September 2005

Charles Rybak


Apprehend by Elizabeth Robinson

This week’s release of The Brothers Grimm, and the combined successes of Shrek and The Lord of the Rings, attest to the public’s continued fascination with fairytale and classic fantasy. Elizabeth Robinson’s Apprehend works to elucidate the callousness of the classic fairytale’s cursory simplicities. “Our secure house” of fairytale, she puts it, “is more gesture than matter.” Gratuitously harsh and often startlingly violent, Robinson reveals the classic fairytale as cliché cloaked in a fable rigged to impart the world’s cruelties. From "Three Dragons":

How could you know yourself without your
mirrored voice,
your snarled hair,
your nose congested with smoke and mucous?

You are too world-weary to take the bait,
rolling aimlessly.

As manifold as the meanings of the word “apprehend,” Robinson calls us, as people, to apprehend our participation in living fantasy, not only to arrest our moral conceptions of righteousness and heroism, but also to fear and to understand that sanctimonious belief may mask larger bigotry. “From what language does this beast extend?” asks one of her so-called monsters.

Playing on our familiarity with tales likes Three Little Pigs and The Little Match-girl, Robinson straddles the line between heroism and monstrosity. In one of her strongest pieces, "Hansel and Gretel," Robinson plays on the myriad fears that result in the intermingling of Witch and children. Of the Witch, Robinson writes, “she paints one line atop another until the stripe itself acquires dimension and curls like a tongue from the limits of two-dimensionality.” Robinson does us the service of not completely humanizing the Witch, permitting a reader to still condemn the Witch prejudicially. For these prejudices, a reader feels guilty; Robinson goes on to state, “Two children, mad with hunger, impose themselves on a gentle old crone… attack the house itself and try to consume it.” Robinson leaves us uncertain of whether we cheered for the side of good or monstrosity.

Apprehend shows us how fantasy so often caters to the bias of personal belief. “They came,” she writes, “and they were heroes, and they tore away branches all oblivious to fruit.” In classic fairytale, whom to despise is almost always as obvious as who wins our sympathy. Hero vs. monster, good vs. wicked, the fairytale formula uses the very same groupings that most people use in their day-to-day lives to assemble their personal world-view. From "The Book of Apprehension":

Who knows better my scent.
The elements of my making.

But no one can plumb what I pursue

Any race run
can be run again
to losses
and gains.

Robinson cautions the reader not to find a Hero in themselves so readily, that labels are “arbitrary like all the designations that are received from above or elsewhere.” Robinson goes further to imply that the designation of heroism is self-imposed, that the taking on of Hero demands an egotistic intolerance of a misunderstood being. Robinson’s conflation of myth with injustice makes Apprehend an incredible and necessary read, demonstrating for today’s self-righteous mind the dangerous allure of fantastical thinking. “Salvation,” she states, heartbreakingly, “is simply an exchange of names.”

Apprehend by Elizabeth Robinson
University Press of New England
ISBN: 0971318956
89 Pages