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

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A Fable About Overcoming The Odds

A Fable About Overcoming the Odds

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

By Derek Newman-Stille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power Dynamics

Power Dynamics

A review of James Alan Gardner’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault (Tor, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, James Alan Gardner creates a world of heroes and monsters to explore ideas of identity. In this world, the wealthy have bought the magical ability to become Darklings through a pact with otherworldly entities. They have become vampires, demons, ghosts, werewolves, and other things that haunt the magical imaginations. But, this world also touches on the heroic realm and therefore there are Sparks – beings that are created (at least to some degree) through “science” (or some semblance of it). Many of these Sparks become heroes, acquiring powers… but also acquiring the need for secret identities and costumes.

Superheroes are the perfect space to explore the fluidity of identity, especially since the idea of the costume and the secret identity are so intrinsic to the superhero mythos. In Gardner’s world, characters who gain powers need to take on a superhero identity and keep their ‘normal’ identity a secret as part of the complicated rules of the world. And when they use an superheroic name and wear a costume, they BECOME different, adopting new personality traits and radiating an aura of respectability. Yet, there are characters who are already accustomed to switches in identity like Kim Lam, who, in her search to find herself, has used multiple different names and personality characteristics. In fact, Kim refers to her previous identities as being dead like her identity as Kimmi, the goth girl who had a fascination with Darklings, her childhood name of Kimberly, or the name her father chose for her: Kimberlite (after the igneous rock). Kim is a genderqueer person (using she/her pronouns), existing in a nonbinary space, and Gardner is influenced in this idea of the death of identities by the Trans population and the use of the term “deadname”, referring to a previous identity that no longer reflects the person using it. Kim has had fluidity in her own identity, exploring different aspects of herself until she became Kim. Gardner makes a connection in his novel between gender fluidity and the superhero narrative, exploring the spaces of multiplicity of identity and the generative potential of this multiplicity. Identity and secret identity are interwoven in a way that allows for character complexity.

Transitions become an important factor in All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault not just because of Kim’s transition to a genderqueer identity, but also because this world is made up of transitions – the change from wealthy to Darkling (which is marked by a ritual) and the transformation into a Spark (which is marked by an origin story). Transformation is part of a living story in Gardner’s world, something invested with power. In fact, even the powers of the Sparks need to be narrated and characters need to create a story to explain their powers in order to increase the likelihood that the universe will grant them those powers. In this way, the author plays with the idea of stories within stories and the importance of tales for creating new possibilities.

In addition to exploring identity and fluidity, Gardner offers a critique of the logic of wealthy people, literally turning the rich into vampires. In fact, the wealthy still suggest that there is a “trickle down economy”, but instead of just buying businesses and claiming that hiring people will allow their wealth to trickle down, the Darklings use “trickle down” to refer to the money that they give to others when they take their blood. There is a literal feeding off of the labour and bodies of the poor by the wealthy in this world. Gardner uses literal consumption (of blood) to comment on capitalist consumption of resources. He borrows from right wing pundits who try to justify hoarding of wealth by the 1% when creating speeches by the wealthy who use rhetoric like “”We manage sources of prosperity to maximize their return” and “We bought our powers legitimately through a mutually beneficial, clearly defined argument”, and “I didn’t just fluke my way into undeserved privilege. I paid”.

Gardner uses speculative fiction in order to bring up critical questions, inviting readers to interrogate the status quo and think about the way that power and exclusion work in our society, while also illustrating to the reader that change is possible.

In addition to being a fun superhero versus monsters narrative, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault is a social text, exploring possibilities through storytelling.

To find out more about James Alan Gardner, visit https://jamesalangardner.wordpress.com

To discover more about All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, visit https://us.macmillan.com/books/9780765392657

Queerly Ever After

Queerly Ever After

A review of Ricky Lima’s Happily Ever Aftr (Lime Press, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

She grew up in a kingdom filled with toxic masculinity… perhaps that’s why she thought she could make a princess love her by kidnapping her.

Happily Ever Aftr explores the traditional fairy tale motif of a princess locked in a tower… but adds a twist. The princess is imprisoned by another princess. Princess Gretchen grew up in Castle Grimhold as part of a family line of kings who have kidnapped princesses to be their brides. So, what else was there for her to do but carry on the family tradition and kidnap a princess to be her bride. Once Gretchen reveals that her intention is to marry Princess Emily, her family takes issue not with the kidnapping, but with Gretchen’s desire to have a bride instead of a groom. Gretchen begins to learn ideas of consent from Emily and explores her own identity and its relationship to her role as the princess of Grimhold.

Ricky Lima uses the image of cell phone dating apps and texting to shape his tale of princesses in love (or captured by love), exploring ideas of princes who believe that they are entitled to women’s bodies and perceive princesses as objects and damsels in distress. With this use of dating apps as text, Lima makes a parallel between antiquated notions of masculinity and femininity and how these are played out on dating apps. Happily Ever Aftr uses a magical, fantasy setting to point out realities of how men objectify women on dating apps and the toxicity of “bro culture”.

Although Princess Emily keeps asking for suitors to rescue her, she is more than able to save herself through her own quick wit and tough attitude, but first goes through numerous suitors who are beheaded trying to rescue her. It is only when she encounters a prince who needs her to rescue him that she is able to finally express her own power.

Happily Ever Aftr calls into question the many “happily ever after”s offered by many traditional fairy tales that portray a passive princess being rescued by a prince and marrying in perpetual heterosexuality. Instead, the comic plays with assumptions about gender, assumptions about power, and assumptions about sexuality.

To discover more about Happily Ever Aftr, visit https://www.limepressonline.com/product/happily-ever-aftr

Magical Autobio

Magical Autobio

A review of Ronnie Ritchie’s “Star Kid” in We’re Still Here: An All Trans Comic Anthology (Stacked Deck Press, 2018)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In the comic “Star Kid”, Ronnie Ritchie intertwines autobiography and ideas of magic. They use ideas of astology to understand themself, sharing their early fascination with sun and moon symbolism and the relationship between these celestial symbols and gender (since the sun and moon are gendered in many European cultures).

Ritchie explores their love of stars from an early age as a symbol that is often seen alongside the sun and moon, but also the power of the star to separate them from the gendered characteristics of the sun and moon. Despite their love of astrology and stars, they describe the challenge of growing up in an Evangelical home where astrology was considered evil, and their subversive claiming of the star symbol. They use the artistic medium of the comic to illustrate their love of illustrations, showing the way they combined sun, moon, and star symbols together in their early art.

Stars, suns, and moons became metaphors for gender for them in their exploration of their own gendered identity and they frequently drew characteristics of gender and characteristics of the sun and moon together, realizing that these descriptions were too limited to capture the complexity of their identity. Being a nonbinary person, they discovered the potential of being outside the orbit of the gendered sun and moon in a space they created – The Star. They illustrate that the symbol of the star allowed them to find a symbol of joy, happiness, and cuteness (they make sure to distinguish the marshmellowy stars in their art from the actual huge balls of nuclear fire).

Ritchie cleverly combines autobiography with hints of the speculative and the magical, pointing out that we often explore complex ideas through symbols. People have been exploring their identities through astrology for a long period of time, and Ritchie’s use of astrological symbolism in understanding their gendered identity takes the astrological into a new sphere of contemplation. They illustrate that the symbolic is still an important realm for contemplating identity, particularly since so many of our social symbols are gendered.

To find out more about We’re Still Here: An All Trans Comic Anthology, visit Stacked Deck Press at https://stackeddeckpress.com/product/were-still-here-an-all-trans-comics-anthology/

To find out more about Ronnie Ritchie, visit their website at https://www.rritchiearts.com