At last I’ve managed to review the ‘Damsels in Redress: Women in Contemporary Fairy-Tale Reimaginings’ conference at Queen’s University Belfast which I attended recently. My thanks to the organisers, Lisa Kennedy, Amy Finlay, and Christina Collins for such an inspiring event. Papers from the conference are going to be posted to Academia.edu, so I will link from here when they’re uploaded.
The first keynote address by Professor Diane Purkiss, ‘Winter Roses: Fairy Tales, Snow, Ice, North’, was a fascinating and broad survey of landscapes of faery dominated by winter. Topics ranged through Snow Queens of myth and folklore; the Italian Buffona; the pairing of the Spring Boy and Winter Goddesses such as the Scottish Bera (who appears in Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series, which I discuss in my own account of winter landscapes, ‘Boreal Magic’ here); reworkings such as A. S. Byatt, Emma Donaghue, and Helen Oyeyemi; and the Snow Queens of Anderson, C. S. Lewis, and Mrs Coulter in Philip Pullman, to avatars in anime.
Katherine Whitehurst talked on women, ageing, and the postfeminist idealisation of youth in the film Snow White and the Huntsman.
Miriam Walsh showed how the film Maleficent allows previously marginalised figures to speak, giving agency to the evil character through depicting their history and motivations.
Brian McManus talked about the transformation of the Irish Banshee figure from its traditional role through Hermione Templeton Kavanagh’s originally feminist short stories of Darby O’Gill, co-opted in the Disney film for patriarchal motives.
Elizabeth Byrne looked at Esme Weatherwax and other witches in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an understanding of how stories are shaped by and shape culture.
Then, my own talk on variations on the ‘Beauty and the Beast tale’ was well-received; I was treated nicely and asked interesting questions (my talk is available here).
On the same panel, Donna Mitchell looked at the doll-like qualities of Claudia in Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire (and Neil Jordan’s film), making sound use of Simone de Beauvoir and highlighting the Gothic threat of the doll’s gaze.
Erica Gillingham explored Malinda Lo’s Ash lesbian retelling of Cinderella—an absorbing YA fantasy romance, where the love object the Huntress is not a replacement for the Prince but creates new possibilities.
More dolls in Sally King’s fascinating discussion of the shifts in the depiction of Cinderella’s footwear from pattens in Basile, through Perrault’s pun on vair and verre (from fur to glass) and its characterisation of fragile sexuality, to the silver or golden slippers in Grimm and Disney films and finally the plastic shoes of Disney dolls.
Robyn Muir looked at the Disney princess of live-action remakes of animated fairy tales through a first wave of conventionally feminine roles through gradually increasing emancipation to Belle of Beauty and the Beast, who is a more empowered and adventurous figure.
Jo Ormond talked about Mattel’s Ever After High series of novellas, with its associated website and collection of dolls and how much they fulfil Mattel’s claim of encouraging girls to create their own destiny.
Amy Davis, of the University of Hull, then gave the second keynote on the fairy tale elements in the TV series Outlander and the foregrounding of female sexuality and agency therein.
Rebecca McEwen addressed two postmodern reworkings of fairy tale in Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry and Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch and how they resist the traditional patriarchal tendencies of fairy tales.
Dearbhla McGrath presented on the Researchers in Schools project (a very worthwhile project that addresses pupils with high ability who don’t get to top universities), where she has been encouraging secondary school students to challenge gender stereotypes through old and new versions of fairy tales, from Perrault and Beaumont to Angela Carter and Emma Donaghue.
Sarah Armstrong talked about eugenics, narcissism, and the fairy tale elements of motherhood (such as the changeling motif) in the TV SF series about clones, Orphan Black.
Daisy Butcher, of the University of Hertfordshire (OGOM’s host), discussed the archetype of the Monstrous Mother and the vagina dentata in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline through a Jungian perspective.
I had to leave to catch a plane, so unfortunately I missed Laura Becherer, on female liberation in Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, Rebecca Hurst, on domesticity and wilderness in Soviet fairy tales (which I particularly wanted to see), and Emeline Morin, on the aesthetics of the female body in Matteo Garrone’s fim, The Tale of Tales.