend’s practice. Generally her clients came dressed in their full regalia instead of as their secret identity.
“Hi, are you the shrink?”
“I’m Dr. Townsend, yes.”
“But you’re the one that works with people like us, right?”
“People like us?”
“You know, magical girls.”
“Oh, yes. It’s just that normally my clients come dressed in their full regalia. I’m known as the ‘magical girl counsellor’, so most people come in costume so that they don’t expose their secret identity. I wasn’t sure that you were here for me.”
“That’s sort of what I am here for… you see, I can’t transform any more. I can’t access my abilities…. like, at all. But that’s not all. I was still trying to fight villains without my powers and ended up getting… hurt…. and then when I was at the hospital, I told them about being a magical girl and they had me sent to psychiatric. They didn’t keep me there for long, but they let me out on the condition that I would see a shrink.”
Magical girls weren’t something unusual, so it seemed strange to Dr. Townsend that someone would disbelieve this client. Superheroes sometimes lost their powers and for some magical girls, their powers disappeared at adulthood. So, this isn’t something completely strange or unbelievable and certainly not a reason to send her to the psychiatric ward.
“That’s strange. Everyone knows that magical girls exist. We’re pretty well known. It’s strange that they wouldn’t believe you.”
“That’s right. You were one of us, right? A magical girl?”
It was a tough topic. Dr. Townsend was still struggling with her identity and whether she made the right decision to become a counsellor for magical girls. She knew it was important. Magical girls go through so much trauma and there aren’t adequate supports available. Besides, how could someone with no experience of the kind of trauma magical girls went through be able to help them?
“Yes, I was Athene. I decided that I wanted to help other magical girls with their trauma, so I became a counsellor.”
The client fiddled with the collar of her shirt, looking uncomfortable. “So… there’s a reason why they didn’t believe me and you might not believe me either. You know how the holidays are coming up?”
“Well, my powers are sort of related to the holidays.”
“Okay” Dr. Townsend was letting the pauses work for her. She had learned that one of the best ways to get clients to talk was to be quietly supportive and let the client fill in the silence.
“Ugh, this is so embarrassing. My superhero name is Holly Jolly.” The client looked at Dr. Townsend, waiting for the inevitable response and decided to fill in the blanks first, “I know, you’ve never heard of me. No one has. It’s part of the magic that makes me a magical girl. So, my powers are connected to the holidays, particularly to Christmas… well, really to Yule, but it’s sort of melded into Christmas. So, the same magic that makes you not believe in Santa… also means you can’t believe in me. Anyone adult finds out about me forgets it after a day or so. It’s like adult brains can’t hold the belief that sustains my magical powers.”
Dr. Townsend leaned forward, curious. She hadn’t heard about powers manifesting in this way. Normally there was a bit of a separation between the secret civilian identity and the magical girl personal, but for people to actually forget about the magical girl persona entirely was a bit strange. Plus, Holly Jolly looked like she was at least in her mid 20s. So, how did the magic work for her?
And wait a minute… did she say that Santa Claus is real?
“I know what you are thinking. This can’t be true. Especially given how old I am – how do I remember my secret identity? Well, it’s the same thing that happens with Santa Claus. He’s able to hold onto his memories of who he is too.”
“I have to admit…. I’m having a hard time getting my mind around all of this.”
“You mean that you’re having a hard time believing it. Trust me, if it didn’t happen to me, I don’t know whether I’d believe it myself. But the thing is, I have seen it with my own eyes. I’ve seen Santa. I’ve seen myself transform. I have to believe it because it’s literally happened to me. It’s part of the whole Yule magic thing. Santa used to be called the Yule Lord in old pagan cultures. He presided over the winter solstice and was in charge of fighting off the monstrosities that would appear on the solstice and making sure the sun rose. Remember, the winter solstice is the longest night of the year and most cultures have invested it with ideas of fear – ghost stories, monsters like Grylla and Krampus…. It’s been sanitized in North America into a capitalist celebration of presents and so many of you have forgotten the holiday’s roots. Along with Santa, there has always been a little snow maiden, a magical girl invested with powers of light to fight off the darkness and protect young people from the things that go bump in the longest night.”
Dr. Townsend always nodded when clients were talking. It was a way to encourage them to continue talking, but she was having trouble actually processing what Holly Jolly was saying. It just seemed so unbelievable. But it was clear that her client believed in all of this and that she was convinced she was telling the truth… and maybe it was truth to her. Dr. Townsend believed that a counsellor should be able to support everyone, but she admitted to herself that this felt way over what she could support her client with. She hadn’t worked with clients with delusions like this before.
“I know, I know, it doesn’t seem believable, does it?”
“To be honest, I am having a lot of trouble believing it, you’re right. But that doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you believe it and that it is something important to you.”
“Which is a really polite way of saying ‘all of this is beyond my paygrade and I am trying hard to appease you because I think you’re dangerously nuts.'”
“No. I don’t think I would put it like that. I do admit that I am a little out of my element, but I want to be here to support you and I’m not afraid of you. I don’t think you have any interest in harming me and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want support. So, I’m here to listen to you and support you and I will try to put my inner judger aside so I can listen cleanly to what you have to say.”
“Thank you. I really wish I could demonstrate my power to you, but that’s sort of the reason I’m here. Yes, I’m here because the hospital wanted me to get counselling, but I’m also here because I am hoping you will help me get my powers back. Something is blocking them and I can’t seem to access them.” Dr. Townsend opened her mouth to speak, but once again Holly Jolly anticipated what she was going to say “And no, I don’t think that my inability to access my powers is because my powers are a delusion. I think it’s because I’ve become a cynical adult. I got my powers when I was around 10 and I had so much belief in Santa Claus. I stayed up all night waiting for him and he suddenly appeared. He told me that I was a true believer and that I had the light of belief that could bring light into the world and fight off the darkness around the holidays. He brought out a snowglobe that showed me all of the horrors of the world and also showed him fighting off those horrors flying in his sled filled with reindeer.”
“I’m going to ask a question to help myself understand and I don’t want to seem like I’m dismissing your story because I know it’s important to you… but how does Santa deliver all of the presents to the whole world in one night? Especially since I know that my sister and her partner buy all of the presents for their kids and there are no surprise presents or ones they can’t account for… and what about poverty. Is Santa so cruel that he doesn’t give presents to poor children?”
Holly Jolly laughed, a high, piercing tinkle of a laugh that felt perfect for the persona she expressed. “Oh, no. Santa doesn’t bring presents. That’s another of those changes to the story to make him more appealing to capitalist North America. No. He’s an embodiment of the spirit of joy, which is why he became associated with presents – something that brings joy. But really, he harnesses all of that joy in order to fight off the creatures of darkness that I talked about. He’s not a present-bringer, but I suppose he does inspire people to buy presents for each other as a way of celebrating joy and family and all of the things that keep them safe from the darkness all around them. He’s really just a magical creature that uses light to fight monsters.”
Dr. Townsend didn’t know what to say. She had asked for an explanation and that explanation seemed to work for Holly Jolly, so she wanted to acknowledge that. “Thank you for sharing that and opening up about your experience. You had mentioned that Santa came to you when you were 10 and showed you the monsters of the world in his snowglobe… could you tell me a little bit more about your experience?”
“Sure. Of course. Once I saw the monsters, I told him that I wanted to do something about them but I wasn’t strong enough. I told him that I was just a little girl and how could someone like me make any changes. He told me that little girls had incredible powers for fighting off monsters – that we did it in our sleep when we fought nightmares and that our belief together helped to hold off all of the monsters. ‘You have been fighting monsters your whole life and you didn’t even know it’ he said. He told me that all I had to do was access that power of belief in myself and the collective belief of all of the other children out there and I could show the power that was already inside me and take the battle out on the streets to protect children. He passed me a candy cane and told me… actually, Dr., do you have a candy cane. I may as well check here.”
“To see if the magic came back.”
“Oh. Yes, I have a few here. I love the holiday season and I adore the taste of peppermint.” Dr. Townsend ruffled through a drawer and pulled out a miniature candy cane “Is this one okay? It’s a little small.”
“Yes, that’s perfect. I’m assuming that like most of us, you have a magical object that you use to transform with?”
Dr. Townsend nodded. She was uncomfortable with being asked about the life she left behind, but really that life was the reason she became a counsellor. She was just still struggling with her decision and whether she could justify no longer protecting the world as Athene in order to do her current work.
“So, candy canes are my magical object. Any candy cane, really. I suspect the magical girls that worked with the Yule Lord before me used to have some other object to transform, but Santa never told me what it was. He never really gave me any details about previous magical girls that worked for him and now I think that I could have really benefitted from that information – it could explain what is going on now. Maybe this just happens to the girls who work with him.” She shook her head, “Sorry, let me get back to it. He told me to spin around, holding the candy cane out in front of me like this” She began spinning, “And then to say” she raised her voice to a yell “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.”
Dr. Townsend could swear she briefly saw some kind of glitter or sparkle around the candy cane when Holly Jolly recite her magical girl transformation phrase. Yes, it was just the lyrics of the song Jingle Bells, but something about the way she said it made it feel…. more than that. It felt like it wasn’t just lyrics, but a transformation spell.
Holly Jolly stopped spinning. She looked down as though she hoped that she had lifted off the ground. Dr. Townsend knew the look. It was the same one she did when she transformed into Athene and began floating as part of her transformation. Holly Jolly looked at her nails as though expecting them to glitter and then looked down as though expecting her magical girl costume to appear. She looked disappointed, but not surprised.
“I’m so sorry” Dr. Townsend said.
“Me too” She sighed, “I really didn’t expect it to work, but I really hoped, you know?”
“I definitely understand.”
Dr. Townsend struggled with whether she should tell HollyJolly about the glitter. Was it even real or was it just a shared delusion? Or perhaps just the way that the light caught on the wrapper of the candy cane?
“Well, anyway, when I recited the words – and yes, I know that they are a common song, but there is a different way of saying them – I suddenly smelled ginger bread cookies and eggnog and peppermint and I floated off the ground and there was a whirl of green and red glitter and the candy cane became a large magic staff and my pajamas became a red and green puffy dress (i know, so femme… and honestly it looked like an ugly Christmas sweater pattern of Christmas trees, but I loved it. It felt perfect for me). Santa told me that each outfit comes from the snow maiden’s imagination and served as armour no matter how it looked. Mine looked like it was knitted from wool, but was stronger than steel. Santa took me out that night and we immediately began fighting monsters – no training. I just somehow knew how to move, how to access my candy cane staff’s powers, how to call up helper elves from the otherworld. All of the knowledge just appeared in my head. It was important that it did because Santa was busy fighting the whole night and wouldn’t have had time to teach me. I was blasting shadows and demons away like a pro without even having picked up a textbook or gone to a workout. It was exhilarating. I just knew this was what I was meant to do.”
Dr. Townsend could see that look in Holly Jolly’s eyes – that look of having been touched by magic, of having seen things that others couldn’t understand… and that look of trauma and pain that came with having to grow up too fast and become a warrior.
“It sounds like your job meant a lot to you.”
“It really did. It was my everything. Unlike Santa, I kept my powers throughout the year instead of just being invested with them on one night, so I continued to take my candy cane and become Holly Jolly and fight back the monsters that attacked children… and, of course, I got no credit for it. Kids weren’t believed when they saw me. Adults couldn’t see me. I couldn’t be captured on film. When adults did see me, something would click in their heads so that they couldn’t remember it. I wonder if that is finally what happened to me. I still have the power of belief. I have to have the power of belief because I’ve seen it, but I’ve lost something. There’s something vital that is missing. I don’t know how I held onto whatever it was into my 20s, but it’s faded now.”
“What was it like to lose your abilities?”
“Well, I lost them a few months ago. Like, in the middle of summer, so nowhere near the holidays. I just got off of my shift at the coffee shop and I pulled out a candy cane and said my magical words and did the same gestures as always… and nothing… I just stood there in my barista outfit. I figured it was just a fluke. I was probably just too tired. It had been a long day full of terrible customers demanding and complaining. So, I tried the next night… still nothing. And then the next and the next and…” she shrugged.
“Had anything changed on that first night? Anything new or unusual?”
“Not really. Customers are always dicks and I still always found a way to become Holly Jolly. There were a few nasty ones… and oh god, there was one lady that was complaining that the mall didn’t have any Christmas stuff available and she ‘had to get to buying presents’. It was just consumerism overload.”
“Now that’s interesting.”
“What do you mean?”
“What inspired you to bring up the story about that woman wanting to buy presents?”
“I don’t know. It just stuck out for me.”
“What do you think made it stick out?”
“Well, I just hate seeing how commercialized everything is. I hate seeing people put themselves into debt just to have better presents than the person next to them. I hate seeing all of the anger and the violence – especially around things like Black Friday – and I was just thinking to myself ‘oh fuck, it’s starting even earlier. It’s not even August and we have to deal with this already’.”
“Interesting. Your power is associated with Christmas… and your powers happened to stop working around a time when you saw rampant consumerism. Do you think there could be a connection?”
Holly Jolly sat back in her chair, looking up at the ceiling, her feet dangling off of the floor. Dr. Townsend hadn’t realized how short she was until this moment.
“Ya, just… wow. It seems pretty obvious now. I’ve been thinking that my powers could be gone because of adult cynicism, but to now attach it to a specific moment… this is something.”
Dr. Townsend smiled. She really felt like she was on to something with Holly Jolly. If she really was a magical girl, and Dr. Townsend still had her doubts, maybe this would let her access her magical self.
“I have been thinking a lot about how commercialized the holidays are. I know, I sound like an old woman complaining about how things were so much better when I was young… but I feel like maybe they were. Or maybe I just didn’t notice how terrible things were and how terrible people were. I was probably so enthralled with the presents and treats that it all just seemed so joyful. But I guess I’ve been seeing the misery of the season more and more each year as I’ve grown up… and working in a coffee shop at the mall doesn’t help. Now all I see is the rampant consumerism and it just fills me with disgust. Do you know that I can’t even listen to Christmas music any more? It fills me with disgust. I used to love it. I used to love listening to Nat “King” Cole, Perry Como, and Bing Crosby… and after a few months of hearing it blare while people complained, I just developed this total distaste about it all.”
“So, now that we’ve discovered that, how are we going to proceed?”
“I don’t know. You’re the shrink. What do you think I should do?”
“Well, it’s clear that you still want to be a magical girl… you still do, right?”
“Absolutely. Like I said, I was hospitalized trying to fight a ring of kidnappers without my powers. I still want to fight crime and make things better for kids…. I might even want that now more than ever since I’ve seen so many of the horrors that have happened to kids.”
“Can you tell me about how you have felt about that knowledge of all of the horrors out there for kids?”
“It just… it eats away at me every day. I look out at the people around me and all I see are people harming children. I know, I know, not all of them are harming children, but it’s just that I’ve seen so much of it. I’ve seen so many of them subjected to violence. Santa gave me my powers to fight monstrous things… but he didn’t teach me about how to deal with monstrous people. I’m not even sure I was supposed to start fighting them… but what’s the difference between a big fanged, ogre and an abusive parent. In fact, at least the kid can get away from an ogre potentially and be safe in their home… if they have an abusive parent how can they ever be safe? Home is totally taken away from them and they have to live in fear ever hour of every day.”
“I know how you feel. I’ve seen so many horrors in my time as Athene.”
“And the police do nothing. They don’t get involved. They tell people that a parent has the right to discipline their child or they say that there isn’t enough evidence… or they just don’t even bother showing up.”
“It sounds like this is very personal to you. I am going to ask you a question that may be triggering and you can feel free to not tell me right now… but are you an abuse survivor as well?”
Holly Jolly leaned back in her chair and spoke in a quiet voice. “Honestly, that’s what hurts the most about this. I always used my powers as a way of escaping from him, as a way of getting away from the violence. I knew I could do something to protect all of those other kids… but I couldn’t do anything to protect myself. I had the power to. I was able to fight so many abusers… but for some reason, with him… I couldn’t. I would just freeze. I would curl into a little ball and just allow him to hit me. It was like I was somewhere else while it happened… like I could leave my body. I honestly think that Santa chose me because of it… because of the abuse. I think he knew that fighting for children was important to me on a vital, personal level. And I loved the holidays because he was always away. He managed a resort and would have to work through the holidays, so I was always on my own with my magic and imagination. It was that holiday feeling that would keep me surviving throughout the year. I always retreated into my imagination when he beat me, always imagined myself at Santa’s workshop. And then I grew up. I left home when I was 17, got a job at a diner and had a tiny apartment.”
“I’m so sorry that you went through all of that. It sounds like your childhood self was a powerful person. What would you say to that childhood self if you could?”
“I- I don’t know” tears filled her eyes, “I think I would tell her that it gets better and that she doesn’t have to live with it forever. I think I would tell her that we eventually get away from him.”
“I can’t help but notice how powerful she was and how much work she did to help you survive.”
“It doesn’t always feel like that. I sometimes feel like I just kept screwing up and finally lucked out when I found a way out.”
“Notice what you said: when you found a way out. That was all you. You did it. You got out. You kept yourself alive. Isn’t that a huge accomplishment?”
“I suppose… Yes, you’re probably right. I guess I really was a survivor. I’m just so… I feel so ugh about the fact that I had to literally hide in myself to get through it all, you know?”
“Hey, it’s a survival technique. It helped you get through it. Your imagination helped you get through it.”
And maybe it still is Dr. Townsend couldn’t help but think.
“You’re right. It really did. I wouldn’t have been able to get through all of that without that imagination. Let me guess, next you’re going to tell me to get in touch with my inner child?”
“Does that feel like something that you would benefit from?”
“Probably. But I bet it takes a long time.”
“It does. But you’ve taken the first step. We can keep working together while you find out more about yourself.”
“That would be wonderful, but I’m hoping that this was enough for me to become my magical girl self again.”
“Therapy doesn’t happen like that. It takes time. And even if you are able to become your magical girl self, we still likely need to continue working on these changes. You’ve opened up a lot and opening up this kind of trauma without working through it can be harmful. We can keep working together. I work on a sliding scale, so I can adjust my fees to support you.”
“Ah, the problem is, like I said, when I become Holly Jolly, you will forget everything you know about me and my magical girl persona.”
Dr. Townsend looked down at her notes. There is no way that she would forget any of this. This was something she would need to process for a long time.
“Can you pass me that candy cane again?”
“Of course, but I really think you should consider waiting until we work through more of this.”
“I can’t. Children are in danger just like I was and I can only do something to protect them with my powers. I couldn’t do much without them other than get myself sent to the hospital. I need to be Holly Jolly.”
Dr. Townsend slid the candy cane across the table. Admittedly, she was curious about whether Holly Jolly’s story was true and whether she would transform. She found herself wanting the story to be true. There was definitely something of her own inner child wanting to believe that holiday miracles like this could happen. And, honestly, how different was this from all of the other transformations she’d seen. How was this any different from being bestowed with powers by a Greek God or being an alien princess who came to earth or developing the powers of a witch? Was this that far fetched?
Holly Jolly stood up and held the cane out far in front of her and began spinning “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way”.
The candy cane in her hands began to twirl and grow, the red and white stripes unravelled from it and twisted around her body, red and green glitter surrounded the young woman and there was a smell of baked goods in the air. She stopped spinning and there stood what looked like a Christmas elf right out of a mall Santa display.
Holly Jolly winked and it seemed like there was a star next to her eye.
Dr. Townsend sat back in her chair and slowly exhaled. When she inhaled, she could smell peppermint. She caught herself smiling.
There was a faint ringing of bells and she looked down at her notes. They were blank. She looked over at her phone and it read 5:30. It seemed her new client hadn’t shown up. Well, it was up to them to come in if they needed the support. She would ask her receptionist to follow up and see if they could schedule a new appointment time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.