September 17, 2020

Throwback Thursday: Fairies and Fan Fiction - William Gilmer

Editor’s note: I’m not sure I agree with what the writer says here, especially about the “over” status of old school fairy tales, but the post did get my attention. I think it’s interesting. It’s from 2020. KW

It’s not a stretch to call fan fiction polarizing. Its legitimacy is often questioned by self-appointed “serious” writers, even though it is one of the most prolific forms being written today. How prolific? Head over to and see how many stories have been uploaded in the past day. I’ll wait.

Impressive isn’t it?

There are already mile long forum threads to show how non-productive it is to debate the validity of fan fiction, so I’m not going to throw my opinionated hat into that ring. I would rather use this space to highlight one example of fan fiction that is enjoying massive success – the modern, or fractured, fairy tale.

Not fan fiction you say? Do they utilize characters from other works in original ways? Do they explore worlds and settings created by others? Do they seek to deepen and pay homage to already existing narratives?

Sounds like fan fiction to me, and it’s thriving.

A quick internet search brings up numerous anthologies of “new” fairy tales published in the last year (After the Happily Ever After, Transmundane Press, Twisted Fairytales Anthology, Createspace Publishing, Fractured Beauty: The Fairy Tale Five, Tork Media -  just to name a few)

The 1991 movie, Hook, for example, is certainly fan fiction and was nominated for 5 Academy Awards. (we’re going to save the conversation about whether or not Peter Pan is an “actual” fairy tale for another time)

The ABC television series, Once Upon a Time, ran for 7 seasons and had an impressive list of Emmy nominations.

Both Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast have enjoyed new life with expanded live action adaptations.

So why is fan fiction being celebrated when it comes to fairy tales, and eye-rolled into obscurity when it deals with nearly any other genre?

Readers expect complete stories with well-constructed worlds and fleshed out characters.

Fan fiction usually doesn’t take the time to build worlds or characters. It relies solely on source material, and assumes that the reader has a strong understanding of the “canon” that came before it. This means that the fan fiction writer will either need to write about a literary world people are already familiar with or be content with a small readership.  

We all know fairytales. The majority of us grew up with Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood. When Once Upon a Time uses Cinderella in an episode, you already know her story. This social familiarity helps the story appeal to a much wider audience.

You might be wondering, “Well everyone knows Harry Potter, shouldn’t its fan fiction be just as popular?”

It might be, if it wasn’t for the giant elephant in the room - the dreaded copyright. Most fairy tales have been around long enough to slip into Public Domain, meaning that anyone can use the characters and settings without fear of infringement. Chances are, an author isn’t going to let a story that infringes on their copyright go far (anywhere but a web forum far), so most fan fiction that would appeal to a large audience is stopped before it even gets off the ground.

While an author can’t prevent anyone from writing fan fiction, they certainly can limit the amount of exposure a piece gets. Cease and desist letters can come quickly for the successful fan fiction writer.

Some fan fiction is written while the source material is still being expanded by the original creators, others are “officially” done, leaving fan fiction as the only way to keep these stories and alive.

Some of us sit around and wait for another visit to Hogwarts or that second season of Firefly. Others get to it themselves.

Regardless of your thoughts on fan fiction, I’m sure everyone can agree that it’s a labor of love. It comes from a place of wanting more of characters or worlds that have touched the reader in a special way.

It’s over for classic fairy tales. The originators of our Grimm favorites have been gone for hundreds of years. If we want another taste of those nostalgic stories, we have to turn to fan fiction. This void creates fertile ground for new writers to plant their own creative seeds. Fan fiction becomes more acceptable when it deals with works that can’t be expanded any other way.

It’s easy to split hairs with this topic. How exactly do you define “fan fiction” or “fairy tale”? Can Walt Disney's 1950 animated version of Cinderella be considered fan fiction, while the 2015 live action version is considered a remake?

My hope with this article was to highlight the seemingly contradictory way we enjoy, even celebrate, fan fiction’s creative borrowing. There seems to be something about fairy tales we can’t let go of, a magic that compels us to make special exemptions to get our next fix of forbidden forests, glass slippers, and fairy godmothers.

William Gilmer is a contributing editor at Enchanted Conversation Magazine and a writer and poet currently living in Michigan.
Follow him on Twitter @willwritethings 

Cover layout by Amanda Bergloff

September 15, 2020

The Case of the Missing Kiss, by A.M. Offenwanger

Editor’s note: This fun and informative essay is filled with links you can follow to learn more. It’s a departure for EC, because it has been previously published, but A.M. Offenwanger is a long-standing friend of this site, and this essay is a great example of how to have a good time while sharing information. It’s a win-win.

I’ve been studying Frog Prince tales. You know the ones: princess meets frog, he does her a service, in return he asks for a kiss, she kisses him, and hey presto, he’s turned into a handsome prince. Right? Wrong. If you look at the Grimms’ version—tale #1 in the Children’s and Household Tales—you’re doing okay until you get to the kissing part. It’s not there. It quite simply doesn’t exist. The act that gets the prince unfroggified is one of gross violence: the princess chucks the frog against her bedroom wall (in the 1812 version, with a lovely onomatopoeic “Splat!”). That’s right, attempted murder. When he falls down from the wall—I’ve always had trouble visualising that bit—he’s a handsome prince with “friendly eyes,” and the princess happily goes to bed with him.


That’s fine, you say. There are other versions of that story that have the kiss in it, aren’t there? Well, not that I can find, at least in the old tales. Ashliman’s Folktexts page on “Frog Kings: folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 440 about slimy suitors” lists twelve frog husband stories, and not one breaks the spell with a kiss. In fact, several of them, such as the Scottish “The Well of the World’s End,” end in even greater violence than the Grimms’ “Frog King”: the frog gets the princess to chop off his head, which has of course the effect of freeing the prince; in a Korean variant, the bride cuts open the frog’s skin. In fact, one wonders if the change in the story trope to attempting to break the spell with a kiss was a deliberate plant by the Froggy Liberation Front—girls going around experimentally kissing frogs in order to find a prince for themselves is a lot less detrimental to your average amphibian than being thrown against a wall. And just think of the messes we save ourselves.


So, setting aside the Froggy Liberation Front, where did the kiss come from? Heidi Anne Heiner, of SurLaLune Fairytales, says in her Annotations to the Frog King that the kiss first surfaced in English translations of the story, following Edgar Taylor’s translation from 1823. Taylor hasn’t got the kiss in there, though. In his version, the frog is freed from his spell by the princess letting him sleep in her bed for three nights. Ashliman points out that Taylor’s “translation” is, in fact, a mash-up of two of the Grimms’ tales: “The Frog King, or Iron Henry” and “The Frog Prince.” The latter is a tale which was dropped from the Grimms’ collection after the first edition because of its similarity to the first story. In this, the princess’ problem is not a dropped golden ball, but the attempt to get a drink of clean water from the well. The princess’ two elder sisters fail, because they refuse to promise the frog to become his sweetheart; the youngest girl promises, and so the frog lets the water run clear again. Taylor’s version takes the first half of “The Frog King,” the bit with the golden ball, and the conclusion of “The Frog Prince,” and combines them into a somewhat more gentle tale. Ashliman figures that Taylor thought English readers of the 1820s would not accept the violence in the Grimms’ version.


Still no kiss, though. However, it’s interesting that the earliest English translations of the German tale already conclude with a sexualized version of the spell-breaking—I mean, having the prince, albeit in frog shape, spending three nights in the girl’s bed is suggestive enough. I wonder (and that’s just me speculating, I have no proof for this) if the true origin of the kiss isn’t a form of prudery—subsequent translators or retellers being uncomfortable with all this being-in-bed-together stuff, and changing it to a somewhat more chaste kiss, which can be accomplished fully dressed and far enough away from the scene of the, ahem, marital act to keep young minds uncorrupted. In fact, even the Grimms moved away from their original telling to expurgate any references which might be suggestive of sex: in the 1812 version, the princess throws the frog against the wall by her bed, and he literally falls right into her mattress; by the final version of 1857, the bed is no longer mentioned (Ashliman does a rather interesting side-by-side comparison of the two versions here).

However, there are later variants with a kiss. There is a charming Pomeranian story in a collection from 1891 called “De Koenigin un de Pogg”—“The Queen and the Frog,” in which a king goes off to war, leaving his wife behind. One day she drops her wedding ring down the well. The frog offers to fetch it back on the promise of marriage. When he comes to collect on the promise, the queen tries to fob him off with the maid, but he insists it has to be she who opens the door, gives him food, and finally kisses him. She’s disgusted, but gets her maid to blindfold her so at least she doesn’t have to look at the ugly frog while she kisses him. And then there is a loud bang, and the frog turns into her husband! He’s been enchanted by a wicked witch out on the battlefield to be a frog until a princess kisses him better, and so he’s swum through rivers and lakes and puddles until he got home, because, he says, “he was pretty sure that only his wife would be willing to kiss him.” Aaaw, that’s so sweet. It’s quite possibly my favorite “Frog King” variant so far. However, it’s so close in storyline to the Grimms’ that it is almost certain that it was influenced by the older story; it’s unlikely that this is an independently developed variant.


It’s rather interesting that the trope of the redeeming kiss is what’s stuck so solidly in the popular imagination. What is it that makes the kiss so popular that it has almost taken on a life of its own?

There is one more amusing piece of research I came across in searching for the missing kiss: “The Frog Prince: Tale and Toxicology” is an article in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry by David M. Siegel, MD, and Susan H. McDaniel (American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 61.4 [1991]: 558-562.). The abstract says: “Bufotenin is a substance present in the skin of some common species of frogs, and its ingestion (such as would occur in licking or kissing a frog) can result in vivid hallucinations. This biological property offers an explanation for the portrayal of frogs in folklore as creatures of transformation, or as intermediaries with other worlds.” Apparently toad-licking for the purposes of getting high is a not uncommon practise in some circles.


So what do you think—all those frog-kissing princesses, were they just seeing things? Perhaps there wasn’t really a prince there—they just had hallucinations of one, and in fact married the frog in all his amphibian glory. But then, as long as they see him as Prince Charming, it’s all good. A little bit of delusion can go a long ways towards marital bliss.


Note: This post was originally published in 2014 on “The Mystery of the Missing Kiss” also inspired a fairy tale flash fiction story, which was published on Enchanted Conversation in 2018: "Hitting the Wall, by A. M. Offenwanger."


Bio: Angelika is a reader, writer, blogger, and editor who has loved fairy tales and folklore from the time she was a little girl—so much so that when she was grown, she wrote a master’s thesis on them. Her favorite stories to read, write and study are those set in other worlds, whether that’s fantastical worlds full of magic, far-off places, or long-gone times.

Follow her blog at or on Facebook @amoffenwanger.


Image, one of my all-time favorites—what an expression she has!—is by Walter Crane.

September 14, 2020

Working On It

 Sometimes the post fairies throw me a curve, so this week’s new post, which I really think you’ll like, will not be up until tomorrow or Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s a gorgeous girl by Edmund Dulac.

September 10, 2020

Chosen Authors, October 2020

I hate to overshadow the wonderful “Throwback Thursday” story by Alethea Kontis, but it’s chosen authors day! Here are the people whose work will be featured in EC in October:

Vivica Reeves

Kathleen Jowitt

Amanda Bergloff 

I look forward to seeing the submissions for November in October.


Image by C.M. Burd.

Throwback Thursday: Hero Worship, By Alethea Kontis

Editor’s note: This unusual and thought provoking take on “Little Red Riding Hood” proves that even commonly retold fairy tales can surprise you. It’s by Alethea Kontis, who is both very successful and talented. I’m proud of the level of talent this zine continues to attract, all of these years later. This was originally published in 2011.

To: Mister Jack Woodcutter
From: Miss Sonya Vasili

Dear Mister Woodcutter,
My grandmother bade me pen this letter. She says that when someone saves your life, especially a legend such as yourself, the least you can do is write them a proper thank you note. We also mention you in our prayers to the gods every night. Sorry if that sounds a little creepy, but if it weren't for you, Baba Vasili and I wouldn't have anymore prayers--or anymore nights, for that matter.
"Thank You" doesn't seem a big enough phrase to fit all the meaning I need it to, but as I haven't been able to think of another, more appropriate gesture in the last few weeks, Baba Vasili handed me the quill and parchment, and here I am. Please forgive as well my utter lack of eloquence, as this is a tradition to which I am not yet accustomed.

And lest this silly little note (if it even finds you on your Grand Wanderings) finish without saying: THANK YOU. Thank you, Mister Jack Woodcutter, again and again. Thank you for my life.
All the best,
Sonya "Red" Vasili


To: Jack Woodcutter
From: S. Vasili

I hope this letter finds you as successfully as my previous pitiful note, but even if it doesn't, that's all right. The writing of it alone is enough. I can close my eyes and imagine you're right there in the settee listening to me, the only person in the world who believes me. Yes, Baba Vasili was there, but she is tired of listening. She doesn't want to hear about the nightmares (I see the wolf's teeth, I feel the brush of his fur, I smell his breath, and I scream for you). She is tired of me jumping at shadows in the forest. The other girls at school have started calling me "Little Red," as if I am just another silly baby telling tales.

Baba Vasili will not tell the tale because she does not believe in spreading evil out into the universe, so no one believes me. No one will listen. No one will stand beside me. I am alone. I have no one. No one but you. And I don't even have you, as you gallivant off on your adventures. But I will write to you often and share my pain. I know you won't mind. It eases my heart a little.

I wonder if you dream of the wolf, if he haunts your head with his darkness as he haunts mine.

I wonder if you dream of me.

Sonya (Red)



I miss you. Does that sound stupid? We met during one of the worst moments of my entire life, but I miss you. You shone like the sun, did you know that? Such a bright light against the darkness of the wolf. Against my darkness.

But of course you know. Everyone knows of your beauty, your confidence, your ability to bear impossible burdens, perform impossible tasks, and beat unbeatable foes. The bards sing your praises from mountain to ocean side. I'm sure you never sleep in a cold bed.

You must think of me sometimes, the in-between moments before sleeping and waking. Do you see me, my wide eyes, my long auburn hair, my pale arms desperately reaching for you as I did in that moment? So very innocent and frightened and powerless in your strong embrace.

Most days, I sit on this hillside and pluck the petals of daisy after daisy. (You love me every time.) I see your eyes in the cloudless sky and your hair in the sunshine. Your chest is the tree trunk supporting me as I lean back against it. I inhale and the breeze is your breath, and in those moments we are together and I know--I know, with all my heart and mind and soul--that you can feel me too.

I miss you, Jack. I miss you.

And I love you.



My Dearest Jack,

A troubadour came through town last night, singing for his supper. Once his belly was full of Baba Vasili's rabbit stew, he indulged me with hours upon hours of The Adventures o the Illustrious Jack Woodcutter.

I never tire of hearing the trials and triumphs of my one true love, however great or small, for I know that one day those songs will hearken your return to my pale young arms and pining heart.

But as the evening drew to a close (and the singer was so far into his cups that I was forced to tie him to the chair), he related to me a silly, bawdy shanty about The Great and Powerful Jack running afoul of a basket of poisoned pastries.

I cannot apologize enough, for I know those pastries could only have been mine. (Did you recognize the basket from that fateful night so long ago? I shed blood, sweat and tears over that basket then; I thought it only fitting to do so again, for you.)

I can only think that the messenger crossed paths with a vengeful fairy, or that some of the ingredients spoiled in this unnatural autumn heat we've been having. You know that I certainly never meant to harm you in any way!

However, in the event that you had taken a turn for the worse, I would have sensed it immediately and been fast by your side to nurse you back to health. You never need call, my Jack, for my heart knows you. I believe in your absence that I am developing the ability to sense when you are in real danger. (Obviously, had the pastries been a real threat, I would have known about them long before that soused balladeer.)

The gods brought us together, Jack. We are a matched set, cut from the same cloth. Who am I to deny the gods?

I only hope they see you safely home soon, my dearest. I will be waiting. As always.

Ever Your Girl,



This will be my last missive to you. The pain cuts me deeply, and soon I will return to the nightmare mouth of the wolf, where I was always meant to be. There is no world without you. There is no me without you. And soon, there will be no world at all.

Forgive the stains on the page, red as my hair, but the quill grows heavy in my hand, heavy as my stone heart. The beats are slower now, and the breaths are faint.

My soul is crying out to yours, growing ever blacker with the night. You will hear it and come to me soon, my love. Look to the stars--they will guide you to me. Perhaps you are already here, with your ax at the door. I only hope it is not too late.



To: Mister Jack Woodcutter
From: Anastazia Yaga Vasili

My dear Mister Woodcutter,

Sir, it pains me to bring such news to you, after the incredible good deed you did my granddaughter and me so long ago, but in the event that any--or all--of Sonya's letters have found you on your travels, I thought you would want to know.

Red is safe. It was I who dragged her back from the jaws of death this time, but the eyes and ears and hands of the enemy were her own. Its teeth were the penknife I keep in the writing desk.

It was I who encouraged my granddaughter's correspondence to you, so it is only fitting that I must bear the burden of its outcome. You and I only saved Sonya's body from the wolf that night--the part we could see and touch and feel. Her mind, I fear, never recovered from that darkness, and I did not recognize the signs until it was almost too late.

Our little Red is recovering in the care of my spinster sister, high in the remote reaches of the white mountains. Perhaps you might have heard of it in your wanderings. Cinderella's blind and mutilated stepsisters convalesce there. So, too, do the young girl with the donkey's tail on her forehead, and the one who spits snakes and toads when she speaks. I believe Red is in the best hands possible. If my sister cannot save her from the wolf, no one can.

As much as I hate to burden you with this information, I thought it best that you should know. You are a great man, sir, and you once did my family a kindness that will never be forgotten. May your road be straight and your skies be blue. May the gods lift you to their breasts and find you worthy enough to be rid of your burdens. Many blessings to you.

Your servant,
Baba Vasili


To: Miss Sonya Vasili, c/o Baba Yaga's Traveling Home for Unfortunate Young Women with Magical Maladies

Dear Red,

Get well soon.



Bio, from 2011: Alethea Kontis is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter Companion, as well as the AlphaOops series of picture books. Her debut YA fairy tale novel Enchanted, will release from Harcourt Books in 2012.

Update: In 2020, Alethea continues to be a successful, award-winning, and well regarded writer. Learn more about her work here.


Image by Jean Jacques Henner.

September 8, 2020

The Old Woman and the Angel, By Kelly Jarvis

Editor’s note: This gloriously detailed story of heartbreak, and love and work appealed to me because of the visual and emotional connection it creates with the reader. KW

Preface: The story of “Jorinde and Joringel,” by the Brothers Grimm, begins with an old woman, a true witch, living by herself in a castle deep in a thick forest. But the real story begins earlier, when this old woman was a girl. Even ancient hags with eyes red from crying were young and beautiful once upon a time, and this girl, who was to become a witch, was the most beautiful of them all.



“Don’t leave me.”  

They were lying tangled together, breathless, beneath an autumn canopy of leaves. The boy smiled at the girl, his fingers slowly twisting through her hair. His own rust colored locks curled down from his temples, framing eyes the color of a far off horizon.   

“I will return in three years’ time, my love.”  

He gently twirled the iron nail he had shaped into a ring and slid upon her finger, his own circle of iron clicking softly against it. They had exchanged these rustic symbols in a secret marriage ritual as the sun had miraculously risen from its casket of green earth that morning. 

Now the sun took its final breath in the loving embrace of twilight, and a thousand protests rose inside the girl’s heart. She had hoped their forest vows would tether them together and silence his desire to sail the seas. A tear slipped from her eye, and she turned her head toward a patch of flowers stained red by the death throes of the sun. He plucked one and touched its silky petal to her damp cheek, circling it down the curve of her neck. Then he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her while the fire he had built in the clearing blazed, dwindled, and eventually died into an ashy gray smoke that curled upward toward the star spattered heavens. 


It was long past midnight when she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep on the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest.  

When she woke, he was gone.  


The boy sailed the dangerous seas all through the long, dark winter. He sailed through the blooming of spring, when the girl, as swollen and heavy as a harvest tree, was sent far away to repent in the reverent home of her spinster aunt. He sailed through the thick heat of summer as her pains split her in two. The girl screamed out his name with each wave of agony, and, when she burned with fever, and her aunt, thinking she would die, cast a circle of prayer around her, she muttered his name through her blistered lips.

Her aunt told her it was the Angel Zachiel who had answered their prayers. Through the haze of her clouded memory, the girl can recall a host of angelic forms gathered just outside the stone threshold of the window, stretching endlessly toward the horizon, their wings illuminated by celestial light. In her dreams, she remembers a child she would never see again, warm and wet against her breast, with ringlets of slick, soft, rust colored hair. 


Her aunt’s cottage was an austere place, but the girl, who was now a young woman, came to appreciate the cold stone walls of the house and the scratch of the black woolen gown which had replaced her maiden wardrobe. She wore a silver pendant carved with Zachiel’s likeness beneath her robes so that the metal touched her skin, the cold circle pressing against the place where her heart had been. 

“When you were on the doorstep of death, Zachiel took mercy on you,” her aunt reminded her daily. 

Every morning the woman rose with the sun, spending her days in solemn repentance. Every evening, when her watchful aunt finally took her rest, she loosened the wooden floor boards and retrieved the iron wedding ring she had hidden there. She pressed it into her icy flesh until the sharp point of the nail drew warm palpitating blood to the surface of her skin.

During her times of deepest despair, the woman saw the Angel Zachiel hovering just outside her line of vision. His wings circled above her as her tears watered the ground, and he comforted her as he had when she had first arrived at her aunt’s cottage, frightened and bloated with miracle and sin.  

Three times three years came and went. Her husband never returned.  


When her pious aunt passed on to heaven, the woman, now long past middle-age, stayed in the solitary cottage and began her arduous study. She borrowed books from a village apothecary and spent years learning the medicinal qualities of herbs that grew in her garden. She brewed health potions and traded them to local midwives for mysterious decks of cards. She pulled the cards under the light of the full moon, hoping to read a story of long-awaited reunion in their upturned faces.  

As rumors of her craft began to circulate, young maidens flocked to her isolated house to have their fortunes told, paying with the smooth pieces of glass that the sorceress needed to scry. Her aunt had kept no looking glasses, and the nearby marsh was windswept, so it had been years since she had seen her reflection. Red rimmed eyes, thick with rheumatism, stared back at her from a face burned yellow by the sun, and she smashed the mirrors on the ground, kicking furiously at the shards. 

Dismayed by the intrusive curiosity of the villagers, she spent ages learning to shift her body into animal forms to disguise her nocturnal travels. She slipped into the skin of a black housecat and prowled nearby inns and taverns, listening for news of a ship that had returned after decades lost at sea. When she could bear her grief no longer, she donned the silent feathers of a night owl and soared to the ocean’s edge, returning home at dawn with the taste of salt air clinging to her tongue.   


One winter’s evening, she cast a spell over her iron wedding ring, commanding it to spin on the cold stone windowsill where she had first seen the angels gather. Once set into motion, it would spiral endlessly until day break, as long as her husband was alive and in love with her. 


Each night, the old woman fell into a deep and dreamless sleep on the rhythmic rise and fall of the ring as it slowly carved a smooth round recess into the stone. 

Three times three years came and went. The ring stopped spinning. 


The old woman, who was now a true witch, left the cottage and wandered the woods. Her sadness spilled outward from her broken heart and created a circle of misery around her, so that everyone who came within one hundred feet of her was touched by the strength of her sorrow. 

She built a castle, deep in the thick forest, one lonely stone at a time.  

Over the years, the legends of the true witch grew. On clear, cold nights when the wind rattled through the valleys, children listened for the wailing of the old woman who cried in vain for her dead husband. Mothers told their wayward daughters of a castle-bound enchantress who would turn disobedient girls into caged birds. Young men whispered rumors of forest clearings where gilded statues of boys stood frozen in terror, and preachers warned that the privacy of the woods would bring nothing but death and doom. Still, new couples came into the thick forest, two by two, steeped in the heat of their youthful passion. 

One day, Jorinde and Joringel appeared. Jorinde, a maiden with eyes the color of nightfall, was more beautiful than any other girl in the world. Joringel, a strong and limber youth, curled around her like a tendril. But their love did not protect them from the weight of the witch’s grief. An aged owl circled three times around the helpless Jorinde, and, as she was magically transformed into a nightingale, Joringel froze in terror, like all the others had before him.

A gnarled old woman emerged from the bush, lines of sadness written across her face. Her weathered hands gathered the frightened nightingale and stroked its reddish brown plumes. The songbird lightly wrapped its claw around the beldam’s finger, like an infant grasping its mother’s thumb. Mournful music tumbled from the nightingale’s beak. 

“Zickety, Zickety, Zick…” 


Even the newborn nightingales’ sorrowful song trilled with beauty when it first saw the aviary at the top of the circular tower. 7,000 cages made of precious metals and jewels hung suspended and sparkling in the setting sun. 7,000 birds with chirped behind their golden bars. The old woman tottered from cage to cage, releasing the winged creatures for their daily twilight flight. They gathered just outside the stone threshold of the window and glided endlessly toward the horizon, their wings illuminated by celestial light. In the growing darkness, they looked like angels. 


Before returning to the forest to release the motionless boy, the old woman coaxed her cautious new nightingale onto a ruby encrusted perch. She knew that the moon would stretch its silver beams through the aviary window, and then the perch would throw scarlet blooms across the ceiling, lulling her rescued girls to sleep with a spangled dance of vermillion light. She crept down the circular stone stairwell, stopping every so often to catch her breath. 

 “Greetings, Zachiel.” 

He was waiting beside the frozen boy, as she knew he would be. He looked the same to her now as he had when she was a girl. His enormous wings, tinged with a violet so dark it looked like rust, ruffled with each breath of the night. 

 “When the moon shines on the cage, set him free, Zachiel, just at the right time.” 

“He will return,” the angel’s benevolent face seemed to say.   

“They never do,” was her silent reply. 


Time, as always, wore on. The witch tended to her pets, offering them kind words of comfort when they were sad. The nightingale remained steadfastly on her shoulder, always singing its melancholy song of hope. 

“Zickety, Zickety, Zick...” 

The old woman’s watery eyes searched the horizon, the tops of the trees rolling like an ancient sea. 

It was the birds who first heard Joringel’s footsteps on the stones. They twittered in wild unison. The witch watched as Joringel, smelling of sheep and clutching a red blossom in his fist, opened the heavy oaken door. She saw his eyes grow wide with confusion. She stood, frozen, as the wind from the open window whipped through the long gray ringlets of her unbound hair. She knew she would be painted as a madwoman. She knew the stories would cast this youth, paralyzed with indecision as his aimless gaze traveled over 7,000 birds, as an avenging hero.  

He would be standing there still, if the nightingale’s song had not told him what he must do.


Joringel touched the nightingale with the crimson flower, and the bird’s downy wings turned back into luminous skin and hair. Joringel gathered Jorinde, reborn into his arms, and kissed her. She coiled into his embrace and let him carry her down the steps and into the forest. They did not look back. 


The story of Jorinde and Joringel ends with the young couple living together in happiness for a long, long time. But the real story ends with the happily ever after of the true witch, the old woman, who was once a beautiful girl.  


She watched, silently, as Jorinde and Joringel fled into the night, their hands curling around one another, blind to the painful years that were sure to follow them.  

She watched, silently, as 7,000 maidens, all freed from one act of true love, exited the castle, heartbroken but hopeful, cooing like songbirds as their feathered cloaks flapped in the breeze. 


When she was finally alone with Zachiel, a tear slipped out of her eye and caught in the creases of her once rosy cheeks. Zachiel’s hand held the blood red flower, its center dripping with pearlescent dew. The angel touched the silky petal to her damp cheek, circling it down the curve of her neck. She inhaled the far off scent of ocean water. She heard the quiet clicking of iron on iron. She knew that at long last, her waiting was done. 


She pushed aside her woolen gown. It was a molting, a prayer finally answered. 


‘I’m coming, my loves.” 

When the petal softly touched her breast, like the dewy lips of a newborn child, the true witch, the old woman, the beautiful girl, blazed, dwindled, and died into an ashy gray smoke that circled slowly and was borne upward toward eternity on the wind of angel’s wings.  


Kelly Jarvis teaches classes in literature, writing, and fairy tale at Central Connecticut State University, The University of Connecticut, and Tunxis Community College. She lives, happily ever after, with her husband and three sons in a house filled with fairy tale books.  


Image: “Portrait of a Woman,” 1870, by Julia Margaret Cameron.