115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Un-training the Imagination through Adaptation: An Exploration of the Imagination through Neil Gaiman’s Sleeper and the Spindle

Jade Lum, University of Hawai'i, Manoa

This paper analyzes how literary adaptations, such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle, can be employed as a pedagogical space to enable an un-coercive process on the readers’ imaginations, particularly an un-training from heteronormative values. This paper then considers how adaptations can “un-train” or “re-train” the readers’ understanding of hegemonic social constructs by changing or perpetuating these values.


Training the imagination is a pedagogical concept, which Gayatri Spivak discusses in many of her academic works, that focuses on the un-coercive process exercised by literature on the reader’s imaginative psych. Spivak’s concept of imagination revolves around the act of “othering” one’s self to view and understand other perspectives, which can lead to an ethical response from the reader. This paper will first be analyzing Spivak’s notions of “training the imagination” together with Sigmund Freud’s ideas of pleasure within creative writing and the imagination, to then consider how an un-coercive process of “un-training” the imagination can occur, particularly in adaptation literature. Aspects and issues of reality become palatable through the fantastic in creative writing. This pleasure of fantasy may allow some readers to go through an “un-training” of the imagination. I will be considering this un-training as a process of steps that lead to a reevaluation; these steps include the reader “othering” oneself through the creative text, subconsciously reflecting the text to their own imagination and values, and finally, consciously questioning or changing their own values in the real. This paper will then consider how adaptation literature in particular is very effective in the case of un-training the imagination, as the adaptation aspect adds another layer of pleasure through reflection and comparison, and actively makes the reader think about what is being changed from the story they are familiar with.

The majority of the paper then will be examining Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle, which retells the familiar fairy tale stories of “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty,” and considering where the different modes of pleasure in adaptation can guide readers through a process that un-trains the imagination from hegemonic and heteronormative views of the female gender. The Sleeper and the Spindle incorporates Gaiman’s short story with Chris Riddell’s illustrations, so the reader experiences adaptations of “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty” both through text and visual images. Gaiman’s story reveals what happens after the events of the “Snow White” tale, and how the Snow White figure goes off to save her kingdom from a sleeping curse. While actively considering the hegemonic images of Snow White from both Grimm’s version and Disney’s adaptation, this paper looks at how The Sleeper and the Spindle creates a fantastic space that questions woman’s relations in fairy tales, hegemonic fairy tale values, such as marriage and status being the ultimate “happily ever after,” as well as a woman’s sense of agency and the act of not conforming so easily into forced identity roles, and finally the image and visual of a female figure in fairy tales. My paper concludes with discussing how hegemonic social constructs and common “ways of seeing” are created and then perpetuated through a “re-training” of the imagination in the first place, and how it is through this un-coercive process of un-training the imagination in adaptation that the reader can begin to question these social constructs. Through my paper and Gaiman’s work, I hope to display how powerful and important adaptation literature is, and show how the desires of the imagination can be redirected, so that “the play of fantasy” through creative literature can produce training, which can then change and question values in the real.

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