Fairy Tales

Australian Fairy Tale Society

You may have heard of the Australian Fairy Tale Society. You may even be a member – if so, you know how amazing this group of people are. If neither of the following apply to you, then you’re in for a treat.

The AFTS is national society, with branches in several states and territories, that aims “To explore fairy tales through an Australian perspective and to stimulate the creation of Australian interpretations: academic, creative, and performative.”

The society is an incredible mix of academics, artists, storytellers, musicians, writers and fairy tale lovers; a full spectrum of knowledge and enthusiasm that makes for a magical mix.

In a few weeks the AFTS are holding their annual conference, this year in Melbourne at the Glen Era Town Hall, on Saturday June 24th. If you’re remotely interested in Fairy Tales and their influence on our history and culture (and vice versa!), or art, or storytelling, or literature, then this is the where you need to be!

I’ll be up on stage talking about my creative process and previewing new illustrations from the upcoming book Vasilisa The Wise, and selling prints too, including a very limited edition (for now) of a print that won’t otherwise be released until the book is! It’s one of my very favourite illustrations from the Vasilisa, and one that only a few people have seen.

Thankfully I’m up fairly early, so I can listen to the wonderful array of presentations without breathing into a paper bag. Just look at that fantastic line-up! I hope to see you there!

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In addition to the yearly conference, the AFTS produce a bi-monthly ezine, which truly is a wonder to behold. The current issue on Sleeping Beauty comes in at a whopping 60 pages! It includes a round table discussion with Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario, Kate Forsyth & Belinda Calderone; short stories; performance scripts; an interview and sneak preview of Kate Forsyth’s upcoming book Beauty in Thorns; artwork by Kathleen Jennings, Spike Dean and Erin-Claire Barrow; and so much more.

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To get your copy become a member of the AFTS here. It will cost you a mere $25 a year. A true bargain, considering the incredible online magazine, opportunities for meet-ups and gatherings, the yearly conference, and the experience of being welcomed into a group of wonderful new friends. Go on, head over and sign up. In fact if you become a member after reading this, let me know and I’ll mail you one of my artwork postcards with a little enthusiastic note about your incredibly wise and clever decision!

Cover Reveal!

I think the second last time I was on the verge of tears in the supermarket probably involved two young children, a full shopping trolley, a long checkout line, and a packet of fruit tingles. 

The last time was two days ago. 

Trying to decide between lentils and kidney beans, I looked down at my phone, probably to skip to the next podcast, and noticed an email from the wonderful Monique at Serenity Press. And opening it up, I found something that made my knees go weak and my eyes blur. I needed a moment, and I just hope not too many people thought I was welling up at the very moving array of canned legumes. 

There’s something about a cover that makes it all the more real. I know this book is going to exist. I’ve finished the illustrations and Kate and Monique are working on the last edits for the text. The book train is moving as it should. But seeing our cover and thinking of it lying on bedside tables, tucked snugly into bookshelves, held and creased by (hopefully) many hands…. gives me a thrill every time I think of it. And every time I think of it, I open my phone and sneak another look. 

And now I can show it to you! Isn’t it lovely?

Vasilisa the Wise

I’m so thrilled to announce that a book I’ve been working on with the marvellous author Kate Forsyth has been picked up by Serenity Press and will be published in 2018!

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Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Girls will be a collection of seven fairy tale re-tellings written by Kate and accompanied by my illustrations. They are stories of independent girls and women; tales of adventure, bravery, kindness and strength.

It’s a fantastic process we’re following, much different to the usual writer/illustrator relationship, and a way of working that is, to an illustrator at least, both rare and wonderful. We’ve both chosen stories we love. Some Kate has written first, and sent me to work with. I have created several artworks for others, and sent them to Kate before she starts writing. We’re inspiring each other, and it really is magical. And such a privilege.

Kate has written a blog post about how we found each other which, speaking of magical, was incredibly fortuitous and an example of the importance of having a social media presence as an author and/or illustrator. Allison Tait, brilliant author of The Mapmaker Chronicles, co-host of the essential So You Want To Be a Writer podcast, and strident advocate for having a good author platform (in fact she even teaches a course on it!) introduced us on Twitter thinking that Kate might like my work. Thankfully she was right! Kate bought one of my prints to celebrate finishing her PhD, and we kept corresponding, hoping that we might be able to work together one day. We came up with a plan, did some work… and two years later, we can finally tell you all about it!

It really has been a project of lucky, magical and fortuitous connections. Around a month ago, Kate posted the following on her Facebook page:

One day I’d like to write #fairytale retellings of little-known tales with brave, clever heroines for teenage girls to read. Would anyone like to publish stories like that?

And Monique from Serenity Press said yes! Now we are three women, from three corners of the country (Sydney, Perth & regional Victoria) working on this book together. With all that each of us have to contribute, it really is going to be a wondrous thing.

Cheers to that!

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The Victorian Writer

I was thrilled to have been commissioned by Writers Victoria to contribute a feature article and a front cover image for their April/May issue. The issue’s theme is around Writing for Young Adults, and I contributed a piece on adolescent transformation in fairy tales. I’m in excellent company, and look forward to settling down in front the fire with a cup of tea to read them all.

Hello to those who made it here from the pages of The Victorian Writer. For those new to my work, I have a (new) website at lorenacarrington.com and also tweet from @lorena_c.

 

Fairy Tales and the Adolescent Transformation

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After creating the above image, Metamorphosis, recently, I’ve been thinking about the fairy tale as an allegory for puberty and adolescence. The image itself is about the sense of change as one enters that new stage in life. As a child (on the left) we have a solid idea of who we are in the world, but entering adolescence (the figure on the right), our sense of self can be all but annihilated. For a long time it’s a dance between the two. As we pull away from childhood, we have to rebuild ourselves, trying on all sorts of skins; cobbling together influences and ideas until we remake ourselves as adults. We are bone and feather, leaf and twig; a fragile tangle of scavenged treasures.

Fairy tales perfectly explore this mystifying time: Fingers are pricked and blood is drawn; a drawn-out sleep transforms child into adult (and in some cases mother) before she knows what has happened; a path is travelled and foes battled before the previously young and hapless hero or heroine emerges victorious (and usually married).

Adam and Eve

I’d never really thought about the Adam and Eve story in the context of fairy tales before, and when it came to me in that half sleep state last night, I thought myself a momentary genius. Of course this morning I really wasn’t surprised to find that it has been explored widely as myth and allegory. I still think it would make a great fairy tale: Once upon a time, there was a King who planted a beautiful walled garden. He found two orphans, a boy and a girl, and invited them to live in this lush paradise, under one strict condition… See, it’s perfect. There’s the fantastical garden, a command to be disobeyed, temptation, consequence… And of course, the broken barrier between a childhood innocence and adulthood. Adam and Eve are effectively cosseted children, until the forbidden apple awakens their sexual natures and they head out to find their own way in the world.

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Peter Paul Rubens 004” by Peter Paul Rubens

Snow White

Speaking of dangerous apples! Snow White is the perfect allegory for puberty and the breaking away from the influence of one’s parent. The mother is jealous of her daughter’s youth and beauty, and Snow White must find her way to autonomy. I’m not sure shacking up with seven men is the path I’d recommend, but we all need to find our own way I guess…
Snow White suffers several deaths and rebirths, growing a little wiser each time one would hope, finally emerging as a free adult. Well, sort of. She still marries Prince Charming. And speaking of Prince Charming…

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Franz Jüttner Schneewittchen 7” by Franz Jüttner

Cinderella

As above: escape from the overbearing (step)mother, guided path to self discovery and freedom from parental rule, handsome prince, blah blah blah. (Cinderella is not one of my favourite stories).

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Gustave dore cendrillon4“.

The Sleeping Beauty

Bruno Bettelheim says it best in The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales: “The central theme of all versions of ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ is that, despite all attempts on the part of parents to prevent their child’s sexual awakening, it will take place nonetheless.” (P. 230, 1976 edition)

Yep. Sigh. Sleeping Beauty is cursed to prick her finger (blood=menstruation) and fall into the a deep slumber, and despite all her parents best efforts to keep her from this fate, it is inevitable. Bettelheim also talks about the long sleep in relationship to the fog and flurry of adolescence: “During the months before the first menstruation, and often also for some time immediately following it, girls are passive, seem sleepy, and withdraw into themselves… ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ emphasizes the long, quiet concentration on oneself that is needed.” (P. 225)

Sleeping Beauty enters her adolescent sleep as a child, and emerges as a marriageable women. In Giambattista Basile’s version, Sun, Moon and Talia, poor Beauty, or Talia, wakes up a mother of twins(!) after the prince charmingly impregnates her:

“…she seemed so incredibly lovely to him that he could not help desiring her, and he began to grow hot with lust. He gathered her in his arms and carried her to a bed, where he made love to her. Leaving her on the bed, he left the palace and returned to his own city, where pressing business for a long time made him think no more about the incident.”

Well. There’s a lot I have to say about the infuriating passivity of women in fairy tales (and the accepted male entitlement), and Sleeping Beauty, I think, is a fine bloody example. But that’s for another blog post.

Sleeping Beauty painting by Edward Burne-Jones
Sleeping beauty by Edward Burne-Jones

Little Red Riding Hood

In this tale Little Red literally follows a path through her adolescence. She begins in her mother’s home, and leaves to travel through the wild forest, where she encounters the threat of the wolf (ahem, slick-haired, leather jacket wearing, no-gooder) who attempts to lead her from the accepted path. Depending on which version you read, she is eaten by the wolf after getting into her Grandmother’s bed with him (well, really) or escapes the gastronomic fate of her grandmother. Either way, she is rescued by the hunter (swarthy, check-shirt wearing hipster good guy), and I guess learns a lesson and emerges wiser from her wayward teenage ways.

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Arthur Rackham Little Red Riding Hood+” by Arthur Rackham

I could recount similar examples all day, and get into more complicated stories and readings of them, but looking at these well known tales has edged me towards a little more respect for them. It still bugs me that our most famous fairy tales are those with passive girls who become passive women married to handsome princes (it really does make me grumpy), but at least there’s something more to find in them than ‘be kind and good and wait your turn, and you’ll find eternal happiness and fulfilment in marriage to someone rich and handsome’. Reading them as an metaphor for change rather than instructions for living gives me much less of a stomach ache.


Fairy tales are rich in allegory, for that is really what they are, and there are millions of words written on their deeper meanings. Here are a few you might enjoy. What are your favourite books about fairy tales?

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Bruno Bettelheim.

From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, Marina Warner

Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale: Marina Warner 

Off with their heads!: fairy tales and the culture of childhood, Maria Tatar

Into the Woods: the Symposium

Last Wednesday, I hopped on the train and made my way to Melbourne Uni for the ‘Into the Woods’ symposium run by History of Emotions. You can find their program here.

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It was a full and wonderful day, focusing on the forest in literature, fairy tales, poetry, contemporary culture and ecology. Unsurprisingly, I’ll focus on the fairy tale presentations I saw. If you’d like an abbreviated version, I tweeted my notes over here. I didn’t make it in time for the keynote speaker, but caught morning tea, and met the lovely Caitlyn, who, coincidentally came down on the same train, from the same town! We live less than 5 minutes away from each other. A lovely way to start the day.

And so, onto proceedings. You may want to read each speaker’s abstracts in the program for a clearer idea of what they spoke about. I’m working solely from my scribbled notes here.

Victoria Tedeschi spoke about the idea that, while we think of the forest as a dangerous place, “Fairy Tales’ most arduous trials take place inside (in the human realm), not in the forest itself.” The forest is actually a place for fostering identity: a place for growth and change. It is in the human domain that danger lies. In the beginning of the industrial age, cities became dirty and full of squalor, and so the first public parks were created… while the ‘wild’ forests were thought to be unruly, even ugly. They were seen to be in the way of agricultural progress. The ‘wild’ fairy tale forest was a place to lose oneself, and find a new identity. It is a means of escape.

I got most excited about Victoria’s reading of Hansel and Gretel. In the beginning of the story, Gretel is completely reliant on her brother. She’s helpless, relying on him to lay (unsuccessful) trails of crumbs and stones. However, after their trek through the woods, and entrapment by the witch in her candy house, she find the power to defeat the witch (by kicking her into the oven) and is the one to lead them home. Hansel, after being caged by the witch, is now lamenting the helplessness of their situation. Gretel, through her time in the forest, has formed a connection to the environment, and even enlists the help of a duck. She finds their way home, pockets full of sweets and jewels, in this way also ensuring her own financial independence. Totally blew my mind. Thanks Victoria!

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By Leutemann or Offterdinger, photo by Harke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

Next up we had Rebecca-Anne C. do Rozario with Agony! Misery! Woe!: An Excess of Love in the Forest.  She spoke of the forest as a place of exile and refuge, and also, apparently, full of princes! She discussed the women writers from the court of Louis XIV. They often wrote of exile to the forest while they themselves risked the danger of exile to their country estates if they displeased the King. Not the worst danger they could have faced, but it certainly met social death. Rebecca-Anne discussed Catherine Bernard and Madame D’Aulnoy, particularly D’Aulnoy’s celebration of the male body. D’Aulnoy’s The White Hind explored the idea of a beautiful old woman, much different to the old hag we usually read about in fairy tales, and also the disturbance of the usual heterosexual pairing, with a strong female friendship at the heart of the tale.

D’Aulnoy’s story Le Mouton, features a metamorphosed sheep dripping with splendid jewels, and speaks of him in sensual terms, which leads me to my favourite quote from the day, (from Patricia Hannon): “The indolent sheep is the creation of the female libido.” Don’t you love it? I want it on a coffee mug. Anyway, female writers of the time often led sexually adventurous lives themselves, and didn’t shy away from writing about female desire in their writing.

Back in the forest, Rebecca-Anne discussed Marina Warner’s view of the wolf: he is symbolic of desire itself, and a counterpoint to the old crone, or witch in the woods. The prince too, is an artifice of desire. He is chasing, not the princess in particular, but desire itself.

Athena Bellas spoke next, on An Escape to the Forest in Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood.  She discussed the film and its representation of gender, resistance and space; and also the relationship between the film and the Red Riding Hood stories by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. There is a strong focus on what comes of straying from the path, physically and socially. Interestingly, Athena also discussed the idea of horror being in the home rather than in the wild forest (I’d really like to cover this topic in more detail in a future blog post): In the film, Ringing Hood is escaping her abusive father, and the forest is a marginal space. Through lighting and framing, it is represented as a freeing space for her. Athena has a particular interest in the voice over, where Riding Hood is in control of her own narrative.

She also discussed the differing German and French ideas of the forest in Grimms’ and Perrault’s stories. The German forests are dark and foreboding, while the french are manicured and relatively tame. A place of looming fear vs. a place of wonder.

Amazingly, all the above (and more) was covered in an hour. In the next session we started with Sarah Bartels discussing the the symbolism of the devil in 19th Century English Woodland. She pointed out some of the many plants that were named after the devil, for the simple reason that they were poisonous, spiky, or even just unpleasant to the taste. Sarah looked at the relationship between the natural world (plants and animals) and the supernatural one, and how the balance between the two was negotiated in the beliefs and superstitions of the time.

I then snuck into the other seminar room (multiple presentations make for some very difficult decision making!) to catch Jessica Hancock‘s paper on The Question of Experience and Fiction in Regards to Stef Penney’s The Tenderness of Wolves.  She discussed the postmodern idea of whether the artist can be divorced from the work they make – is the connection important? There is an expectation that when an author writes about a place (even in historical fiction) they should have been there, and the belief that with the physical experience of a place it becomes part of the story, not just background. Stef Penney wrote about the Canadian wilderness as if she had lived there all her life, and people believed she had… until it was revealed that she lived in London, was intensely agoraphobic, and did all her research at the library. Should that make us read her story differently? Many people believe so, and it is hard to keep it out of mind while reading the book, even unintentionally.

David Haworth spoke next on Silence, Speech and the Unruly Forest: From Fairy Tales to Carmel Bird’s The Bluebird Café, where:

 ‘Nature is silent in our culture (and in literate societies generally) in the sense that the status of being a speaking subject is jealously guarded as an exclusively human prerogative’- Christopher Manes.

In fairy tales, the forest is loud with (non human) voices, where in The Bluebird Café, the forest is forced into silence. Speech is an expressive of an internal self, a gift bestowed on the forest in fairy tales. In Red Riding Hood we are unsurprised to hear the wolf speak: he is the seductive danger of the forest: His voice is seductive, as is his ability to spin words. David spoke of semiotics as the ‘other’ of language: Not language itself, but entwined with it. In The Bluebird Café the forest has encroached on the town, taken over it. The town and the missing girl are both ghosts, both silenced. Even in flashbacks the girl is mute. The speaking human has privilege in Western cultures, but Bird’s novel makes space for the non-speaking Tasmanian forest in her narrative.

And… break for lunch. Phew. Our brains were overflowing, but the next hour was a wonderful chance to meet several people I heard speak: Sarah Bartels, Victoria Tedeschi and Rebecca-Anne were all fantastic to chat to, and I’m glad to have made their acquaintance. Working away from my keyboard in a relatively small town means I tend to forget that there are real people out there, talking and thinking about the things I’m interested in. And I can talk to them, in real life. I’m so grateful to the organisers of the symposium, and all the wonderful presenters. I haven’t covered all I sat in on, but these were the most relevant to my work, and this blog.

Many thanks to the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, Melbourne University, and whoever the caterers were, for the very delicious lunch.

You can follow Victoria, Rebecca-Anne and Athena on Twitter.

Reclaim the Night: Castlemaine

On Saturday night, more that 300 women took the streets of our town to Reclaim the Night.

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We were sick of feeling unsafe walking the streets at night. We were tired of having to think up good ‘come backs’ for men who felt that they were entitled to our attention. We were angry that our daughters will one day feel the same fear and exhaustion and anger.
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 And on Saturday night, we were exuberant, joyful, and strong as we walked as one.
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Men were asked not to walk with us: it was a walk we needed to make alone, but we were thankful for their support, their applause, and the soup they had waiting for us when we reached Castlemaine’s Victory Park.
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I wasn’t a part of the organisation of the event: that job was carried out tirelessly by a incredible group of woman, but I was there with my eldest daughter and her friend (and my camera). Mari is nearly 12, and I told her as much as I could about why we were there. How we want to feel safe from violence, both domestic and on the street. That there are people who sometimes make us feel unsafe, or act out in violence against us, and that is not ok. It is never ok.
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It got me thinking how much I didn’t want to tell my daughters. I don’t want them to know the full extant to which women are hurt and abused. I don’t wan’t them to know about the details of rape, or of violent abuse, or even that some find sport in just making us feel uncomfortable. That some people will treat us with less respect, just because we’re the ‘wrong’ sex. That it’s endemic in our culture, and it’s bloody hard to fight something that is so ingrained that in so many cases it has become invisible. They will know soon enough, and I wish with everything I’ve got that their knowledge won’t be first hand.
Even the tiniest bit.
And it got me thinking about the stories we tell them, the stories we have always told our children, about keeping themselves safe. How for thousands of years we have taught them not to venture into the deep dark woods alone, because who knows what might be lurking.
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We tell them about Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, Hansel and Gretel and the witch in the woods, Vasilisa and the Baba Yaga, so they know be wary of walking alone. We tell them about Cinderella, Snow White, The Girl Without Hands, All Kinds of Fur, so they know that know that abuse can happen in the home too. These are stories they can absorb as entertainment; a lesson given with going into the realities of abuse and violence. A warning wrapped up in a fairy tale.
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On that walk, I felt a solidarity with the women around me, and also for the mothers stretching back through time: who for thousands of years have felt the same urge to keep their children safe from harm, who felt just as reluctant to expose their children to the true harshness of the world they were living in, and who used stories to wrap up the terrors of the world.
I wish we didn’t need those stories. I wish we didn’t have to keep fighting for a world in which we are all equal and safe from harm. Ah yes, if wishes were horses…, and so we march, write, protest, and stand up for ourselves and others whenever we can.
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Our girls are our future women, and they deserve a future in which they feel safe and powerful in their own skin.
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