Wonder Woman: Truth Seeker

0What struck me in watching the tour de force of this summer’s blockbuster season was how puzzled Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, often is. From her earliest childhood, she questions her mother’s authority with mischief and daring. She pesters her queen mother constantly until, with partial answers, Diana finds her true mission of God Killer and wholeheartedly believes the legend about Aries as the only source of evil.

Yet she is perplexed at every step of her journey—as she walks into 20th century England and the battlefields of World War I.

Her confused, penetrating gaze as our chaotic world unfolds in front of her eyes is one I can’t forget. Wonder Woman is full of wonder and bewilderment. The girl she once was resurfaces, the one who questioned and dared—who sought the truth.

13584290_265908347099959_1739541_nAt the movie’s opening scene, Diana reflects on the black and white photo taken in a Belgian town after her first victorious foray with the enemy. She comments (in a voice over) that this was before she knew what she’d since learned: about the darkness in every human. The movie ends by returning to its first scene and that photo as she states what she now knows of us—our dark side that creates evil.

So, to me, the Wonder Woman movie is an inner quest for truth, even though the battle scenes look as though it’s just another “boom, boom, bang, bang” superhero action film. The powerful battle scenes are part of her seeking process, taking on the dark without fear from a position of strength to know it.

When Diana touches the glass of that framed, long-ago photo, she speaks a final truth that every female hero knows: at the heart of all is love.

Gal-Gadot-Wonder-WomanNow that’s a real quest! Brava for Wonder Woman!

The Shadow and the Heroic

slenderman-urban-legend-2All through my childhood, I read folktales and fairy tales whenever I could. My early years were uncertain; we moved frequently, from place to place, changing towns, states, finding homes in a variety of circumstances. Those ancient stories sustained me, since no matter what the culture or country of origin, they told of a heroic courage that won out in the end, overcoming all wickedness.

In my lifelong research of folklore as a storyteller, I discovered that the great majority of tales do end well. It’s a universal celebration of the human spirit, the ability to persist against the demonic, the terrifying, the shadow side of our psyche.  

So, I appreciate modern fabulism that holds true to this universal narrative, that answers a primal need in the reader: to find a way out through inner worth and commitment, tapping into the core values that make our world whole. Neil Gaiman’s work is often like that. Coraline certainly enters a dark, shadow world, almost exactly parallel to her own. But she finds her way back from “Other Mother” through the use of a talisman, her love of her family, and her wits.

While prize-winning authors, Karen Russell and Kelly Link write fabulist stories with motifs found in folktales, myth, and legend, they often leave us in the dark–with the shadow. I admire their artistry that keeps us there, somehow comfortable in a nightmare landscape.

2016-New-Fashion-Teen-Girls-Adjustable-Snapback-Mesh-Trucker-Baseball-Cap-Hat-Caps-Hats-MulticolorsBut today I see a need for fabulist stories of empowerment, especially for young women. Not the overdrawn stereotypes of Wonder Woman and female superheroes who fight perilous battles with super powers and aggressive weaponry, but stories that depict everyday female characters who succeed with a magical, inner courage. They confront the shadow that is in front of them, the obstacles that keep them powerless–they emerge heroic.

The oldest stories are multi-dimensional: they move back and forth between worlds. How compelling to use ancient motifs in modern settings to empower and entertain. Woman Wonder Tales seek that journey.



Domestic Fabulism

I’ve written a new manuscript for this series of fabulist stories about modern young women. This tale draws from Greek mythology in its magical motifs that appear throughout the action. With a nod to Woman Wonder Tales, one of its characters arrives on the scene to help with the main character’s rescue.

A STRANGE BEAUTY:  YA Fabulist Novella (ages 15 – 25)  

 Sylvie Dawson has a dangerous secret, an abusive boyfriend who is stalking her. Forced to hide in her godmother’s country home for the summer, she struggles with isolation and creeping terror to discover her own strengths. Set among a coastal redwood forest and drawing from elements of ancient myth, Farrell weaves a fabulist tale that is all too real.

Encouraged with the positive response to the Woman Wonder Tales by a number of readers, and by the coining of a new genre called domestic fabulism, I sallied forth to address a current topic in that genre: male abuse of young women.

domestic.fabulism.workshopThe genre article in Electric Lit was exciting to me as a life long storyteller, since the author, Amber Spark, coined the phrase and then proceeded to define it:

“To explain further requires some exploration of the terms. Fabulism, often interchangeable with magical realism, I’d suggest incorporates fantastical elements within a realistic setting — distinguishing it from fantasy, in which an entirely created world (with constructed rules and systems) is born.

“These fantastical elements are often cribbed from myth, fairy tale or folk tale. Strange things happen and characters react by shrugging: animals talk, people fly, the dead get up and walk around. Time operates sideways, nature behaves mysteriously; fabulism feels like the kind of dream in which you look down and realize reality has forgotten its pants.”

Sparks goes on to say that while fabulism is exotic and faraway, domestic fabulism takes place in the everyday world and reveals the true nature of home, of relationships, the family—like a fun house mirror.

Domestic fabulism contains fantasy elements in contemporary, everyday life. Closer to fantasy than realism, it sits somewhere between magic realism and fantasy. Writers known for their fabulism works are Kelly Link and Jeff VanderMeer.

Perfect! That’s what I’ve attempted in A STRANGE BEAUTY: a new kind of wonder tale that is both here and there.




Hot Wheels for Wonder Woman

1396502046In honor of Women’s History Month, Hot Wheels is selling a new set of superhero cars for super women: Wonder Woman, The Wasp, Maz, and Black Widow.

The cars’ design and characters’ costumes are based on their most recent or most recognizable appearances. The Wonder Woman car and her costume is from her upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice movie role that hits theaters March 25th. Wonder Woman’s tiara is integrated into the auto design that features a red tinted windshield and golden stripes.

It’s great to see a toy company that usually sells only to boys, offer a line of Hot Wheels for girls. Not only do the cars look powerful, but they are painted in the bold, primary colors of superheroes—no pink or pretty pastels for these crime-busting vehicles. They are fierce and aggressive.

Will girls play with the Hot Wheel cars? I wonder if they will zoom-zoom them around the carpet and hold races with their friends. In a way, it doesn’t matter. Even if the women’s superhero cars become decoration on a young girl’s dresser, they will make a difference in how she thinks of herself. She has permission to be outrageous, courageous, and stand out in a crowd.

Maybe it’s time for girls to wear a new kind of tiara. Wonder Woman’s tiara can be used as a throwing weapon, similar to a boomerang, and as a cutting device. It is worn on the forehead like a headband, golden with a red star to show her status as princess. Formidable.

Let’s get in those March 2016 Hot Wheels and drive!



What Is a Wonder Tale?

wondertales__150212Some say that “fairy tale” is the wrong name for magical folktales. It was used in Spanish and in French, but in German and Italian, there is no word “fairy.” There is no allusion to a fairy. And many so-called fairy tales don’t even have any fairies.

A “wonder tale” has a wider, broader meaning, so it could take place in any location, not just in the ancient woods of the Grimm’s stories, like “Snow White,” or in the fantasy realms of the Celtic tales with “little people.”

Some folklorists use the German term Märchen or “wonder tale” to refer to the fairy tale. In his classic reference book, the 1977 [1946] edition of The Folktale, Thompson defines a wonder tale as: “A tale of some length involving a succession of motifs or episodes. It moves in an unreal world without definite locality or definite creatures and is filled with the marvelous. In this never-never land … the characters and motifs of fairy tales are simple and archetypal … and include magical helpers, often talking horses, or wild animals, or birds.”

New wonder tales are being told and produced today, even if we don’t recognize them as such. They are wildly popular and often, artistically successful.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, a drama film (2012) is a wonderful example because it is a magical tale that takes place in the United States. Usually what we think of as fairy or wonder tales are set in this lost magical land from centuries ago—the woods, the peasant villages, places where Brothers Grimm recorded folk stories.

imagesBut here the magical place is Louisiana, in a remote bayou town on the eve of a great storm. There are elements of the challenges of the post-Katrina era–that there is a quest of epic proportions for our times that must find its folk heroes.

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards at the 85th Academy Awards, in the categories Best Picture, Best Director (Benh Zeitlin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin), and Best Actress (Quvenzhané Wallis). At age 9, Wallis became the youngest Best Actress nominee in history.

To me, this is a Wonder Tale that speaks to our 21st century — our time and place.



Why I Love Comic Strips: Back to the ‘50s

YellowstoneStIt was another lazy summer afternoon on the south side of San Antonio, Texas, probably 1951. My brother and I were huddled on the cement steps of our small house on Yellowstone Street, waiting for the paperboy to ride down our one-block street and deliver the afternoon paper. Why? We were anxious to read the next installment of our favorite comic strips.

For me, it was Prince Valiant, an amazing hero who had death defying adventures, part of King Arthur’s court. I found his blue-black bobbed hair and striking features alluring, his feats fascinating. His Sunday comics in full color were even more wonderful—with complete episodes.

VAL_Ensemble1But of equal interest were the exploits of Dick Tracy, detective, and others who fought against crime, like Super Man. The vivid graphics of each strip were stimulating, bigger than life.

It was worth our wait in the fierce heat, anticipation heightened by the sound of a bicycle bell. We observed the wobbly bike approach, as each rolled paper was thrown, house-by-house, ever nearer to our dried lawn of crab grass.

A newfangled television set was an unheard of luxury for most of us in our lower class, south side neighborhood. In our minds, newspaper comics arriving by bicycle everyday were just too good to be true—an awesome event.

Little did we know that these very comics were helping us develop literacy skills and build our reading comprehension. We were “reading between the lines,” making inferences, using graphic clues to interpret emotional reactions.

No matter that the newsprint smeared our fingers and elbows, that the newspaper became lining for our garbage cans. We had tasted a world of imagination, courage, and intrigue, far, far away—only to wait for the next day’s installment.

 (Note: This is a recent photo of our house from a real estate site. When we lived there, the front porch was screened and there were no bars on the windows or fences along the front yard. The simple cement steps and path are the same.)

Secret History of Wonder Woman

Hist-WonderWomanNot until I read the national bestseller, The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore, did I have any inkling that the comic book series was based on first-wave feminist sensibilities. The origins of Wonder Woman began on New York’s Lower East Side within a radical group that included Margaret Sanger and the founding of Planned Parenthood.

Lepore writes, “Wonder Woman isn’t only an Amazonian princess with badass boots. She’s the missing link in a chain of events that begins with the woman suffrage campaigns of the 1910s and ends with the troubled place of feminism fully a century later. Feminism made Wonder Woman.”

The actual creator of the iconic super heroine, William Moulton Marston, was a bohemian scholar and offbeat psychologist who invented the lie detector test. During the time between the two 20th-century world wars, when social mores relaxed, Marston experimented with science and learned feminism from the women he loved.

His creation of Wonder Woman became the perfect storm for so many cultural, scientific, and political upheavals that a reasonable argument can be made: Had the Amazonian Princess never been born, America would be a different place. An ardent feminist, Marston developed the concepts and plots for the first comic strips of Wonder Woman with the clear intention of influencing the direction of popular culture.

It’s interesting to me (of course) that Wonder Woman was first released as a comic strip character in 1941, the year I was born. She was an influence on my own girlhood identity, shaped by the comic books that proliferated throughout the ‘40s.

m_ms_w_womanWhen Wonder Woman faded from popularity in the ‘50s with the advent of television, I didn’t realize how much she still meant until she reappeared out of the blue on the first issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972. Not knowing her secret history, Wonder Woman was to me the perfect icon for second-wave feminism. Now I understand: that was the point all along.




Kahili: The Quest

Kahili-iceThe ancient goddess of snow and ice, Poliahu, long content to live in the icy regions of the world, resting in the snows of high mountains and in the great ice masses of the North and South Poles, awoke. She felt the heat of a warming Earth. Angry that her ice kingdom was melting, her glaciers breaking up and icebergs drifting away to the great salt seas, she blamed her archenemy and rival, Pele, goddess of volcanic fire, and vowed revenge.

Poliahu was mistaken; Pele was not to blame for the ice melt, but there was no one to tell Poliahu otherwise. She came on Pele unaware and attacked her with a full strength of ice and snow, covering the mythic volcano on Kahili, the land beyond the horizon where Pele dwelled—a place of spirit and primal power. Poliahu plugged up the volcano’s fiery, steaming cone with a dense glacier. Soon the land around the mountain became a frozen wasteland. Poliahu remained on Kahili, among the folds of her glacier, watching and waiting. At the first puff of smoke, she swore to strike again.

Pele, taken by surprise, was now captive under layers of ice and snow. Barely breathing, she warmed herself with the glow from the earth’s core. Volcanoes around the world cooled and the earth tentcity-flickr-glasto_2009_606surrounding them froze, burying towns and villages in a blanket of ice. Pele struggled to fight her way out of her prison and as she did, the earth trembled, oceans rose, earthquakes toppled buildings, while millions fled to open fields. Tent cities sprang up around the globe—everyone became a refugee with nowhere to turn.

Burka Avenger

baBurka Avenger, produced by Unicorn Black is a multi-award winning 3D animated TV series and the first ever animated superhero series made in Pakistan. The protagonist of the show is Jiya, an inspirational school teacher whose alter ego is the super-heroine Burka Avenger. Her use of books and pens as weapons is symbolic on many levels. The Burka Avenger fights for Justice, Peace and Education for all.

By day Jiya works as a teacher in an all-girls school, but by night she dons a black burka as her disguise and fights crime in her fictional city. The parallel to Clark Kent and Superman are obvious. But what is so very interesting is that Jiya uses the female garment of repression as her cloak of power, the burka, to become a super-heroine.

The crime she fights might be the closing of an all girls school or an attack on the school. One episode featured on the web site is “Burka Avenger Fights Polio” in which Jiya saves the polio vaccinations for the city’s children–stolen by those who resist change and medication. The symbolism is hard to miss in this 22-minute episode. Jiya uses skills of martial arts and clever strategy to overcome those much stronger and vicious than she.

Most fascinating to me is how this super-heroine is loyal to her city with a compassion and empathy that motivates her heroic actions. Who else could perform such acts of courage than a young woman in a burka?

Super Hero Girls – DC Comics


Drawn by Samy Cat

Just announced this month, DC Comics, Warner Bros., Mattel, and other partners will launch an entire new line of products for girls and tweens featuring DC Comics Super Heroes as girls: Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Katana, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Bumble Bee and Batgirl—depicted as multi-ethnic teenagers. 

We’ll meet them and learn their stories, how each one of them came to have superpowers in her childhood and teen years. It seems that girls are taking over the DC Comics Universe of Super Heroes. At least they are finding they belong. Is this, “Bye, bye Barbie and hello Batgirl?” Or will we discover that Super Girls have the same impossibly tiny waists and other inhuman proportions squeezed into skimpy costumes? 

Even so, it’s a good sign that merchandisers think that girls will identify with such strong, powerful iconic characters. But maybe girls are ready to take on the world beyond playtime and comics.

The Woman Wonder Tales in this project are not comic book stories, but based on real life challenges that girls, teens, and young women face. It will be interesting to see if Super Girls will face “super charged” challenges from an opposing cast of arch villains and fight against crime. Real life is not so black and white.