Posts Tagged ‘fairy tales’

We made a comic!

Once in every fantasy writer’s life, they should get to 1) take a crack at Fairyland, 2) work on a graphic novel. Thanks to the witty, wonderful, talented J. Hollister Conroy*, I get to do both. And now….. The 13th Faery has arrived! The comic found its roots in Mr. Conroy’s artistic style and a short story by me, and continues to morph and grow in new directions through our collaboration. Vaguely, roughly, it’s the tale of thirteen faery (that’s with an “E”) sisters and the changing world they inhabit, full of spells, sprites, tree folk, mer creatures, man-ponies, and (of course) goblins.

The first installment, “Raiders from the North, Or: From Eeek! to Zut!” came to DC Zinefest on August 9th, while we debuted on Facebook and Tumblr.


We update on Tuesdays, so check us out and share it with your friends. If you get The Princess Bride, Neil Gaiman, or Isabel Greenberg’s Encyclopedia of Early Earth, you will get us.

For your socializing ease, you can follow us on Tumblr, like us on Facebook, tweet at us @The13thFaery, email us at


*I could go on: generous, patient, inventive, curious… But I will not, at risk of embarrassing him too much.

“Alas, Falada!”

I am slowly reading through the stories in Among Animals, the new anthology from Ashland Creek Press, which, as the back cover promises, “affirm the indelible bond among humans and animals.”  Judging from the first story, and my own story “Meat” which is included, this anthology is not quite the easy-breezy-heartwarming stuff that such a description might imply.  I have a feeling I’m going to be in tears by the end of most of these stories, and not sentimental, Hallmark-Channel tears.  Existential, what-the-hell-are-we-doing-on-this-planet? tears.

The anthology’s first story, “Alas, Falada!” by Diane Lefer, is about a worker in a zoo’s veterinary office, attempting to cope with the death of a patient — an eland, a large type of antelope, who was recently euthanized.  The narrator struggles between her job tasks and her desire to honor the animal’s life with something better than what the zoo and the local museum have in store for the eland’s remains.

The title “Alas, Falada!” is an allusion to the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, “The Goose Girl,” in which the protagonist of the story, a wronged princess, has one stalwart friend: a talking horse who is beheaded early in the tale, but who nevertheless continues to advise and sympathize with the princess as a disembodied head nailed to a gate.  Like the narrator in Lefer’s story, this fairy tale left a strong impression on me as a child, one that horrified me to my core and yet at the same time confirmed something I knew from my cats and my hermit crab — that sometimes my truest friends were not human.  How I wished we could communicate as easily as Falada does with his princess.  In this story, Lefer weaves the themes of the fairy tale, with its horror and its magic (and its ungrateful silence on Falada’s ultimate fate once the princess has her happily-ever-after), into a very modern story about animals as objects of human fascination and study.  Subtly, the story catalogs all sorts of ways that wild animals are Other-ed in contemporary culture.  From the opening lines, “Humans get cremated.  Animals get burned,” to the knowledge that zoo animals are no longer named, to the positive differences that the misanthropic narrator latches onto (“When you save the life of a bear cub, you don’t have to worry he’ll go out and vote Republican”), the story is describing a line between humans and animals.  A la Gary Francione, I paraphrase: humans are people, animals are not.

Yet the narrative troubles that simple distinction.  On the third page of the story, the narrator informs us there’s someone at the museum she is trying to avoid.  On the fourth page, we learn that this someone is Jamal, a chimpanzee who died in the zoo, possibly a suicide, and is now a taxidermy display in the museum.  Playing with our expectations of who can be called a “someone,” the author forces us to adopt a new set of moral criteria, at least for the duration of the story.  The narrator repeatedly ruminates about the true nature of humans; and the emotional and cognitive capabilities of animals; and comes up short.  When our understanding both of what a human is like and what an animal is like are so fraught, it becomes audacious to accept facile social and emotional distinctions — at least not without a lot of angst, which the narrator readily supplies.  There clearly are differences between an eland and a human; part of the narrator’s conflict is how to treat the eland’s remains when elands can’t make wills that tell us how they’d like to be commemorated.  The narrator is emotional attached, and that’s all well-and-good, but we have no idea that any of this even mattered to the eland.  What the narrator learns above all, through her interactions with the zoo patients and her reflections thereafter, is that there are loveable humans in the world.  The Other becomes a distorted mirror that we use to learn about ourselves, ourselves being primary and the Others having little in the way of a life that might matter to them, on their own terms.

Yet the story will not let us end there, saying no more of Falada, as unproblematic as a Disney-fied fairy tale.  She matters, as an individual, as a life, as a feeling creature, and the narrator can’t help but intuit that she owes her something.  There are no answers or solutions, only complex emotion and meditation.  Lefer’s prose is transparent and smooth as water, and the journey she takes us through in this story make me very proud to be included in an anthology with her work.  Cheers, Diane.  This one will stay with me a long while.

Next up: “Greyhound,” by Jean Ryan.

Publication – InfectiveINk

One of my stories,  “The Weasel and the Dragon,” is the weekly short over at InfectiveINk.  This month’s theme was “fairy tale.”

Book Review – The Annotated Brothers Grimm

The Annotated Brothers GrimmThe Annotated Brothers Grimm by Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, I read selections of The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar for a folklore course. Back then, I was impressed by her scholarship, weaving a close reading of the stories with a sociologist’s approach to Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and the environment in which they collected, edited, and published the famous fairy tales.

The same scholarship backs up The Annotated Brothers Grimm, but Tatar’s text here — limited as it must be to margin notes, introduction, and afterword — can necessarily only give a summary and much-simplified analysis of the stories. As such, many of the notes are limited to comments on the structure of a story or a brief summary of another scholar’s take, such as Ruth Bottigheimer or Bruno Bettelheim. Frankly, I had hoped for a bit more. Descriptions of alternate variants of the stories, and cross-culture comparisons, were more interesting.

Tatar does a good job of introducing the reader to the academic controversies and issues that surround the Brothers Grimm. Can we see prototypical Nazism in the stories, or in the intent of the brothers themselves, attempting to preserve what they could of “authentic” German character? Should the sex (edited out of the second edition) and violence (left in, or even escalated) disqualify the stories from children’s literature? What about the overlay of Christianity and moralizing? Are the stories anti-Semitic? Materialistic? Sexist?

For the most part, Tatar doesn’t weigh in strongly on any one side of a question, but it’s all interesting stuff, and that’s not even touching on the stories themselves. I’ve tried to get through the complete collection of the Brothers Grimm a few times, but only made it partway. The sheer number of stories, many of which (as folk tales do) feature the same elements, makes it hard to keep track of the plot and eventually my mind grows fuzzy. One selection of any tale type is probably enough for a single reading session. But with this annotated volume, Tatar has pared the collection down significantly. The most famous are here: “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Frog Prince,” “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” etc. If you know them primarily from Disney films or other sources, reading the Grimms’ version is a fascinating study in the ways time, space, and cultural mores can shape a story. And the ways they can’t.

This book also contains many lesser known tales, like “Furrypelts,” “The Star Talers,” and my personal favorite, “The Bremen Town Musicians.” (Anyone who likes workers rebelling and/or animals outwitting humans should check that one out.) Curiously, folklorists’ favorite “The Maiden With No Hands” is nowhere to be found, although “The Juniper Tree” is, in all its cannibalistic glory. There’s nothing quite like a good fairy tale: the simplicity of the story, and the natural way unnatural and extraordinary events take place. I always find a new hero, someone to emulate and someone to identify with, whether I’m feeling like Dumling or the Brave Little Tailor.

Most of the tales appear here as they did in the Grimms’ second edition of their collection, after the brothers realized that parents were in fact reading the stories to their children. The aim in the second edition became not preserving folk tales and styles of speaking for scholars to come, but providing stories that were entertaining as well as morally educational for children. This meant editing the text of many stories (suppressing hints of sex, and adding a gloss of Christian piety and morals to the tales) as well as simply excising others. So in a special section, “Tales for Adults,” Tatar includes some of the tales that did not make the cut. Also included in the book are historical illustrations, from luminaries like Arthur Rackham; a biographical sketch of the brothers; preface to the first and second editions of the Grimms’ collection; and a curious closing section of quotes from various famous folks weighing in on why they like (or don’t like) fairy tales. Find the Terry Pratchett quote for bonus points.

I plan to follow up with Tatar’s Annotated Hans Christian Anderson.

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