Tag Archives: Oz

Writing: Revisionist Poems & Stories

A discussion of revisionist writing came about on another list when I mentioned that I had sold my poem “The First Taste” to Dreams & Nightmares. It is a revisionist poem about Persephone. I was asked what I meant by revisioning. A good question because the term is probably most often used in terms of history and politics. But on the other side are the revisionist myths or fairy tales. Some will come tagged with feminist revisionism but it goes beyond that.

I ran into revisioning somewhere way back, maybe first to do with the retold fairy tales, especially the ones that were in the Datlow/Windling anthologies. But I was also doing a course on children’s literature where we examined fairy tales right back to Perrault and the Grimm brothers. Angela Carter’s tales came up as some early revisionist fairy tales. I’ve also run into it in poetry but don’t remember when anymore. It could have been in the creative writing courses at UBC or in the world of speculative poetry.

I guess the basis for any revisioning poem is that instead of a third person or narrative tale of a hero’s or god’s deeds, the tale is now told in first person, though third person is also used. It might also be in the voice of the lesser being/mortal/bad guy who traditionally was fairly two-dimensional. This is not always the case with stories, which may also be in third person, but all tend to delve into the psyche of the person and how they feel.

This is sort of what happened to SF when it evolved past the embryonic stage of BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) and started to become more realistic; or magic realism, set in today’s world with just a small twist of otherness. (Is this the bastard child of canlit and spec fic?)

Like all genre labels, revisioning is just another fancy word for categorizing what we write. ūüôā In my revisioning poems (which really is just a classic tale, whether fairy tale or heroic myth, from another point of view) I’ve written on Dionysus, Kore/Persephone, Athena, Leda, Psyche, Demeter, Aphrodite (though the last really doesn’t fit the same way as the others). I’ve also written one story on the oracle on Pythos before it/she became the Delphic oracle.

In stories, I’ve taken various fairy tales and rewrote them as well, from the Princess and the Pea, to Snow White, to Dorothy after Oz.I’m sure there are other takes on revisioning but this is pretty much how I see and understand it. One well-known child’s story done in a revisionist mode is the about the three little pigs but from the wolf’s point of view, pointing out how he was framed.

Classical fairy tales are fairly thin and two-dimensional, offering very little depth into the whys and wherefores. Many fairy tales were cautionary tales, and others were, what academics now presume, tales to show/train young women for their eventual separation from their parents, and subsequent marriages. It is the purview of fantasy and speculative fiction to take the regular world and twist the what-if. If we’re looking at old, tried and true¬† tales, then it’s turning the story on its edge and presenting a new view.

Whether called revisionist, speculative or just plain fantasy, taking the classics and showing a new perspective is part of the evolutionary process. Fairy tales, myths, fables were once passed down, word of mouth from person to person. The oral tradition actually kept the story current to the times as the teller would adapt or change aspects to suit the understanding of the listeners. The constant evolution means many stories have passed over the lips of humanity to be lost in the trails of time. With the newer tradition of taking those now codified tales, whether Sleeping Beauty or the tale of Eros and Psyche and telling a new story, the process continues to bring evolution to the myths and fairy tales of our ancestors.

Here is a lesson plan on revisionist fairy tales for anyone who teaches about writing and reading: http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=992

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Worlds of What If: Story Ideas & Oz

I recently wrote a story about Dorothy, ten years after Oz, where she still lives in Kansas. It involves the shoes showing up suddenly in her closet. It’s barely fantastical, might be called literary.

I sent it to a speculative fiction magazine where it was rejected. The comment was that the protagnonist didn’t do enough and, what about the other 15 Oz books and what they covered that people knew so well.¬†I can live with criticism and comments on what doesn’t work but I didn’t find the comment about the Oz books helpful nor true to the whole genre of speculative writing.

Worlds of what-if includes looking at something and saying, what if it did this instead of this? What if Snow White had actually enslaved the dwarfs to work for her and they were brainwashed? What if the Germans had won WWII? What if magic did exist and it caused a worldwide class system? There are a thousand examples of where someone takes a pre-existing concept or event and changes it.

Fairy tales have long been in the realm of public domain and many have been rewritten and retold in varying ways. The most popular example would be anything that Disney has touched, to the extent that some people think that the Disney version is the one and only. But fairy tales have a long tradition of orginally being oral tales that were eventually written down by the Grimm brothers and others. Once they hit print, they didn’t change and adapt with the times as much, but they did still change. Writers still took those ideas and played with them.

L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz was written in 1900 and published in 1901. It’s been around long enough that it is now in our memories. When I decided to write the story I actually had to go read the book, because like many people, I was more familiar with the movie. I didn’t read the other 13 books (not 15). Though they were popular it was that original adventure that caught so many people’s imaginations.

Asking, what if this happened to Dorothy is a valid question. But perhaps I’m just an angry rejected author. Well, I have given examples of other what-ifs, but let’s look at two that I just found this week. Yesterday, I was listening to CBC Radio’s Wiretap http://www.cbc.ca/wiretap/index.html¬†There were two stories: What if the Penguin and Mary Poppins met on a blind date? And what if Barney accidentally killed Dino in Bedrock? Hmm, if I was the editor that rejected my story because I didn’t consider the other 13 books, then I could also say but Mary Poppins never met the Penguin. What about all those other Batman comics. Or, but Dino never died and what about all those other Flintstones cartoons?

Okay, well, those are closer to the point I’m making but not about Oz.¬†Then¬†I came across the following article this weekend in the Dec. 2007 issue of Wired.

Tin Man–SciFi Chanel’s three-part reimagining of The Wizard of Oz, premiering Dec. 2, blends steampunk and Buffy. Heroine DG (Zooey Deschanel) battles the evil Sorceress (Kathleen Robertson) to free the oppressed residents of The O.Z. The Tin Man (Neal McDonough) is a more-dreamy-than-tinny ex-cop resistance fighter, and the Scarecrow (Alan Cumming) is a victim of grand theft brain. Cheesy? Absolutely. But it’s also clever and wonderfully geeky.

Steampunk and Buffy? The Tin Man is an ex-cop? Oh my goodness! But…but…. I think my point is made that it’s valid to take a character, a time, a place and ask what if? It’s valid to not slavishly follow what has been written but to take some elements and fly off into the worlds of imagination. As to my story, well, I’ll continue to send it out and see what the editors think.

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