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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Not Malfunctioning

Not Malfunctioning

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

By Derek Newman-Stille

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skin Deep

Skin Deep

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

By Derek Newman-Stille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radical Acts of Beauty

A review of Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2” (Edited by Hope Nicholson, Alternative History Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Daniel Heath Justice’s “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is a comic about resilience and transformation, highlighting the desire of a two-spirit boy to change the world around him through acts of beauty. Despite homophobia, environmental degradation, and all forms of hate against each other, Strange Boy seeks to heal others by bringing beauty into the world. Like many people who seek to bring healing and beauty into the world, especially if they are marginalized, Strange Boy experiences violence. He discovers that a lot of the violence from the people around him is an externalized form of self loathing, their hatred of themselves projected outward toward anything beautiful, anything that represents a reminder of joy that they can’t imagine themselves having.

“The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is an act of beauty in a harsh and close-minded world, it is Daniel Heath Justice’s act of transformative magic, sharing a story of transformation with a world that needs beauty. It is a tale that reminds us that no matter how much violence the world inflicts on us, we can speak back by bringing beauty into the world. Our acts of art can be transformative, remaking the world and opening up others to express their beauty. 

Beautifully illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre, “The Boys Who Became The Hummingbirds” is filled with images of movement and light. It is a comic that can show the interiors of bodies and make even our bleeding, organic insides things that can be filled with a certain magnificence and wonder. Alvitre is able to capture the etherial quality of hummingbirds, their darting magnificence.

The intwined arts of Daniel Heath Justice and Weshoyot Alvitre add to the message of the story, emphasising the focus of the story on collaborative arts and the ability of one form of art, one story, to resonate in another.

To discover more about Daniel Heath Justice, visit http://imagineotherwise.ca

To discover more about Weshoyot Alvitre, visit https://www.facebook.com/Weshoyot/

To find out more about Moonshot Vol 2, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1350078939/moonshot-the-indigenous-comics-collection-volume-2

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 34: An Interview with Helen Marshall

At the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, I was able to take a few moments of Helen Marshall’s time to do an interview. In this interview on Speculating Canada, we talk about the relationship between bodies and text, aging, changes, open endings, the power of fiction to open up new ideas and new possibilities, writing as an act of personal reflection and exploration, horror, transformations, and history and its relationship to speculative fiction writing. As always, Helen Marshall invites new ways of looking at the world through her fiction as well as through her discussions of fiction.

During our interview, Helen Marshall surprises listeners with an author reading of her brilliant, wonderful story Lessons in the Raising of Household Objects.

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.

To discover more about the work of Helen Marshall, visit her website at http://www.helen-marshall.com/ .

 

Water and Reflection

A review of Ursula Pflug’s “The Water Man” In Harvesting The Moon and Other Stories (PS Publishing Limited, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of the author

Cover photo courtesy of the author

Water: it runs through all of us, binding us together; we need it but too much of it can kill us; it is reflective and we can see ourselves in it, slightly distorted (which sometimes reveals more than a clean, perfect image); it is changeable. Ursula Pflug plays with the multiplicity of magic embodied in water in “The Water Man”, exploring how water connects us but also reveals that individuality is a fiction and we are made up of multiple parts, always shifting and changing. Pflug takes something as common and ordinary as water and turns it into something extraordinary, revealing for readers that water has always had a quasi-magical quality.

Exploring the life of a mask-maker who creates new artistic visions out of people’s discarded junk, and the weird thoughts that come from sharing water, Pflug explores transformative possibilities, revealing that the static world is entirely one of imagination and that everything is constantly changing. “The Water Man” takes place at a time of celebration, a carnival that reminds viewers that the world is in a perpetual state of death and rebirth as winter becomes spring, that new worlds are always forming and that they need that sleepy time of freezing to dream up new visions of the world.

To discover more about Ursula Pflug, visit her website at http://www.ursulapflug.ca/
To find out more about Harvesting The Moon and Other Stories, visit http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/harvesting-the-moon-hardcover-ursula-pflug-2155-p.asp

Chilly Renewal

A review of Dominik Parisien’s “My Child Has Winter in His Bones” in Tesseracts Seventeen: Speculating Canada From Coast to Coast (Edge, 2013)

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

Cover photo for Tesseracts Seventeen courtesy of Edge

By Derek Newman-Stille

In My Child Has Winter in His Bones, Dominik Parisien evokes his characteristic blend of the human and the landscape, amalgamating a child with the icy lake where his parent fishes. Like much of his poetry, this piece evokes the horror and beauty of a body modified and the child in this poem is described as being almost fish-tank-like, clear and full of aquatic matter. There is a beauty in the image of the body as a living landscape, an ice-scape imbued with life and yet always temporary, doomed to thaw in the spring. Parisien evokes the beauty of the permeable body, a body that is revealed as being integrated with its environment even though we spend so much time as a society creating barriers around our bodies, trying to suggest that they are separate from their environments.
Although a temporary body, the child’s body evokes the image of renewal, a body that is forged from the ice and then melts in the spring to be re-formed.
Unlike most poetry that is obsessed with images of youth symbolised in spring and growth, Parisien reverses this paradigm by equating youth with winter, with the freeze, and with a season that we tend to think of as inherently liminal, frozen, between times: the Winter. Parisien invites his readers to question why we associate youth with the Spring and asks us to look at the shallow way we observe youth and the passage of the seasons.
To discover more about Dominik Parisien, visit his website at https://dominikparisien.wordpress.com/
To discover more about Tesseracts Seventeen, visit Edge’s website at http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/tess17/t17-catalog.html