STEAMPUNK WORLD’S FAIR 2015
THE DARKER SIDE OF FAIRY TALES PANEL
AMBER LOVE 22-MAY-2015 I really feel like I barely left the Radisson’s Salon D where The Nightshade Society tract was running discussions on all things eerie, creepy, Goth, and occult. I love that I changed up my Steampunk World’s Fair experience by sticking to a pretty dedicated path, wandering off once in a while. The last panel from Nightshade that I caught was What Big Teeth You Have: The Darker Side of Fairy Tales with panelists Abigail Larson, Kevin, and Drew. One of the things I’ve noticed about SPWF speakers is that they don’t give their full names or real names for obvious reasons of avoiding issues IRL; however, it would be really great for the attendees to be able to know Twitter handles or Tumblr blogs for where we can follow people we enjoyed at the shows.
I’ve dropped in some quotes on the subject by people from pop culture voices, but not from people who were actually at the panel.
This particular review is probably going to sound harsh, but part of what I do in convention coverage, is talk about the quality of speakers and the organization of their panels. I have the feeling that demonologist Kevin and folklore historian Drew were last minute additions to the lecture. The website program only attributed Larson, for one thing. And then there was a distinct lack of preparation in the presentation. There were definitely great points brought up, but I think it could’ve benefited by more organization. I do understand public appearances. Maybe people were hungover or just exhausted. It happens. I don’t think Drew spoke more than a few sentences during the entire 45 minutes and it comes across as either being unprepared, needing a moderator to ask the questions, or someone afraid to speak up. Kevin and Drew were often referred to as “we” so I got the idea that they work together a lot. Overall, I would have preferred if it was more balanced. There was also a shortage of mics. This wasn’t a huge panel, only three speakers, and yet there were only two microphones. At least they tried to share them.
Abigail Larson is an incredibly talented artist. My comic book followers would maybe compare her fluid, ethereal style to works of Amy Reeder and Chrissy Zullo. The projector cast samples of her work throughout the discussion which covered werewolves, elves, and Santa Claus lore. Her art had some direct examples, particularly with The Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood which she called a story of a sexual predator.
“’Oh! grandmother,’ she said, ‘what big ears you have!’
‘All the better to hear you with, my child,’ was the reply.” ~Brothers Grimm
Larson expressed that what’s acceptable fairy tales today are not only based on scary originals, but further back on much more frightening sources that have been translated from, usually, European languages. She gave interesting information about her Swedish heritage and the beliefs they have, not only in her family, but as a culture. I think it’s beneficial whenever audiences can learn about other cultures, so I found this the most beneficial part of the panel.
The panel discussion started off debating versions of the Bluebeard tale. I honestly think there was some misinformation or confusion here. Finding a correlation between Bluebeard, the French man who would notoriously test his wives and kill them if they failed, with Giles de Rais, a man who murdered children and is considered the first serial killer, only shows that the speakers could read theories in a Wikipedia entry. Even on the wiki page, the theory that the Bluebeard tale originated with de Rais is weakly defended and points out how unlikely it is that they’re connected. Larson gave the best and clearest explanations about how the Bluebeard tale is a feminist warning against arranged marriages and projects a fear of women.
When the topic turned to elves, Kevin did try to interact with the audience by asking if anyone would want to meet an elf. He then focused on the mischievous sidhe before moving on to Santa Claus and Krampus. This was another time to get real familial beliefs from Larson who told the audience about Tomte, small elves with long white beards that give gifts. There was no evolution into the types of elves and fae seen in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS or THE HOBBIT.
Kevin ended the panel with personal stories about his experiences running into some of the supernatural creatures discussed that day. He proclaimed his devotion to Christianity and said he often partners with an exorcist to investigate cases of hauntings or demons.
I think it’s pretty evident that I saw Larson as the highlight and think that if the lecture had been solo for her, she would have done well. Having other people to play off of is definitely a more comfortable approach to public speaking as it gives the speakers some safety nets and the audience doesn’t always feel the scholarly academic mood akin to school. My suggestion would be to have the panel better moderated so that everyone gets to speak. The subject was incredibly broad and would benefit from being narrowed down to a specific fairy tale like The Big Bad Wolf, since they had plenty to talk about on that alone. There was barely a mention of witches or fae although Baba Yaga was mentioned only to say none of the speakers know anything about her. Again, that’s a huge subject that could warrant its own 45 minutes.
“When I put magic into a book – whether it’s a wizard or a crusty old werewolf – I’m asking a reader to swallow a huge leap that is counter to everything he or she knows. An extra big helping of reality makes that leap go down a lot easier.” ~Patricia Briggs, Author
For some new folklore adaptations, it’s obviously hard to escape the profitable world of vampire and werewolf entertainment, but there are some independent stories you might not be aware of. Check out the comic series SOUTHERN DOG written by Jeremy Holt with art by Alex Diotto which uses the metaphor of lycanthropy to address racism. Also, Jonathan Maberry has novels and comics with incredibly detailed stories of vampire lore and their origins. Personally, as far as vampire and werewolves go, the UNDERWORLD film series has been my favorite. I rarely find fictional witches handled well and I tend to appreciate the lightheartedness of things like BEWITCHED and PRACTICAL MAGIC. Actor/Director/Novelist Amber Benson is certainly someone you should be checking out for paranormal fiction; she has grown beyond her role of the lovable witch Tara on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Of course there are some hugely popular comics like FABLES. And I can’t forget to mention the show ONCE UPON A TIME which for me, has gone off the rails and I only watch for the costumes.
“There is so much more to this world then outward appearances. Our society basks in the illusion of normalcy every day, and hides from the truth every night.”
~Amber Benson, Author: Accursed
Recently on Vodka O’Clock, my friend Josh Neff and I discussed the trend for supernatural monsters to be sexually attractive rather than frightening. We’d love for you to listen. And if you appreciate this kind of content, please consider supporting the site and show at Patreon.com/AmberUnmasked.