Welcome to the second interview in this series, where we’re checking in with the contributors to Pop Culture Matters: Proceedings of the 39th Conference of the Northeast Popular Culture Association.
This fifth interview is with Matthew T. Jones, Ph.D., who is the Chairperson of Communication at the County College of Morris. His essay is titled: “From Grimm to Gaiman: Points of Convergence, Divergence, and Departure in The Sleeper and the Spindle”.
How did you find yourself studying pop culture?
Like so many others, my initial interest in popular culture was driven by my love of the movies, television programs, comics, novels, and videogames from my childhood. As a youngster, I was fascinated by fantasy films and television programs such as Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian, He-Man, and Thundercats. I made many attempts to emulate these characters and themes in print and on film. In college, I spent a lot of time on writing and making short films and soon found myself interested in the question of what movies mean to us and how we connect to them. Since then, I would say that I have broadened my interest to all forms of narrative media and even the concept of narrative itself.
How did the idea for this essay manifest?
“From Grimm to Gaiman: Points of Convergence, Divergence, and Departure in The Sleeper and the Spindle” is an extension and application of my theory of adaptation processes to Grimm folklore and its reincarnation through illustrated books and various forms of comic art. In my dissertation, I proposed a model that attempts to account for the potential changes in a narrative that occur when it is migrated from one medium to another. This model is also applicable to different versions of a story that are adapted within the same medium. Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle presented a really interesting opportunity to apply this theory and explore how two classic folk tales (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) were merged and transformed to create something entirely new that still resonates with themes and archetypes from these old stories. Perhaps most interesting is how malleable themes and archetypes are in accommodating contemporary social concerns and shifting notions of identity.
How would you explain the article’s contribution to pop culture studies (or other relevant fields) and its main point(s)?
The most important contribution this article makes to the study of popular culture and folklore is in providing a better system through which we can analyze how classic stories fit into contemporary popular culture. The Composite Model of Adaptation referenced in the article provides a basis for exploring how the adaptation functions to render the original story (especially an archetypal story) unfamiliar in ways that cause us to question the basic assumptions of the narrative. In addition, this analysis of Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle reveals not only how new qualities emerge in adaptations (Aufhebung), but also how familiarity with the themes of the original story creates a sense of uncanniness (Unheimlichkeit), which eternally preserves traces of the source in the stores of both the individual and collective unconscious.
How did you find yourself presenting at NEPCA?
I have attended and presented at NEPCA for the past two years now and consistently find it to be an excellent conference experience. The work presented at NEPCA is of excellent quality, provokes interesting discussion, and provides relevant material for further research into popular culture. As the chairperson of a small department at a community college, this provides me with a rare and valuable opportunity to engage with other scholars and share my work in a small constructive environment.
What additional work (if any) have you done on this subject matter?
“From Grimm to Gaiman: Points of Convergence, Divergence, and Departure in The Sleeper and the Spindle” is the second installment of a project titled “Points of Convergence, Divergence and Departure in Graphic Adaptations of Kinder- und Hausmärchen.” The first article, “Points of Convergence, Divergence and Departure in Graphic Adaptations of Kinder-und Hausmärchen: A Case Study of Hansel & Gretel” focused on Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti’s adaptation of the classic story of Hansel and Gretel. Most recently, I have completed and presented “Convergence, Divergence, and Departure in Through the Woods,” a study of Emily Carroll’s loose adaptation of Grimm stories into horror vignettes in her dark graphic novel titled, Through the Woods. In a forthcoming paper, I will continue to explore Carroll’s work and I ultimately plan to design an illustrated children’s book of my own that is based on the Grimm Fairy Tales.
Check out other interviews with authors in this book: