Friday, March 27, 2015

Is a Spindle just a Spindle?

Have you ever stopped to wonder why is a spindle used to put the sleeping curse on the princess in the Sleeping Beauty stories? It is a bit curious, since knowing how to spin wool into yarn is not a skill that is required of a princess, so her interactions with the spinning wheel and spindle would have been minimal in her lifetime. For the time period that this story is deeply rooted in, this practical skill would have been beneath someone of royal blood. Even current adaptations of these stories show that a princess’s important attributed are more frivolous. Rika Tóth states although these high-born “heroines are not without talent – they play musical instrument, compose poetry, and draw – these talents do not have the slightest practical use.” So why does the spindle become the object of choice? Could it be that it is a critique of the noble woman’s lack of practicality other than producing an heir?

The association of the spindle with domesticity comes from early traditions where families would sit by the hearth and listen to the grandmother's tale, which is spun like the fibers of the very yarn she is making. However, this association with the happy family is lost when one puts it in context of Sleeping Beauty, who is subjugated by this weapon. Not only is this an intrusion on the domestic space, but it is also an imposition on the female identity. Domesticity and the identity of a mother are seen as confinement that trap women into a mold and rob them of any other way of life, reducing them to mere productive or reproductive units. This is especially true of the noblewomen who had no practical skills to sustain an independent lifestyle.  

One only needs to stop and look at the phallic shape of the spindle to further associate the creation of a forced domestic identity with an encroachment on a woman’s right to choose what she wishes to do with her body and with her life. The ignorant princess is unaware of the dangers the spindle possesses and is tricked into pricking her finger. This pricking and the bleeding that ensues can be read as a figurative rape of the naïve girl. In an allegorical reading, it can also represent the forced conformity to a domestic identity for women. While this type of violation on the female body is often associated with patriarchal power, it a woman who instigates the “rape” of the princess in this story.

But why would a woman choose to subjugate a young girl?

The fairy or witch who curses the princess does so, in most retellings, because she is insulted that she did not receive an invitation to the celebration of the baby’s birth while the other fairies did. In more recent retellings, there is some attempt at justifying the reason for this exclusion. The Grimm Brothers wrote that the King chose to invite 12 out of the 12 “Wise Women” in the kingdom because “he had only twelve golden plates for them to eat out of.” Charles Perrault writes that for the baby’s christening “all the fairies that could be found in the realm (they numbered seven in all) were invited to be godmothers to the little princess,” but then during the ceremony an aged fairy enters, “whom no one had thought to invite—the reason being that for more than fifty years she had never quitted the tower in which she lives, and the people had supposed her to be dead or bewitched.” Disney’s adaptation of Sleeping Beauty implies Maleficent was not invited because she was evil and in their latest movie release, Maleficent has a dark history with the king. In each of these cases, the exclusion that the uninvited guest experiences implies she does not belong at the celebration of new life and new family.

Deemed unfit to join the family celebration, the dark fairy/witch is excluded from having a domestic relationship with the rest of the kingdom. So it makes sense that she chooses a spindle to carry out her curse: Not only is it a symbol of the domestic identity of women, but it also represents a tradition of disempowerment that is passed down from mother to daughter through the simple act of storytelling. Repeated tales of passive women who fulfill their gender roles provide no real value to women who wish for a life other than the domestic. Instead, these women are marked as abject and deemed unfit to join society due to their non-normativity. With this frame of mind, we can see that the fairy/witch is actually cursing the princess for her inclusion in the domestic space with the item that is used in reference to the domesticated woman. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Call for Papers and Awards Accepting Submissions Now

Here’s another look at some future conference proposals that can include topics regard the study of Children’s Literature:

      Reflections on Revenge: an International Conference on the Culture and Politics of Vengeance
-       Dates: 2/3/4 September 2015
-       Location: University of Leicester
-       Topic Highlights: “What motivates revenge, what course does it run, and what is it’s impact on individuals, societies and global history… this interdisciplinary conference will ask who seeks revenge and why, how it is done, how it is justified, how it is represented, how it feels to get revenge or be on the receiving end. This includes revenge starting with the smallest workplace slights, through family disputes and lynch mobs, to political violence, war and terrorism.”
-       Instructions: Please submit a 250 word abstract via email to by April 2nd, 2015.
-       Website:

Through Opposition and Commonality: The Role and Depiction of the Arts and Sciences in Young Adult Literature
-       Dates: Nov. 12-15, 2015
-       Location: Midwest Modern Language Association, Columbus, OH
-       Topic Highlights: “Common depictions of dystopian cityscapes and rural pastorality, as in John Green’s Looking for Alaska (2006), indicate the danger in not only overly embracing technological advances, but also the very messages that governments and leaders encourage audiences to believe and support. In such instances, cultural participants are suggested to be cautious and thoughtful in what ideologies they embrace and act upon. Likewise, in Rainbow Rowell’s realistic fictional text Eleanor and Park (2013), the significance of challenging often self-imposed societal and cultural binaries depicts the way in which opposing traditional hegemonic discourses and structures allows for growth and, sometimes, salvation. Across genres, such literatures are questioning and challenging notions of the impact arts and science have on local, national and global scales. In keeping with the conference theme, “Arts and Sciences,” this panel seeks to explore the ways in which Young Adult Literatures question, investigate, challenge, impact and transform the function of arts and sciences.”
-       Instructions: Inquiries and/or abstracts of 250-300 words may be sent to Amberyl Malkovich at by April 5, 2015.


  Bookbird: A Journal of International Children’s Literature:
-       Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature (ISSN 0006 7377) is a refereed journal published quarterly by IBBY
-       Highlights: “Invites contributions for a special issue exploring Indigenous Children’s Literature from around the world. Taking our cue from studies like Clare Bradford’s germinal Unsettling Narratives, which examines First Nations’ issues in texts by Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors, this issue welcomes articles that focus on texts for children and young adults by Indigenous/Native/Aboriginal/First Nations authors. Topics might include, but are not limited to: nations within and across nations, decolonization and survivance, orality and storytelling, history and context, formation of identity, borders and journeys, place and the natural world, spirituality and sacred folkways, origin stories and the trickster figure, tribal politics and sovereignty, community and culture.”
-       Instructions: Full papers should be submitted to the editor, Björn Sundmark (, and guest editor, Roxanne Harde (, by 1 July 2015.
-       Website:

CHILDREN'S RIGHTS and CHILDREN'S LITERATURE (Special Issue of The Lion and the Unicorn)
-       Accepted articles will appear in issue 40.2 (2016) of The Lion and the Unicorn
-       Topic Highlights: “Seeking papers that investigate the intersections between the histories, theories, and practices of children's rights and children's literature. In response to the ratification of the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC) in 1989, advocates and scholars have debated the necessity and revealed the complexity of defining and implementing children's rights across the globe. Critical discourse on children's rights, however, has not yet fully examined the role that children's literature plays in shaping, promoting, implementing and interrogating children's rights. This special issue invites scholars to explore the connections between the institutions of children's rights and children's literature.”
-       Instructions: Essays should be sent to guest editors Lara Saguisag and Matthew B. Prickettat by May 31, 2015. Submissions should be 15-20 pages (4000-6000 words)
-       Website:

-       Accepted essays will appear in the 2017 issue.
-       Topic Highlights: “This special issue of The Lion and the Unicorn invites submissions focused on children’s literature of the First World War from a variety of international perspectives. Among other things, essays could focus on: Constructions of “home” and “front” as made by civilians and soldiers in poetry, prose, and illustrations; The role of the coming centenary in modern reconstructions of the First World War; The significance of local and national borderlands and boundaries, includingconceptualizations and reconceptualizations of “no man’s land”; Intersections of childish/adult patterns of language in the war poetry of young soldiers such as Robert Graves, David Jones, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon; Collisions and explosions of memory and experience in experimental writing; Responses to the war in the children’s literature of neutral countries, American representations of the Great War, both before and after April 6, 1917; Escape narratives written by or about children; Child heroism narratives, including propaganda narratives of domestic heroism such asparticipation in victory gardens and scrap collection efforts; Limitations of language in writing about “unspeakable events” for children, particularly in the nonfiction texts that have been marketed to popular audiences or to classrooms; Visual representations of the First World War in graphic novels, including work by Jacques Tardi and Jean-PierreVerney, Joe Sacco and Adam Hochschild, Wayne Vansant, Pat Millsand Joe Colquhoun; The reshaping of personal and national memory and identity in children’s war narratives; The influence of militarism and pacifism on war narratives and propaganda narratives atdifferent stages of the war.”
-       Instructions: Essays should be approximately 8,000 words in length. Please email your essay as a Word attachment to Dr. Jacquilyn Weeks at by July 1, 2016. Accepted essays will appear in the 2017 issue. Or, if you prefer, you can mail a hard copy to Dr. Weeks at: Department of English, Cavanaugh Hall 502L, IUPUI, 425 University Blvd, Indianapolis, IN 46202.

 Eleventh-Annual Wonderland Award:
-       WHAT: Explore, explain, analyze, and interpret the works of Lewis Carroll
-       WHO: All graduate and undergraduate students in all fields of study, currently enrolled in accredited California colleges and universities are eligible to participate
-       AWARD: First prize is $2,500; Second prize is $1,500
-       WHEN: Deadline for entries is Wednesday, April 1, 2015; winners will be announced at an award reception in Doheny Library on Friday, April 24, 2015.
-       About the Award: “The Wonderland Award is an annual multidisciplinary competition that encourages new scholarship and creative work related to Lewis Carroll (1832–1898). The award was established in 2004 with the sponsorship of Linda Cassady. The 1st award was made in spring 2005; speaking at that event was the great-granddaughter of Alice, Vanessa St. Clair. Since then, there have been more than 300 student submissions and the success of the program prompted USC to open the competition to students from other Southern California colleges and universities.”

Good luck to you and your submissions!

Friday, March 13, 2015

T'was Brillig and the Slithy Dr. Heyman Did Gyre and Gimble at SDSU

Evidently, that the spirit of Lewis Carroll did not want to leave the SDSU campus after Dr. Heyman’s lecture on Wednesday. And why would he when there was still Alice-themed fun to be had for the rest of the week?

The first of which is the tale of how Cristina and I, intrigued by Dr. Heyman’s lecture, professor-napped him for a few hours on Thursday to discuss in more detail his interest and scholarship on nonsense.

We were curious about the history of nonsense and its origins as a written technique in literature. According to Dr. Heyman, nonsense literature—meaning literature that is purposefully ambiguous in order to create an analytical thinking process in the reader—dates back to the medieval era! It is not, in fact, literature that makes no sense. Nonsense makes a lot of sense! Got it? Good. =)

As Dr. Heyman pointed out in his lecture last Wednesday, nonsense thrives for its ability to mean so many things. Not only does it open up the mind to process different meanings, but it also creates discussion with its diverse interpretations.

But if you don’t feel like reading medieval literature to get a dose of nonsense, and for some curious reason you don’t want to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you can read some of Edward Lear’s limericks, whose “nonsense's irrationalityis the result of a painstaking, rational process”:

There was an old Derry down Derry,
Who loved to see little folks merry;
So he made them a book, and with laughter they shook
At the fun of that Derry down Derry.

For more modern examples of nonsense, one only needs to refer to The Beatles!

Aside from these wonderful examples, Dr. Heyman also gave us some tips on how to write nonsense literature.  We proudly present, our own nonsense poems:

Cristina’s limerick:
Hap Hazard is a playful mate
He’ll lock your hands upon the grate
In order to inspire
A person’s inner fire
The playful spirit’s always great.

My limerick:
There once was a little, black bat
Who loved to make things splat
Don’t wanna be entombed?
Then avoid being doomed
Like poor Rudy the rat.

Our limerick together:
Lucy Goosey was a big fatty
Never going to the gym, keeping it natty
Then one day on her donkey she did pass
John, who became distracted by her ass
And got a concussion that was phatty.

OK, so we’re not nonsense experts… or poets! But we tried.

After we thoroughly interrogated Dr. Heyman, we graciously let him return to his visit and rest before taking part in the discussion circle for ALICE: Curiouser and Curiouser!, where he was further questioned on the subject of nonsense. (It’s a good thing he seems to really enjoy talking about it!)

The discussion circle, which took place in the Experimental Theater at SDSU on Friday, March 6th, featured Dr. Michael Heyman, Dr. Joseph Thomas, Dr. Margaret Larlham, and Dr. Shelley Orr, with the humble inclusion of Cristina and myself.

Dr. Larlham and Dr. Orr discussed their adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and how they did their best to stick close to the spirit of Carroll’s original text.

We had the pleasure of seeing ALICE on its opening night, and we thoroughly enjoyed that they had made the caterpillar dress like John Lennon and sing "Imagine" (refer back to the above section regarding The Beatles and their use of nonsense). Among other clever interpretations of the text was the portrayal of the three sized Alices: doll-sized Alice, normal-sized Alice, and giant Alice. You have to see them for yourselves!

In case you missed our tweets and posts last week, don’t miss your last chance this weekend to see ALICE: Curiouser and Curiouser! It will be performed at the Don Powell Theater through March 15th 2015. 

Many thanks again to Dr. Heyman for visiting us! You're really awesome, and we like your style. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Beware the Nonsense, Dear Reader: Dr. Heyman’s Presentation Recap

“Ladies and Gentle Frogs,” an expression taken from Dr. Michael Heyman’s opening address to Wednesday’s presentation, is being recycled here to re-invoke the proper tone that is needed to cover the topic of nonsense. It is indeed curious and peculiar to identify and question, how and why Alice has become a name and a figure recognized through several generations.  To answer this question, Dr. Heyman evoked the spirit of Charles Ludwig Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) and took the audience down the rabbit hole with his “Magic Lantern Show.”

In an overview of Alice’s life as a classic, we can see the text go through many different adaptations and representations that most well known books do not experience. I mean, have you ever seen a War and Peace themed tea box? A sexy Pride and Prejudice costume? Probably not. So why is it that Alice has survived to this day and become such a pop culture icon, while other classics have not? Dr. Heyman referred us to The Sense School of Nonsense Literature for the answer.

In attempting to define nonsense literature, which may seem an indefinable term at first, let us start with the notion that nonsense lives in the realm of the strange and jumbled, functioning as a mechanism of play that forces the the reader to uncover meaning from a sort of pattern that implies sense exists but may really not.  In this place between logic and gibberish, the process of finding meaning in an ambiguous text is what makes this a terribly clever tale for adults and children alike.  This “fairy tale,” which incidentally has no fairies or moral didactic messages often found in classic fairy tales, created its own genre that would in the future be called fantasy. This bold new genre emphasized the interpretive process that links the unknown and unfamiliar to something that is somehow familiar and seems full of sense logic. Here the child finds amusement in common tune that yearns for the understanding of the adult world, and the adult finds comfort and curiosity in working to understand why it is so amusing as what makes no sense somehow makes perfect sense.

Dr. Heyman described Carroll as somewhat of the literary nonsense genius, known for his orderly kind of nonsense, a master of subverting language and logic to problematize the existent forces of structures in literature. The child who may not understand the rules of prose and narrative excels, but the adult simultaneously finds nostalgia for a once childish worldview. It is the meeting ground between adulthood and childhood, a place that means everything but nothing at the same time. “Naïve child… What does the human mind want most?” Dr. Heyman asked a child in the audience (played by NCSCL’s very own Dr. Joseph T. Thomas). The child answered, “To understand what it doesn’t understand.” Tautologically, the stimulating dialogue continued, seguing to nonsense and bringing up questions such as: When the mind understands, then does it have what it wants? Or must the mind always be in wanting of the things it does not understand?

Sense is a proposition to the mind, and while some sense must be given, the child lives within the catechism where narrative is allowed to be wrong for the sense of throwing authority into doubt. It calls upon the conscious idea that the narrative is merely a prerequisite, a place where dictionary is assumed to be helpful, but deep down inside, the mind knows nonsense has several meanings, and that is perfectly ok. This is not a parody; literary nonsense as Dr. Heyman puts it “privileges process over product.” It identifies the space that we find comfort in being around but meanwhile never have to look it in the eyes. “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!”

Perhaps, the anti-authoritative and revolutionary text, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, exists today because sometimes the world itself feels like nonsense; some days it may feel like a place where we are juggling meanings of new words like “twerking” and “bae” or hashtags like #LotR or #HP. What can really be taken from this nonlesson is that the adult lives in a space where realism is constructed and what was once curious to the child becomes defined and serves as a façade. In this sense, Alice will always be alive, because it is the unconscious process of being a child and trying to place those crazy adults.

 Will the reader care to venture whether it is the something odd (?), fragmented (?), or uncannily familiar (?) in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that will always-already make it recognizable as nonsense literature?