Friday, November 14, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 14: Laurel Holden

Laurel Holden's work is very much in the Colleen Frakes continuum established at CCS long ago. By that I mean wry, feminist takes on fairy tales, myth and fantasy. Each of these narratives works on its own as a coherent story that adds a rich, new take on familiar genre elements like witches, curses, the mystique of the sea, etc. At the same time, each story examines and reflects on factors like gender and how they traditionally twisted these narratives. At the heart of Holden's The Sea Witch, we find a story about a woman who is respected but feared because of her magical ability to create ropes which bring good luck and even more to sailors who treat her well. It's partly a revision on the idea of how women "trap" men into marrying them and taking care of them, one where the actual agency, thoughts and dreams of the woman in question are addressed in full instead of cast to the side.

The narrative follows the Sea Witch's influence waning when a new captain came around who didn't need the Sea Witch's help. At first, he was a threat who needed to be removed. Then he became an object of fascination and even affection for the Sea Witch, and therein lies the tragedy. Through a series of carefully-plotted events, Holden shows the Sea Witch fall in love with the captain and for disaster to overtake them. Of course, the way in which Holden manipulated the story meant that she wasn't resigned to a stereotypical tragic ending where the female character is published for her hubris and actually expressed sexual agency. Holden neatly side-steps that cliche' as she creates a new, more complicated fate for all of the principals involved.

Holden relies heavily on water colors to provide depth and nuance to her characters, as her line is wispy and cartoony. Holden really knows how to draw clothes, boats and ropes, and her facility in doing so makes the rope metaphor in the book easily understood. With a single panel per page and some wild coloring schemes to keep the reader interested, this book simply flies by quickly, much like a fairy tale would. The brightness of that coloring scheme brings the reader in, but the story's sad wit is what makes it worth reading.                

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