A Fable About Overcoming The Odds

Speculating Canada reviews Rati Mehrotra’s “The Half Courage Hare” in Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales From The Margins

Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

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…

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Not Malfunctioning

Speculating Canada reviews Fiona Patton’s “I Am Not Broken” from Over the Rainbow

Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

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…

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Skin Deep

Speculating Canada reviews Nathan Caro Frechette’s story “Skin” from Over the Rainbow

Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

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…

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Over the Rainbow Table of Contents

Here is our Table of Contents for Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales From The Margins (Exile, 2018).

Introduction: Fairy Tale Transformations – Derek Newman-Stille

Skin – Nathan Caro Frechette

I Am Not Broken – Fiona Patton

The Half Courage Hare – Rati Mehrotra

The Story of the Three Magic beans – Ace Jordyn

Iron Jenny and the Princess – Robert Dawson

The Waltzing Tree – Richard Keelan

Fairest Find – Nicole Lavigne

White Rose, Red Thorns – Liz Westbrook-Trenholm

Path of White Stones – Kate Heartfield

The Page of Cups and the Star – Evelyn Deshane

Unearthing History – Lisa Cai

Half Gone Dark – Tamara Vardomskaya

None of Your Flesh and Blood – Chadwick Ginther

Pied – Quinn McGlade-Ferentzy

La Bete Sauvage – Karin Lowachee

Martinis, My Dear, Are Dangerous – Kate Story

Daughter Catcher – Ursula Pflug

As Never Bird Sang Before – Sean Moreland

The Canadian Response to Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms

A review of Lindsay Carmichael’s The PRince and the Hedgewitch that I posted on Speculating Canada

Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

A review of Lindsey Carmichael’s The Prince and the Hedgewitch (in Canadian Tales of the Fantastic, Red Tuque Books, Penticton, BC, 2011)

By Derek Newman-Stille

To anyone who has read Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series, Lindsey Carmichael’s The Prince and the Hedgewitch will strike a familiar cord. Like Lackey’s series, Carmichael’s short story plays with the idea of a world that is entirely draped in the trappings of fairy tales. Like Lackey’s ‘The Tradition’ that shapes events in her world, making them conform to the traditions of stories that have already been written (i.e. a third son will always become king after undergoing a quest), Carmichael’s ‘the story’ has a similar way of making the world around it conform to story archetypes. In the worlds that both authors create, there is a sense of the inevitability of fate and a fundamental lack of agency.

There are a lot…

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Feeding the Imagination: Food in Fairy Tales

Feeding the Imagination: Food in Fairy TalesBy Derek Newman-Stille

“Change Within and Without” by Derek Newman-Stille

Food provides an important role in fairy tales and food frequently had transformative powers. Food is something that links people together. It is something that human beings share – a need to eat. We link food to celebrations that mark the passages of time. Food is frequently linked to our expression of our ethnicity and our culture. Food can also be a means of establishing difference and foods are frequently used as a way of expressing discrimination – for example, calling Germans “Krauts”, The French “Frogs”. Food can be a marker of discriminatory difference and what we enjoy eating is culturally defined.

Tales about fairies frequently feature food, with the caveat of warning that when people enter into the fairy realm, they should never eat fairy food, no matter how appetizing it seems to be. Eating fairy food can forever force people to stay in the fairy realm. In this way, food is linked to space and place, with food becoming an anchor where it becomes literally a part of the body. There is an ingesting of part of the fairy realm that occurs and that realm becomes part of the human guest. Food has the power to change people. 
Yet, it is also considered rude not to offer food. Fairy tales frequently centre around curses that have resulted from not offering a beggar food. Frequently powerful beings take the form of people in need of food in order to test the generosity of a hero. Food represents a bond between person who offers food and the person who receives it, linking them in social custom and tying them together through the notion of “the gift” and of the friendship between guest and host.

Food has a form of magic in fairy tales, a power to evoke changes. In “Cinderella”, food, in the form of a pumpkin, becomes a vessel of change, literally changing into a carriage to carry her to her new life. Cinderella enters into the body of the pumpkin, being swallowed by it in a reversal of the expected consumer-consumed relationship. It is part of her transformation and it is similarly a figure of change, converting to a pumpkin at midnight just as she transforms. It is a companion on her voyage to change.

Yet, many fairy tales feature the idea of food as a threat. They explore the power of food to potentially feed, but also to potentially kill. Snow White is a tale of an apple. The apple is so much a part of Snow that she has white skin like the inside of an apple and apple red lips. Yet the apple becomes a symbol of death rather than life, imbued with poison. Snow White is a tale of the ripening of youth and the experience of age. The apple given to Snow is, like the queen herself, all appearance. It is made to be beautiful to conceal a dark centre of poison. 

And the apple, like the pumpkin is a fruit of transformation. The apple provides a gateway for Snow White into eternal sleep. It is a symbol of the complicated nature of food – both as something that can sustain life and also, through poison or disease, something that can take life away.

Jack in the Beanstalk is a tale of transformative beans. Jack, in hunger, exchanges one source of food (a cow) for another (three magic beans). Yet the beans provide the roots for a tale of transformation. They grow deep in the ground and up into the clouds, providing a geographic gateway for Jack into a different realm and a change of circumstances. The beans are rooted in place in Jack’s world, but their stalks provide movement to a different place. Jack is able to life in two spaces through the beanstalk’s ability to suspend itself, bridge-like, between these two places.

Hunger is something that frequently serves as motivation in fairy tales, propelling protagonists to change their circumstances in order to be fed. These tales or hunger likely reflect reality at the time the tales were written. Hansel and Gretel becomes a tale of displacement due to food. Unable to feed their children, Hansel and Gretel’s parents kick them out of the house. They attempt to use food (breadcrumbs) as a way to trace their way home, but these are eaten. When the two young people come across a house of candy, they believe they will be able to eat in abundance, but this tale inverts humanity and food, making the youths potential food for the witch and the witch’s candy as nothing more than a trap. In fact, the witch complicates the food/human dynamic when she is baked in the oven by Gretel just like food is. 

Red RidingHood is similarly based on venturing with food and cannibalism. When Red wanders into the woods, it is to bring food to her ailing grandmother. However, this is another tale of cannibalism and, when RidingHood arrives, she is targeted as food by the wolf, who has already eaten Red’s grandmother and seeks to eat her.

Food and what has the potential to be considered food represents change. Perhaps this is because, so often we use food to represent passages of time, marking special occasions with it. The association between food and time is further enhanced when we look at ideas of ripening and rotting. Food has a limited window where it can be considered food – between ripening and rot. This is why the Cinderella tale is so fascinating – Cinderella travels within food, the pumpkin, and that food has a distinct expiry date – midnight.

Food changes over time and also changes us. In fairy tales, we really are what we eat… and we are what eats us as well.

Fairy Tale Traditions Versus Fairy Tale Transformations

Fairy Tale Traditions Versus Fairy Tale Transformations

By Derek Newman-Stille

Transformation Within by Derek Newman-Stille


Fairy Tales have been reconstructed in the 20th century as tales of caution and warning against difference. In reframing them as “Children’s Tales”, fairy tales have frequently been turned into tales of hegemonic control, tales that limit options and possibilities in exchange for ideas of “tradition” and “‘morals”.
Yet fairy tales have always been primarily about the RE-telling, about shifting and changing for new audiences and new listeners. They aren’t made to be static tales and the only traditions that they were made to represent were traditions about the importance of storytelling. 
Fairy tales are so frequently about transformations – from pauper to princess, from man to beast, from mermaid to girl – because they are tales that ARE transformative. They are tales that constantly shift and change with each telling, taking on new ideas as they are presented to new audiences.
Fairy tales come from oral narratives, and oral narratives are meant to be performed. Any performance shifts with its audience, changing as the audience finds certain things entertaining, offensive, humourous, or tragic, and performers know to shift the way they perform their tales to appeal to new and different groups. Fairy tales embrace these transformations, presenting them as metamorphoses of frogs into princess, but they are really about change and the need for change. It is often those in fairy tales who resist change, who become stuck in their ways, that suffer in their mundanity as a world of magic changes around them.
Tradition and transformation collide in fairy tales as they do in our world, generating new potentials that still take into account the stories that have shaped us.