Interview: Pauline Greenhill

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In 2014, when I began studying fairy tales, I came across Pauline Greenhill’s “‘Fitcher’s [Queer] Bird’: A Fairy-Tale Heroine and Her Avatars,”  an academic article that offers a queer reading of “Fitcher’s Bird,” my favorite Grimm fairy tale. The article has deeply influenced my thinking and writing on fairy tales and so I was thrilled when, after sending off an email to Greenhill, she agreed to an interview.

Greenhill is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Her most recent book is Screening Justice: Canadian Crime Films, Culture and Society, which was co-edited with Steven Kohm and Sonia Bookman, and published in 2016. She also co-edited Fairy-Tale Films Beyond Disney: International Perspectives with Jack Zipes and Kendra Magnus-Johnston in 2016; Unsettling Assumptions: Tradition, Gender, Drag with Diane Tye in 2014; Channeling Wonder: Fairy Tales on Television with Jill Terry Rudy in 2014; Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms with Kay Turner in 2012; and Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity with Sidney Eve Matrix in 2010. She is the author of Make the Night Hideous: Four English Canadian Charivaris, 1881-1940 (2010). She has fairy-tale research published in Feral Feminisms; Law, Culture and the Humanities; Marvels & Tales; Narrative Culture; Studies in European Cinema; and Theoretical Criminology among others.

There’s a storied tradition of studying fairy tales through a feminist lens, but you take that work further, examining queerness in fairy tales. How did you find your way into this field of research?

Absolutely my queer/trans research is an extension of my feminist research! But my route to queer and trans fairy tales was circuitous. I started a masters in Folklore at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1977. At the time, and to a sad extent now, the cool kids avoided traditionally recognised forms of folklore like ballads and fairy tales. Trying to be one of them, I did my masters thesis on family photography.

However, when I got to the University of Texas at Austin in 1981, where I did my PhD, I worked with Roger deV. Renwick, a ballad and folk song scholar who has always been an advocate for studying traditional genres (see e.g. Renwick 1980 and 2009). So for my PhD dissertation on folk poetry in Ontario under Roger’s supervision, I was looking for the old in the new, as it were (Greenhill 1989).

After five years teaching Canadian Studies at the University of Waterloo, I came to the University of Winnipeg’s (then) Women’s Studies program in 1991. (We’re now a Department with six full time faculty and we’ve included “and Gender.”) At the time I was working on Newfoundland ballads about women who dress as men to follow their lovers or seek adventure as sailors, soldiers, or robbers. You can listen to one example here, sung by the fabulous Newfoundland traditional source singer Anita Best on the compilation album Bristol’s Hope–Lately Come Over. Hitherto folklorists’ readings assumed that these songs were about men and their experiences, and my feminist reading asserted that they were also about women.

Continue reading Interview: Pauline Greenhill

Thirst

by Harmony Hazard

I picture my mother at the helm of a boat somewhere in the thick of ocean. Floating behind the boat is a glacier, a compression of quiet grace. My mother has tied a thousand ancient ropes to the glacier and is pulling it through the water with the same conviction that I imagine Moses had when he parted the sea.

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For years, she has whispered her plan to us. Before they all melt, my mother wants to transport a glacier from Alaska to wherever my sister and I are living, so that we will have a secure source of water. To keep it from melting, she will coat the glacier in sawdust, as if sprinkling confectioner’s sugar on a slice of bundt cake. Then, she will chain it to a tugboat and tow it across the ocean, where it will finally be left in a dry pond or a desert’s scorched riverbed so that my sister and I will not die of thirst. We have always rolled our eyes to this idea. Impossible, we’ve said. But, recently, I’ve wondered.

On the night of her seventieth birthday, my mother told my sister and I that some scientists believe the moon was once part of the earth. This theory surmises that when the moon separated from the earth, the Pacific Ocean was formed in its void. We were eating pineapple-upside-down cake in the flicker of candlelight, she was wearing a white kimono and a halo made from fourteen carmine flowers, and my sister and I balked at the idea. But my mother insisted until my sister googled it. It’s called the fission hypothesis, my sister says. I guess I have to get a PhD, my mother responded with a tilt of her halo, for people to listen to me.

Over a decade ago, my mother had a theory that the energy from the moving bodies at gyms or playgrounds could be used for electricity. When she and I walked past fitness centers with treadmills in the windows, she pointed to the sweating bodies and said, Imagine how many light bulbs they could be powering? My eyes went from the runners’ wet, mangled hair to the ceiling, where fluorescent lights hummed incessantly above their heads, but I wasn’t convinced. Years later, my sister saw an advertisement: a company was utilizing the velocity of playing children to power electrical outlets in a playground.

Maybe I’m wrong to not believe that you can part the sea, that a body can run enough to flash on a light bulb, that the moon can slice itself from the earth and spiral out into the knitted black of the sky. Maybe I am wrong to not picture the glacier, hulking and glossy, rising over the sea like a skyscraper; to not look closely at this image until I can see my mother’s reflection in the ice, waving at the distant sight of land, her salty seaweed hair swept into the sea-wind, rough waves smacking against the sides of the boat. If I look even closer, I will discern on my mother’s face not only the knowledge that her family’s thirst will forever be quenched, but also that now, after all these years, they will maybe, finally, believe her.


Harmony Hazard hails from both Tucson and New York. She is completing her MFA in creative writing with Stony Brook University. She edits the “Participate” column in make/shift magazine, has been published in CALYX and Border Crossing and is part of a collective editing an anthology of creative writing about the Sonoran Desert borderlands.

Photograph by Timothy Neesam.

Editor’s Note: From Inside the Wolf’s Belly

wolfbelly3You. You are a girl, and where there is a girl there is a story. A story about a girl.

Your mother will give you a bag. Maybe a fine leather satchel, or maybe a rough sack.

It will be much heavier than it appears.

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Your mother cannot speak, so she cross-stitches her warning to you. Her thimbled finger pushes the needle that pulls the thread. She spells it out so you see her words framed by pine above your pillow. Each day you wake to them, and each night you bed down beneath them:

Do not go into the deep dark woods alone.

You hear the story of your mother from the women of the village, so often that you know it by heart. The old wives tell their tale. Your ears grow heavy to carry. Sometimes the women are raccoons chittering, sometimes birds wide-beaked and screeching grief. You want quiet. You want dark. You want to be alone.

You set off carrying your mother’s bag.

From inside the wolf’s belly, you don’t hear the old wives at all.

Still. You know their story, by heart.

Your mother lost her voice to the jaws of a wolf. She went into the deep dark woods alone, with her basket in hand. She was plucking mushrooms from the good rot when the wolf came upon her. He caught her by the neck. At the last moment, a hunter saved her. He drove his knife through the beast’s belly. Soon you grew in hers. The hunter built your house. The hunter brought meat. But the hunter did too break your mother’s bones.

From inside the wolf’s belly, you can hear the hunters swarm for rescue. You stay very quiet.

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They will leave, with their knives and axes and arrows. You will begin to chew.

You are a girl, and where there is a girl there is a story. A story about a girl.

The old wives will tell this story of you:

The girl went into the deep dark woods alone, chasing her shadow. The wolf had pale yellow eyes and a black smile. He gulped her down whole. But the girl ate the wolf from inside his own belly. She ripped and chewed and swallowed until the beast was inside her belly instead, every last sharp tooth of him. She belched. She howled and barked at the moon.

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You. You will whisper to the wolf inside you:

You ought not have gone into the deep dark woods alone.


This Editor’s Note was written by Tiny Donkey Editor Anna Lea Jancewicz