May 30, 2013

The Uncertain Geography of Fairyland, By Jocelyn Koehler

Editor's note: Occasionally, EC has guest posts from authors, and that's what we have today. Jocelyn's investigation into the "unmappable" nature of fairyland really grabbed my attention. She's right! Her book, End to End, came out this month.
 
As a longtime reader of fantasy, the first thing I look for in a book is the map. You know, the one at the front that shows everything the reader ought to know: the royal city, the protagonist's little village, the forbidden mountain ranges and the dividing seas. The map is one of the clearest indications that you are about to read a fantasy novel.
 
As I grew older, I started to read and write more fairy tales. However, a problem arose. Whether it was the Grimms’ dark forest, or Perrault’s more extravagant twilights, or even the dreamy world of MacDonald’s Phantastes, one thing became obvious. There is no way to pin down Fairyland. True fairylands are mutable by nature, and as such, unmappable. In a fairy tale, a wish can make a mountain grow. A curse can hide a kingdom inside a raindrop. And everywhere, there is The Forest. Not a forest, not many forests. When you go into the woods, it’s always the same wood, and you find all the tales waiting for you there. Shakespeare knew how to use forests; in As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Forest is where reality takes a back seat to love and other magics. 
 
That isn’t to say people don’t try to map these mythical places. There’s a beautiful Anciente Mappe of Fairyland (find the link below), but you will see that lovely as it is, such a map won’t get you safely to the next town. More modern fantasy worlds share this quality of changeability too. Think no further than Hogwarts. As any reader knows, Hogwarts features hidden towers, shifting stairs, and rooms that only exist if you have need of them. Even within the book, there’s the always-active Marauders Map. What’s a wanderer to do?

When publishing my own collection of fairy tale retellings, End to End, I had to decide whether to include a map. It was a difficult choice. The terrain is integral to the tales. In one, a gateway in a forest opens into a strange floating world, giving a twist to the usual telling of Tam Lin. The "floating world" (or ukiyo) becomes literal, and the protagonist must find her way through a waterbound city where reflections and reality often switch places. In my version of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, to reach the kingdom underground one must make a mental journey as much as a physical one. To keep a sense of continuity, the mysterious underground place is yet another floating world of darkness and water. And in the final story, the heroine's part of world is severed from the rest of world by magic, leaving the inhabitants to fend for themselves. That isolation and uncertainty shapes the heroine's personality. In each case, the geography of the story matters, but it’s also true that the geography can’t be trusted. 
 
Ultimately, I chose not to make a map to my world, because I thought it presumptuous to offer a guide to a place that even the residents can’t be sure of. From night to night, it will shift, leaving the unwary stranded. What is the point of mapping such a place? It's meant to be explored and discovered by each reader.
 
Of course, real world maps can be shifty as well. Think that every street you see on a map is one you can walk down? Think again. Paper streets are cartographic traps to keep others from stealing all the hard work of the original mapmaker. They are lies, existing only on the rendering. Try to go there in real life, and you’ll find nothing. It is only because most of the real world stays the same from day to day that we feel secure in our maps. Mapping is an act of confidence, a statement that what you see is what you get. Fairy tales refute this notion at every step. A bear turns into a prince. A pumpkins turns into a coach (and back again). If we readers accept these mutations, why should we expect to rely on a map of fairyland? In these stories, all the streets are made of paper.
 
And that’s why readers still want to walk down them. 

Click on source links below:
An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland
More about End to End
More about paper streets

Bio: Jocelyn Koehler writes science fiction and fantasy. Some of her creative fiction has appeared in places like Crossed Genres, Actionman Magazine, and BURST. Her longer fiction is published by Hammer & Birch. Her latest book is End to End, available May 21, 2013 everywhere ebooks are sold. 
 
To learn more about Jocelyn, click on links below:

May 21, 2013

The Three Sisters and the Dragon of the North, By Laura Beasley

"The Captives," by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan

Editor's note: The mixture of the magic and the familiar made this work an easy winner for April. I especially like the sister with the dietary requirements!

The Old Weaver began at the beginning as the children gathered at her feet, “There was a time and it was not my time and it was not your time. It was a time of dragons and dirigibles, a time of eaters and evil, a time of fantasy and forgiveness. It was a time when a girl who was destined to be our greatest princess was born of humble parents in poverty and sadness, in pain and sincerity.”

The Dragon of the North was a demanding taskmaster who insisted upon a sacrifice on the first day of spring each year. The young man who had been chosen was expected to bring the gift to the dragon. The gift was not gold. The dragon had baskets of gold. The gift was never jewels. The dragon had buckets of jewels. The annual gift was not food for the gluttonous dragon. The dragon’s troughs overflowed with cupcakes and doughnuts for his ten daily meals. The spring gift was always a human sacrifice. The young man was compelled to bring his favorite sister to the dragon.

Some had tried to fool the dragon with slave girls purchased in the market place or strangers they had abducted or distant cousins. The dragon always knew the difference. This was a fairy tale time of large families and a young man might have seven sisters. He might substitute his second favorite sister for the dragon.

The dragon would sneer, “I need to have your favorite sister or I will destroy the village.”

The young men were forced to sacrifice that which they most valued to save their people. The young women were never seen again. The villagers continued to bring gifts to the dragon. They brought baskets of gold and buckets of jewels each week. The cooks carried cupcakes and doughnuts to refill the troughs ten times each day. On the first day of spring, a doomed young man was compelled to bring his most beloved sister to the Dragon of the North.

One year the chosen man had three sisters. Insisting that he loved them equally, he could not decide which sister should be taken to the dragon.

As the oldest brother, he’d known the oldest sister the longest and reasoned that maybe that meant he loved her best. After all she’d been willing to take care of the other sisters after their parents had died. She was expert at spinning and handiwork.
 
Abandoned in the dragon’s castle, the oldest sister began to eat the cupcakes and doughnuts. Within minutes, she had eaten them all.

The dragon was outraged to find an empty trough, “Why have you eaten all of my food?”

“There will be more food in a few hours. Tell me about your parents, How did you feel about your mother? Did she nurse you or were you weaned too young? Did you have a wet nurse? What flavor milk was the breast milk? Was it green? Or chocolate? Is that why you are obsessed with doughnuts and cupcakes because you weren’t given enough love as a dragon-pup? I raised my younger sisters and I know a lot about child-psychology. Your relationship with your father is very important as well. We have lots to talk about.”

“I have no intention of sharing my personal business with someone who eats all of my food. You cannot be the favorite sister of your brother. Go back home and tell him to send another sister!” said the dragon.

The young man sent for his second sister. She was a poor scholar but was a talented musician. She schemed to make lots of money and wanted the dragon’s gold and jewels. She refused to eat any of the food and complained when the dragon entered the room
.
“Is this the only kind of food that you have? I cannot eat cupcakes and doughnuts for the next year. My family should have explained my specific eating requirements. I eat liver sausage on homemade fresh-baked white bread. I drink medicinal tonic sold by the traveling medicine show barker. I refuse to consume anything else.”

“I will not deal with someone who is so difficult. I just want a pleasant conversational companion for the next year. Go back home and have your brother send the next sister,” said the dragon.

“The only way I will leave is if you give me 100 baskets of gold and 100 buckets of jewels,” said the second sister.

“That’s ridiculous” said the dragon “but I want you to leave so I’ll give you 99 baskets of gold and 100 buckets of jewels.”

“I won’t leave until I have one-hundred of each!” demanded the girl.

“I’ll agree to anything as long as you leave the castle. Take it and be gone!” said the dragon.

The young man didn’t know where to find his youngest sister. He followed the hoof prints of their horse deep into the forest. She was sitting in the branches of a tree reading.

“Will you go to the dragon’s castle to save the village?” asked the young man. “I guess you are my favorite sister although I can never find you.”

“It’s difficult to find the one you need the most. Of course I will save the village,” she said.

Unlike her sisters, she didn’t remain with the food or valuables. Instead, the girl explored the rest of the castle. She found women from previous spring sacrifices reading in the library. They told her everything she needed to know to outwit the dragon.

When she returned to the throne room, the dragon was licking icing from a cupcake. The girl dumped the trough contents onto floor and crushed the food with her brown boots.

“Why don’t we go outside?” she asked the dragon.

“I never go outside. I stay inside and play video games,” said the dragon.

“Today we are going outside and we will play basketball, I will teach you Horse,” the girl said. “And we are going to start eating fruits and vegetables as well. It’s time that you became a fit dragon and made some dragon friends.”

“I have 983 Facebook Friends,” said the dragon.

“You need friends in the real world,” said the girl.

Within months, the dragon had shed his excess kilos. He’d met several dragons at book club meetings at the castle. After the youngest sister was convinced the dragon had embraced a healthy dragon lifestyle, she bid him farewell. She rescued the other women from the library. Then they flew away in a rainbow-colored dirigible to another kingdom where everyone lived happily ever after.

Laura Beasley has a horse named Amos and a dog named Audrey. She and her husband have three grown children whose names do not begin with the letter A. Her stories have been published in Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine and Rose Red Review.

May 3, 2013

The Curious Tale of Mr. Fox, By Lissa Sloan

Editor's note: Just read this one. You'll love it!

I am going to tell you the story of my sister Lady Mary and Mr. Fox. But I am not sure quite how to begin.  My brothers and I could never understand what she saw in the fellow.  She was hardly alone in her admiration of him.  Indeed, many of the ladies of the village of L_____ thought Mr. Fox the most agreeable gentleman of their acquaintance.  Perhaps it was his charming, almost lazy smile, his bright mischievous eyes, or his fine red coat, which I daresay many of the gentlemen envied.
 
But perhaps it was rather the fact that my sister had an especial fondness for animals.  And whatever his more attractive points, Mr. Fox remained a scavenging, sheep-chasing, chicken-stealing fox.  My brothers and I would have sent him packing the first time he trotted through our gates and scratched at our door, but Mary insisted he be allowed the pleasure of waiting upon us.

 
She was always soft hearted, you see, and far too trusting.  When we were children she was just the same.  Take hunting, for example.  Tom, Dick, and I traipsed home from each of our first fox hunts with our cheeks smeared with blood, as any initiate should.  But on the day of Mary’s first hunt, when the hounds closed in on their quarry, Mary leapt from her pony and took the terrified fox in her arms, snarling at the hounds and the rest of us to keep away.  The master threw up his hands and called in his hounds.  The only marks on Mary’s face that day were the claw marks of the ungrateful wretch whose life she had saved.
 
I must own we all indulged my sister, as she was the only girl, and the youngest.  The entire household allowed her to have her way in everything.  Of course we tried to persuade her to be sensible.  When Mr. Fox came courting her, we told her again and again that he was no better than a common poacher.  No one ever caught him at it, and he always protested that he was a gentleman, and never ate anyone’s pheasants but his own.  But my brothers and I continued to doubt him.  Mary, however, was satisfied.  So satisfied, in fact, that she allowed him to make her an offer of his hand, or, I should say, his paw.  As her oldest relation, Tom of course refused his consent, but that was nothing to Mary.  She was a singularly headstrong creature, and was determined to accept Mr. Fox.
 
We should have known how it would be.  Mary used every weapon at her disposal.  She used her wit, vivacity, charm, and sheer stubbornness.  She vexed Tom, (Dick and I too, I might add) day and night, until at last, as always, we gave in.  The wedding breakfast was ordered; the wedding clothes bought and paid for.  Mary was to have Mr. Fox, a gentleman of considerable property.  So it was rumored, at least.  And Mr. Fox was to have Lady Mary and her fortune of forty thousand pounds.  Our acquaintances in  _____shire were all astonishment.
 
No bans were read, for Mr. Fox declared he would have a special license.  On the day he was to ride to town to procure the license, he called on Mary before he left.  I heard them talking together in the shrubbery.  “In the morning,” he was saying to her, “could we have some bread and perhaps a cup of chocolate before we go to church?”
 
Mary laughed.  “What about the wedding breakfast?  You’ll spoil your appetite,” she chided him.
 
“Not a bit of it,” he told her.  “You know what a ravenous fellow I am.”  I took this opportunity to appear on the path.
 
Mary rose from the bench where they sat.  “Very well,” she said.  “You know I could never refuse you.”
 
Mr. Fox gave me his jaunty smile.  “Congratulate me, Harry,” he cried.  “Tomorrow will make me the happiest of gentlemen.”  Without waiting for my response, he leapt from the bench and bounded away through the park.
 
I took Mary's hand.  “Are you certain about all this?  We know nothing about him.  We’ve never even seen his estate, if he even has one.”
 
Mary smiled and kissed my cheek.  “I know my own mind, Harry,” she said.  Then, almost to herself, she added, “Of course he has an estate.”  With that, she headed off towards the stables.
 
I did not see her again until the next morning, the morning of the wedding.  She was looking rather low-spirited, sitting alone at the table in the breakfast room.  I thought brides were supposed to wear light colors, not black.  But I daresay I am a stupid fellow and know nothing about ladies’ fashions.  Mr. Fox noticed her changed appearance also.  As soon as he leapt into his chair, he put a paw on her hand and said, “You are pale, my love.  Are you not well?”
 
Mary gave him a small smile.  “It is only a headache,” she said.  “I had a terrible dream last night.”
 
“Indeed?” cried Mr. Fox, “Well, you must tell me all about it.  Our nightmares often seem foolish by the light of day, and it will while away this tedious time before we are to go to church.”
 
Mary smiled, a bit of her usual liveliness returning.  “You know I could never refuse you,” she told him archly.  The matter was settled, and Mr. Fox began to do justice to his bread rolls at once, without benefit of butter or jam.
 
“I dreamt I was overcome with curiosity to see your house, as I had never been there,” she began.  “So I set out.  You had told me I was always welcome, you know.”
 
Mr. Fox paused in devouring his bread to assure her he had told her many times that she might visit whenever she liked.
 
“I arrived at your house,” she went on, “to find an arched gateway, upon which was carved what I guessed to be your family motto.  ‘Be bold, be bold,’ it said, ‘but not too bold.’” 
 
Mr. Fox’s nose came out of his chocolate cup, and he licked his chops.  “It is not so, madam,” he said with his lazy smile.  “An extraordinary motto, but I assure you, it is not mine.”
 
Mary inclined her head.  “It was only a dream, sir,” she said, and went on.  “Perhaps the message was for me.  For bold I was.  I went through your gates and approached your door.  Above your door was carved another message, ‘Be bold, be bold, but not too bold, lest that your heart’s blood should run cold.”
 
“It is not so, my love,” replied the bridegroom.  He stopped eating for a moment and scratched his ear with his back foot.  “I should never have such peculiar words written above my door.”  He shook his head, and returned to his food, all affability.
 
“I was bolder still,” continued Mary, “and I went through your door to find your house empty.  I was not surprised, because I knew you to be from home, just as you were yesterday.  I began to look about me, but, to my alarm, I heard footsteps outside the door.  I blushed then to think how I had intruded on your privacy, and I opened the first door I came to, so as not to be discovered.  What do you think I saw there?”
 
Mr. Fox winked at her roguishly.  “Perhaps you saw all the jewels I have set aside to give you when you are my wife and spoilt your own surprise.  Was that what you saw, you impertinent creature?”
 
Mary shook her head.  “I saw a room full of skeletons and the bodies of young ladies with their throats ripped out.”
 
Mr. Fox coughed, and chocolate went everywhere.  “It is not so, my love.  What an unnatural dream to have.  Why you dreamt it I cannot imagine.”
 
“I ran from the room at once,” Mary went on, her hands in her lap.  She had not touched her food.  “There was not time to try another door, so I hid behind a tapestry.  In you came, sir, with a richly dressed young woman.  You had the end of her skirt between your teeth and were dragging her across the floor.  Once inside, you took a fancy to a ring around the lady’s finger.  It was stuck there, and she could not get it off, try as she might.  You grew impatient, and seizing her finger in your teeth, bit it off.  You worried the poor girl’s finger in your mouth to shake off the ring.  But you were too hasty, sir, for both ring and finger flew across the room and landed at my feet.  You dragged the unfortunate creature into the bloody chamber to revenge yourself upon her, and I made my escape.” 
 
 
Mr. Fox was not eating now.   “It is not so,” he said in a strained voice.  “God forbid it should be so.”  With some effort, he summoned up his habitual smile and said teasingly, “You had no business to have such a dream.”
 
Mary withdrew one hand from her lap.  “It is so,” she said, opening her hand, which contained a delicate finger, the ring still on it.  “It was no dream.”
 
Tom, Dick, and I leapt to our feet, demanding satisfaction from Mr. Fox, as the gentleman in question jumped from his chair.  “Sit!” commanded a low voice from the end of the table. It was Mary’s.  She was standing too, straight and tall.  My brothers and I reclaimed our chairs, while Mr. Fox cowered on the floor, his tail curled tightly about him.  I thought I heard him growling.  But I was mistaken, for he too was looking for the source of the sound.
 
Mary came around the table, a handful of leashes in one pale fist.  At the end of the leashes were her foxhounds, bristling and straining to be set free.  At last I understood Mary’s black dress.  She was not dressed for the wedding.  She was dressed for the hunt.  She gathered the hound’s leashes near their collars and knelt next to Mr. Fox, who was now shaking from whiskers to tail.  His ears drooped as her free hand reached out towards him.  A whine escaped his lips as Mary’s fingers stroked his fine red coat.  “I do pity you,” she said.  “So I will be generous.”
 
I could not fathom it.  How could she show compassion, even now?  Mr. Fox’s ears tipped forward.  “Yes, my dear,” he almost whimpered.  “Show some mercy.” 
 
“You know I could never refuse you,” she said.  Then she called to the butler.  “Have Hobson saddle my horse.  I will be down in five minutes.”  She leaned close to Mr. Fox and spoke low in his ear.  “I’ll give you a head start.”


Lissa has contributed stories, poems, and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation, but she also writes and illustrates for younger readers. Visit her online at lissasloan.com.

May 1, 2013

May Submission Window Open

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