Fantasy author Theodora Goss has just released a new collection of stories and poems that retell and reflect on fairy tales, SNOW WHITE LEARNS WITCHCRAFT (with an introduction by Jane Yolen).
On her blog, Goss discusses the importance of fairy tales:Writing Fairy Tales
Fairy tales, she says, "tell us fundamental truths about the world," which we "don't get from other places." Their darkness and irrationality reflect children's experience of a large, mysterious world. The traditional stories also reflect the adolescent experience of exploring the mysteries of the opposite sex. "All marriages are to animal brides and bridegrooms. . . . You are as strange and unknowable to your spouse as a swan bride, a bear groom."
The first piece in SNOW WHITE LEARNS WITCHCRAFT, the poem for which the book is titled, speaks in the voice of an aged, widowed Snow White musing on what she should do with her life now that she's liberated from the strictures of being "the fairest" and consort of the king. When women grow "old and useless," she decides, they should "Become witches. It's the only role you get to write yourself."
Similarly, all these poems and stories question "What if. . .?" or "What comes next. . .?" They make the familiar tales new and strange by switching viewpoints from "hero" to "villain" or changing time and/or place to a different milieu. To mention only a few: For instance, the poem "The Ogress Queen" offers the perspective of the prince's cannibalistic mother from the second part of "Sleeping Beauty," the follow-up that never seems to get into children's books and movies. "The Rose in Twelve Petals" explores "Sleeping Beauty" from a variety of viewpoints, including that of the witch who casts the "curse"; beginning in what appears to be a nineteenth-century setting, it concludes a century later, when the "prince" breaks through the thorn hedge on a bulldozer instead of a horse. The poem "The Clever Serving Maid" reflects on the exchange of identities between the princess / goose girl and her maid from the viewpoint of the maid, who doesn't want to marry a prince anyway. In "The Other Thea," the heroine has to visit the castle of Mother Night in the Other Country to reunite with her lost shadow. The poem "Goldilocks and the Bear" portrays Goldilocks and the young bear as childhood friends who grow up to get married, while "Sleeping with Bears," a comedy-of-manners story, features a wedding between a human girl and the scion of a wealthy bear family. In the poem "The Gold-Spinner," the miller's daughter, who actually spun straw into gold on her own, makes up the tale of a strange little man to get out of marrying the king. In the story "Red as Blood and White as Bone," set in an imaginary central European country in the first half of the twentieth century, the narrator, an orphaned kitchen-maid in a nobleman's castle, befriends a strange woman she believes—under the influence of fairy tales—to be a princess in disguise. The "princess" turns out to be something quite different but equally mysterious, on a mission that doesn't involve marrying the prince. A witch tells the heroine of "Seven Shoes" that she will get what she wants after wearing through seven pairs of shoes; the poem follows her through successive stages of her life to the point where, having worn out many types of shoes, she attains her dream of becoming a writer. (That one moved me to tears.)
In this blog post, Goss explores the value of fantasy and why she was drawn to reading and writing it:The Horns of Elfland
She says she "read books about imaginary countries to belong somewhere," a yearning most fantasy devotees can probably identify with. As for stories "about magic happening in our world," they offer the promise "that our real world had the possibility of magic in it." I love her observation that writers, like witches, "cast spells"—"both witchcraft and writing are about using language to alter reality."
What is your favorite fairy tale? Mine is just about any version of "Beauty and the Beast." All its variants nourish my appetite for Intimate Adventure relationships between human and Other.
Speaking of romance, happy Valentine's Day!
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt