November 27, 2012

Raising Rapunzel: The Trouble With Fairy Tale Parents, By Lissa Sloan

It’s tough to be a fairy tale character. Not only do our heroes and heroines have to contend with witches, trolls, dragons, and sometimes even the devil himself, but there’s another menace—parents. Fairy tales are riddled with examples of abysmal parenting. Obviously there’s the jealous, even murderous, (step) mother, but there are plenty of others. There’s the self-important braggart. (“My daughter can spin straw into gold.” He knew she couldn’t—what was he thinking?) There’s the thoughtless gambler, who, when promising to give his rescuer the first thing to meet him on his return home, thinks it will be his faithful dog, not his faithful daughter. And the less said about Allerleirauh’s lecherous father, who wanted to marry her after her mother died, the better.

Fairy tales are full of parenting mistakes to avoid. For example, take poor Rapunzel. She has three unfit parents to contend with. Her father is of the typical meek variety, ruled by his unreasonable wife, who wants him to steal from the neighbor’s garden to satisfy her cravings. Like Cinderella’s and Hansel and Gretel’s fathers, he bows to the wishes of his wife, to the detriment of his child. Rapunzel’s mothers (biological and adoptive) have problems letting go. Letting a child go to make their own way in the world is a difficult matter for any parent, and Rapunzel’s mothers go to opposite extremes. Rapunzel’s birth mother lets her go too early and too easily, trading her to the witch next door for all the greens she can eat. The witch, on the other hand, refuses to let her go at all, locking her in a tower and shutting her away from the world.
"The Royal Nursery," by Marcus Stone
Sadly, it seems that the only fairy tale parents who are loving and nurturing die prematurely, leaving our grieving hero or heroine to face the world alone. While it is not their fault, the dead parent can’t do their child much good. Or can they? It turns out the dead parent can benefit their child, and they frequently do. In some versions of the Cinderella story, Cinderella plants a tree on her mother’s grave, and it is the tree, not a fairy godmother, which grants her wishes. In the Russian tale "Vasalisa the Fair," Vasalisa’s dying mother gives her a doll. Vasalisa keeps the doll in her pocket and feeds her, and receives the doll’s help and advice in return.

Despite their early deaths, good fairy tale parents manage to accomplish what all good parents strive to do. They give their children the tools they need to face the world. They may provide magical tools, like Vasalisa’s doll, or they may perform the more everyday magic of passing on their values, wisdom, and of course, their love. Most importantly, in dying, the good parents step aside, beginning the child’s journey of self-discovery which lies at the heart of most fairy tales. In fact, setting their child on the road to their adventure is something even a wicked stepmother or thoughtless father can do. Which is why, despite her neglectful birth parents, and possessive witch mother, Rapunzel--and Cinderella, and Snow White, and all the others--will be just fine.
Lissa has contributed stories, poems and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation, but she also writes and illustrates for younger readers. Visit her online at

November 26, 2012

A Queen's Discontent, By Marcia Sherman

Editor's note: This is a thorough mashup that had me identifying villainesses and other characters the whole time I read it. It also digs into that stepmother business rather effectively. As for the picture, well, there's no Lancelot in Marcia's poem, but I think the picture captures the mood of it rather nicely.

I will let you in on a secret.
Of course none of us have actually died.
That is all just written for dramatic effect.
It seems so much more -
To have a father raise a daughter.
But we are all here.
All the mothers.
In the background,
Or on another estate.
Or in another, smaller, castle.
We all keep in touch.
And we meet at least once a year.
Queen and commoner alike.
Even that doe,
The one everybody thinks was shot.
And that clownfish.
In a bowl of course.
Those of us who live close enough,
Visit with one another quite often.
And we have more to do with the stories than anyone realizes.
Take for example that silly girl and Rumplestiltskin.
I can say that silly girl.
Because she married my son.
Do you really think, for one minute,
She was able to get out of that situation alone?
Do you really think, for even one second,
Her mother and I were going to let her take a chance
On giving up our first-born grandchild?
Pish, we were there to help her all along.
We did the "heavy lifting."
I would love to be able to tell the truth about that.
Who would believe me anyway,
After these hundreds of years of fairy tales.
Every so often someone new comes along.
Some little-known tale
Suddenly becomes popular.
Or gets modernized.
Thanks to Walt.
That brings something fresh
To the annual meeting.
But for the most part we just live in the shadows.
We keep the households
And the kingdoms running smoothly.
It does get a little lonely,
Husbands and families
Unable to acknowledge us publicly.
Makes you feel hemmed in.
Makes you want to blow off some steam.
So every five years or so we come here.
Across the pond.
Visit with Powhatan's wife.
Let our hair down.
So to speak.
Another silly girl, that Rapunzel.
Why, I would love another, thank you.
That is very charming of you.
And believe me I know something about charming.
Yes, we do age very well.
My room?
I would be enchanted to show you my room.
I am sharing, but the roommates are out shopping.
Something about shoes and mirrors and roses.
Just mind the spindle in the corner,
It is sharp.

"The Four Queens Find Lancelot Sleeping," by Frank Cadogan Cowper

Marcia A. Sherman is Mama to one perfect Rose.She writes for Llewellyn Publishing under the name of Emyme, has self-published the children's book The Splendid, Blended Family, and is writing the Great American Wiccan Novel.

November 24, 2012

The Abstract and the Concrete in Fairy Tales, By L.C. Ricardo

In academic circles, the Jungian theory of a universal unconsciousness is no longer in vogue. But human experience—moods and rituals, rites of passage, a curiosity for the unknown—is just that, characteristic of humanity. As such, it will continue to affect our lives, whether we are discussing it in academia or not.

Birth, death, love, fear, forgiveness, acceptance . . . these general abstractions are perhaps alone ineffective in capturing our scholarly interest, let alone the imagination. But infuse them into a fairy tale, and we have a living, breathing story indeed. The fairy tale provides concrete objects to embody life’s mercies, cruelties, and miracles.

That is not to say that fairy tales are mere allegory. Perhaps this one-sided interpretation carries some blame for people’s frustration in“telling the same story over and over again.” If a tower is always a phallic symbol and the maiden either imprisoned or protected from the masculine, we rob the tower of its first childhood impression. That of something tall, stone, unreachable. Something enchanted, according to that which makes up its very definition. And from there—who knows what it could be?

Fairy tales are universal; they are also deeply personal. The flavor of a tale is informed by the culture, religion, race, and geographic location of the person or people from which it arises. An immeasurable but large part of the magic of fairy tales is in their details.

So we have a specific tree—a juniper tree; three dresses, celestial yes, but made from moon, sun, and stars; an enchanted polar bear, snow-white and native; and a circle drawn in chalk to keep away the devil (somehow, we know a circle drawn of coal just wouldn’t do). These are the objects of earth and the everyday. They are ordinary and yet extraordinary.

While fairy tales are not born in a vacuum, and are no doubt informed by political, economic, and religious circumstances, they transcend them as well. To hold them hostage in the realm of thought is much like addressing a person’s physical needs and ignoring the rest of him. In typical paradoxical fairy tale fashion, the ideas are its flesh; the things are its soul. Because a glass shoe is not a symbol of female repression or a social-class stereotype. It is not even the embodiment of a cinder-girl’s pain or her shining redemption. It is a glass shoe. And because it is this and none of these things it transcends and contains all of them.

"The Juniper Tree, by Warwick Goble
L.C. Ricardo has published poetry in The Red Poppy Review, Bolts of Silk, and The Sandhill Review. She is currently undertaking a community fairy tale-writing project on Spinning Straw into Gold , where she blogs regularly.

November 20, 2012

Bride Gift, By Shannon Connor Winward

"Sleep," by Simeon Solomon
Editor's note: Shannon's poem intrigued me and that's what made it one of the October winners. Is it based on "The Princess and the Pea"? I think so. The description is certainly enticing.
Tithe every household a wagon of chaff
and a goose
bring me a ship of the finest linen
call up an army of seamstresses, weavers
and carters
woodsmen to fell the forest.
My Liege, employ the kingdom.
Bid them make the scaffolds mighty
(and sturdy)
let it rival the tallest castle spire
build me a tower
layer by layer
straw, ticking, down and silk.
Send your armada to escort me across the ocean
raise me up in a litter of gold
borne on the backs of champions
lay me down under a canopy of stars
and promise me Heaven.
I will give you my hand
my fidelity, benediction
coronation in the circle
of my arms
I will give you my body
in my hills and valleys
my flesh, my womb
I will give you sons
   and daughters
you will never be forgotten
nor forsaken.
I will give you solace
at day’s end
I will soothe your weary bones
forgive your sins, my dear one.
I will give you my heart
and a home
but first
you must pass
a simple test:
lie with me
in this tower of ambition
under the gaze of angels.
I will feel it
if you have hidden
even the smallest doubt
I will sense it
if your harbor
the merest kernel of a lie. 
Your thoughts
are as plain to me, my King
as the view from our marriage bed
the palm of the earth
open, her fingers
tickling the shore.
From here a boulder
is a pebble
a pea
Sire, lie with me
and if you do not love me
I will know.
Shannon Connor Winward's poetry and fiction have appeared widely in such venues such as: Pedestal Magazine, Strange Horizons, Flash Fiction Online, Enchanted Conversation, Illumen, Ideomancer, and various anthologies.  Her poem, “All Souls’ Day” was nominated for a 2012 Rhysling Award.