Friday, October 2, 2020

Retelling Rumpelstiltskin

A roundup of fiction based on the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin put me in mind again of my interactive art exhibit, Rumpelstiltskin's Cupboard. Here is my watercolour that revisions the tale and my accompanying wall text:

Once there was a merchant who boasted that his daughter was so fabulous that she could even spin straw into gold. The greedy king hears of this and sends for her. He puts her in a room with some straw and says, "If this is spun into gold by morning, I’ll marry you. If not, I’ll kill you." He closes the door and she bursts into tears as she hasn’t the faintest idea how to do it and wishes her father wasn’t such a blowhard. Suddenly a weird little man appears and does it for her in exchange for her gold ring. He ends up having to bail her out three nights in a row because the king is so greedy. On the third night he asks for her first child in exchange. At this point, nowhere near pregnant and desperate, she agrees. So the king marries her and when the baby is born the weird little man pops up again. He won’t be dissuaded from taking the baby unless she can guess his name. She sends her courtiers to scour the kingdom and by accident one sees the little man dancing around a fire in the forest singing his name. "Is it Rumpelstiltskin?" she asks, which is correct. This makes him so furious he tears himself in half. The end.

This is a strange story. It equates babies with gold. It made me think about people who steal babies, and not those poor demented women who crave a child of their own and steal someone else's. This is understandable but there are other people who abduct and kill children. Why? I wondered if it is because babies are of such indescribable value. Whether it is an act of envious revenge against the world by individuals who felt they’d been shut out and deprived of the good things of life that everyone seems to have. In this piece I’ve shown Rumpelstiltskin as a crazy angry misfit who lives in a shed in the woods. He has snatched a treasure and is rushing home to gloat over it. But he will find that he can’t count it like a bag of money. A baby is only a treasure if you love it. He has impoverished others but not enriched himself.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Wild Swans, an interactive revisioning

A recent blog post by Tor Publishing on modern retellings of the fairy tale,  The Wild Swans, reminded me of my own reworking of this tale as a piece of interactive art. It was part of my show Rumpelstiltskin's Cupboard: Interactive Fairytale Art.
outside of antique wooden pool cue box with stencilled lettering "marriage keeps lads out of pool hall"

detail of swans becoming youths again

The Wild Swans, acrylic on wooden pool cue box, 5 x 42 ½ x 3 ½"

This is a story about a princess who has twelve brothers who have been turned into wild swans.  It is up to her to release them from enchantment by weaving twelve shirts out of nettles and getting the swans to wear them so they can turn back into men.  Remember that nettles are poisonous and cause your skin to painfully blister and rash if you accidentally touch them.  

I really liked this story when I was a little because the girl was so heroic and the picture of wild swans so romantic.  I had lots of fantasies of suffering tortures to rescue someone I loved.  Now in thinking it over, I would say that this tale is a perfect example of the Patient Griselda theme, so-called after the story of that name by Boccaccio in the Decameron.  Griselda exemplifies the perfect wife because of her capacity for endless, uncomplaining devotion.   That is, the perfect woman is the perfect martyr and masochist and will never complain, no matter how punishing the demands of her husband/father/wild swan brothers are.  She obeys and never questions because her love is so great.

Another great theme in this story is the age-old idea that women are responsible for taming the wildness out of men.  In recent years the British press has hauled out experts who claim that by getting pregnant but refusing to share their council flats with the lager-swilling, unemployed dads, young women are causing the downfall of society.  They are shirking their female duty to marry and thereby teach responsibility and good manners to young men.

  "Why should I?  He just lies about all day watching telly.  He steals money from my purse to go out drinking with the lads all night and then gets violent with me and the kids."   So the editorials in the Telegraph, Times, and Evening Standard were blaming the girls for the immature behaviour of young men.

This is why this piece is in a pool cue box.  Because the pool hall is one of the traditional hangouts of young men up to no good.

I had a few practical problems with the subject:  I know nettles are green, but green shirts looked so horrible on the swans in the night sky that I pretended to myself that they'd dried to a nice gold colour like ripe wheat.  I also sat there pondering how the swans could get their wings through the sleeves in mid-air, or if the shirts would blow off if they were just draped over the swans.  Then I told myself, "Stupid!  It's magic.  The shirts will just melt onto their bodies."


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Kiddo shortlisted for the Chocolate Lily Award!

So delighted to be considered for this magnificent BC children's choice award.

Front and back view covers of Kiddo

“Children who love to tell stories but struggle with spelling will find some encouragement here. Nugent writes with levity and a keen eye for the memorable details of childhood. Young readers may be persuaded to put down their game-controllers and step out into the sunlight.”
Canadian Children's Book News

“A lively and satisfying read.”
Winnipeg Free Press

★ “In this hilarious middle-grade novel, award-winning illustrator and author Cynthia Nugent captures the nostalgic charms of 1960s-style childhood without seeming dated or irrelevant. Nugent’s artistry shines in the neo-retro feel she brings to her story...Kiddo is a laugh-out-loud read, perfect for those whose tastes skew quirky.”
Quill & Quire, starred review

“Kiddo's family are all crazy in their various way -- but they are all accepting and loving of one another's foibles, and they all have fun together. More families should be like this one!”
CM: Canadian Review of Materials

“An abundance of humor in all its forms moves the plot and its many subplots to satisfying conclusions. Retro fun for persistent readers.”
Kirkus Reviews

Night ride home

A four-panel comic in pencil crayon of riding home from the skytrain after teaching.