Sister My Sister: An Open Love Letter to Abby and Jenny Mills from Sleepy Hollow by Paula Ashe

Sister My Sister: An Open Love Letter to Abbie and Jenny Mills from Sleepy Hollow

By Paula D. Ashe

First of all, let me be all the way real here: I am so behind in my Sleepy Hollow watching it’s not even funny. The show is currently halfway through its third season and I have only seen two, maybe three episodes so far. That’s not for lack of interest, mind you. From what I can tell Abbie’s trapped in some hell-like dimension and Jenny has like, demon powers or something? It sounds delightfully crazy and I can’t wait to get back into it. However, I’m currently riding the struggle bus (with Katrina Crane…don’t get me started) so I won’t be able to catch up until things get a little less hectic.

sister my sistr 1I sincerely hope that other people are watching though. In 2013 SH premiered on Fox with a masterful first season that combined genuinely creepy apocalyptic themes with the pacing and action of a police procedural. Which, is pretty impressive given the somewhat outlandish premise. The protagonist of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Ichabod Crane— wakes up after a two-hundred and thirty year supernatural coma to discover that his (im)mortal enemy – Abraham Van Brunt— has colluded with the forces of evil to become one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, namely, Death. In attempts to track down the fiend, Ichabod is arrested by Lt. Abbie Mills of the Sleepy Hollow police Department. As he is the prime suspect in the brutal decapitation of her friend and mentor, Sheriff August Corbin. Once the pair realize they are after the same killer, they unite to utilize their unique skills to track down the murderous Horseman and eventually avert an apocalypse.

For a black feminist horror fan (like myself) there are few examples of entertainment that have my perspective in mind. While web-based comedies like Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and the YouTube sensation Got2BReal keep me laughing until I cry. There’s not much out there in terms of horror. Certainly, there are black female characters in some horror-based programming, but for the most part black women and horror are just two things that are rarely paired together in a meaningful way (for a list of notable exceptions check out the Graveyard Shifts Sisters Blog). Sure, there are black women in horror films and television shows, there has been for quite some time. However, there tends to be this process through which a black woman in a horror movie becomes more woman and less black, especially if she is attractive in a Eurocentric way. So we get heroines like Jerrryline from Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight who are totally badass but have little in the way of character development. Or alternately, we get a character like Michonne from The Walking Dead, who starts off as a character with a phenomenal backstory and enough gravitas to hold viewers rapt on her own, but is often presented as a sort of ‘side-kick’ to Rick after regaining the emotional sensitivity needed to connect with people again.

These are just two examples but trust me- there are plenty more. So, it’s with this background in mind that I have to state how much I adore the sisters Mills. I won’t go into too much depth with their backstory – but it’s fascinating to say the least – and instead focus on their dynamic. In what could have been just another cliché trope of ‘good sister’ versus ‘bad sister’, Abbie and Jenny are complicated people with their own pasts. Their shared pasts, and individual and shared hopes for the future -provided there is one, since the apocalypse is always only some artifact or portal away in the SH universe.

sister my sister2

As a police detective, Abbie has always played things by the book. She is confident, capable, and committed to her job. On the other hand, her younger sister Jenny is a criminal, wanderer, and committed…in an institution. Being the survivors of a mother with a mental illness and eventual wards of the state, the two of them have had to use different methods to make it through the world the best they could. For Abbie, that meant closely following the redemptive tutelage of August Corbin and becoming a representative of authority. For Jenny, that meant running from her demons until she could be contained in the same psychiatric hospital as her mother. As a result of that rift, much of the first season is spent exploring the dynamic between these two sisters, amid a backdrop of growing darkness poised to overtake their small town, next the world.

After realizing that her sister’s visions are in fact not paranoid delusions or hallucinations, but messages from the demonic presence of Moloch. Abbie tearfully explains her position and apologizes to Jenny as best she can. Initially wanting to reject her, Jenny realizes that with their father’s abandonment and mother’s death they are the only family the other has. During the episode, Nikki Beharie and Lyndie Greenwood give flawless performances that blow my cheesy description completely out of the water.

As viewers learn more about the Mills sisters, their positions as black women never come into conflict with their development as complex characters. In fact, the writers are smart enough to weave that fraught history and earned strength into the narrative. What I appreciate most about Abbie and Jenny is that they are allowed to be both black and women, and neither aspect of their identities diminishes one or overshadows the other.

For example, their ancestor, Grace Dixson is a housemaid (servant, but okay) in the home of a powerful warlock who uses her considerable magic to protect the sisters and their family’s magical abilities. She does this in spite of being (essentially) a slave during the early colonial period in the United States. Although she exists in a seemingly subjugated state, she is a woman clever enough to write down the generational ‘lukumi’ folk religion passed down generation to generation (seemingly through matrilineal lines) that eventually helps the sisters communicate with their deceased mother, Lori.

In the episode ‘Mama’, the Mills sisters discover that – just like Jenny – Lori wasn’t actually insane; she too possessed supernatural abilities but they were misinterpreted by contemporary society. At one point, upon realizing their mother’s true history and recognizing the significance of her legacy, Jenny looks to Abbie and says, “Even through all that pain, she kept fighting”. While watching that scene, I was struck by how that sentiment is part of the story of every black woman I know. Almost every woman. I’m not here to argue about who has the most pain, but, for a program on Fox to acknowledge the intergenerational traumas experienced by black women, I had to (and did) sit up and applaud.

 

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paula ashe headshot Paula D. Ashe is a native Ohioan who came to Indiana in search of a flatter landscape. A writer of dark fiction, her supernatural novella “Mater Nihil”, was published by JWKFiction in the Four Ghosts anthology in 2013. Her award winning dark fiction has been published in several anthologies; Nexus Literary Magazine, the Indiana Science Fiction Anthology 2011, Indiana Crime 2012, and Indiana Horror 2012. She also had stories appearing in Serial Killers: Iterum and Hell. Most recently her work has appeared in the heavy metal horror collection, Axes of Evil II (2015) and the third installment of the Horror World Press series, Eulogies III (2015). She is also one of seven contributing writers to the 7 Magpies project, the first horror film anthology written and directed by African American women. Paula lives with her wife and too many pets. You can visit her neglected website at  Paula Ashe official site

Horror Addicts Guide to Life Author Spotlight: Steven Rose Jr.

Steven Rose Jr. writes horror and dark fantasy, including an anthology called  The Fool’s Illusion.  For Horror Addicts Guide To Life  Steven wrote  two articles in the book entitled Horror And Dark Fantasy and Tomb Toons and Kid’s Horror. In his essays Steven gets into the differences between horror and dark fantasy and gives us a history of horror aimed at children. To read Steven’s work, along with several other articles on living the horror lifestyle, pick up a copy of Horror Addicts Guide To LifeRecently Steven was nice enough to tell us what he likes about horror:

What do you like about the horror genre?

18521949Ever since I was a little kid (4 or 5) I’ve loved that sense of mystery and the unusual that the darkness and grotesqueness of much horror conveys. Because I like the unusual, I like the supernatural monsters and alien/mutant creatures of horror; a lot of sci fi, especially in film, overlaps with the horror genre.

What are some of your favorite horror movies, books or TV shows?

One of my favorite all-time classic horror movies is The Shining, a movie that is so chilling that I was not able to watch it all the way through until several years into my 20s. I love the classic Universal monster movies, especially the Frankenstein and Wolfman films. When it comes to Dracula, however, I just can’t get into Bela Lugosi’s enactment of the vampire (although I’ve liked a lot of the other horror characters he’s played, especially the mad scientist ones). I like Christopher Lee’s enactment of Dracula in the British Hammer films much more. Lee portrays the vampire a lot more realistically, in my opinion. (Lugosi comes across as over-acting the part.) When it comes to contemporary horror films, I have not really seen a lot of newer horror films that I really like. A couple that I were really good and are post-2000 are Universal’s remake of the Wolfman and the Alien prequel, Prometheus. I thought they did a great job giving a gothic ambience to the Wolfman re-make and Prometheus gave interesting background to the earlier Alien movies without info-dumping (a term us fiction writers use that refers to background information in a story where it’s not needed).
Favorite books: I like Edgar Allen Poe’s stories, especially “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”; I like Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu; The Manitou by Graham Masterton; Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts; the list is nearly infinite especially since there’s so many horror short stories that I really like because I’m a big lover of the short story in general (that’s what I normally write, as far as fiction goes.) But my favorite classic novels of horror are Frankenstein and Dracula, not only because they star monster characters who have been most iconic in modern horror but also because it conveys so much meaning on a literary level.
Television: I haven’t really been a big fan of horror television, although I’ve liked many of the dark supernatural episodes of the original Twilight Zone, such as one about a living ventriloquist puppet that torments its owner and another about the ghosts of murdered Jews who come back to haunt their Nazi oppressor. I like television horror-hosted movie shows such as Elvira’s Movie Macbre of the ‘80s, Sven Goolie’s show and Mr. Lobo’s Cinema Insomnia of today and the 1970s’ Creature Features hosted by Bob Wilkins in which this last one I grew up with. Horror- hosted movie shows such as these often feature B-rated flicks that are so horrible they’re good which I like right up there with the, believe it or not, A-grade or big budget horror films. I like the pop culture of the eras many B movies grew out of and reflect, especially the 1950s through ‘70s.

Another television show that I’ve always liked, although it’s not supernatural horror, is the original Outer Limits. MV5BODk0Nzg3OTAwMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDM0OTIzMDE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Many of the episodes were dark, featuring menacing monsters from other planets or from mad science experiments. And even though I’ve only seen a couple episodes since it debated about two years ago, I thought Sleepy Hollow was pretty good. Even though it’s way off course from Washington Irving’s short novel, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as a TV show and so within itself it’s been made really good and utilizes the Biblical apocalyptic theme well during this trending time of post-apocalyptic zombie themes (even though Sleepy Hollow isn’t a zombie series like Walking Dead is, in which this second one I was never able to get into by the way.)

In what way do you live the horror lifestyle?

I wear horror fandom tees, such as ones with Cthulhu prints, skull images, Universal Monster tees. I wear a ‘70s long-hair style and a full beard, which most people seem to be scared of the ‘70s. [laughs] I collect horror memorabilia, especially skull figurines, and use Halloween items I’ve bought on clearance for year-round interior decorating. For example, I have a “painting” of a figure that metamorphosizes from an 18th century naval captain to a dead pirate captain that was manufactured as a Halloween decoration but I hang it in my living room year-round. I don’t dust off the cobwebs in most places in my house. I’m fascinated with crows since they’re so much like ravens and so I’ll take extra effort to avoid hitting them while driving on the road no matter how much an angry driver in back of me is blaring his/her horn or yelling curses to me for “holding up” traffic. I call our local countryside coyotes “little wolves” or “mini wolves”, and I’ll stand several minutes outside at night admiring the full moon. For me, rain and thunder storms are beautiful weather (especially in fall and winter). Also Halloween is like an autumn version of Christmas to me, and so is my ancestral Day of the Dead which for me the two don’t contradict each other. Other words in my Lexington of horror that I use in everyday settings: I call my apartment maintenance man and the cemetery groundskeepers “caretakers”; I don’t call the underground level of a house a “basement”, I say “cellar”; I’ll say “coffin”, not “casket”; I’ll say “grave-“ or “tombstone”, not monument; and I never call a cemetery/graveyard a “monument park”.

My sense of humor tends to be pretty dark too. I listen to pop music by horror-inspired bands, especially the Groovy Ghoulies (who are no longer together) and the Phantom Jets, both who are local to my home area of Sacramento. But a few of my favorite horror rock songs by more notable artists are Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”, the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s “Time Warp” and, of course, Bobby Boris Pickett’s classic “Monster Mash” which was probably my very first rock song I really got into.

What are you currently working on?

I was working on a second book of short fiction which I originally planned to release in August of this year but it looks like it won’t happen that soon. That’s because I’m trying to submit some stories to some magazines and, because many literary magazines don’t want simultaneous submissions, I would have to write up some new stories for the book. I plan to title it The Hidden. However, if my short story submissions don’t follow through, then the book release may not be delayed for too long (hopefully no later than the fall, ideally in time for Halloween).

Where can we find you online?

My book of short fiction, The Fool’s Illusion, is available on Amazon in both print and e-format (Kindle) [http://www.amazon.com/Fools-Illusion-Steven-Rose-Jr/dp/1491092548/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1431652461&sr=1-1&keywords=the+fools+illusion]. You can sometimes find sample stories of my book at my blog, A Far Out Fantastic Site (faroutfantastic.blogspot.com) as well as ones I have not yet compiled in a collection. Not all of my stories in Fool’s Illusion and on my blog are necessarily horror but most are dark to some degree. I also have a sci fi “column” at the news site, Examiner.com.  [http://www.examiner.com/scifi-in-sacramento/steven-rose-jr ] My Twitter page is @StaRosep2, The Fool’s Illusion Facebook page is [https://www.facebook.com/TheFoolsIllusion?ref=hl] (you may have to be logged into Facebook to see it), or you can email me at strosejr@gmail.com.