October 29, 2013

The Little Mermaid Statue, the Dancing Mermaid, and the Mori Girl, By Nora Stasio, Fairy Tale News Reporter

Editor's note: Nora Stasio, fairy tale news reporter, travels from Denmark to San Francisco to Japan in her exploration of mermaid and fairy tale influences in this column. I'm intrigued by the Mori and Hama girls from Japan, but haven't used any pictures for fear of stealing artist's images. But Nora is right, the images are really lovely. So go to the Google machine.

Denmark native Hans Christian Andersen has inspired artists of all kinds throughout his career as a master storyteller. His most famous tale is undoubtedly The Little Mermaid, whose heroine inspired one of Denmark’s most treasured and famous landmarks. August 23rd of 2013 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the Little Mermaid statue, which resides off the shores of Copenhagen, Denmark. 
 "The Little Mermaid," in Copenhagen, Denmark

In the early 1900s, Carl Jacobsen was a wealthy philanthropist with a great love of the arts. He took particular interest in a ballet version of The Little Mermaid produced by Copenhagen's Royal Theatre, which starred prima ballerina Ellen Price. Jacobsen commissioned Edvard Eriksen to create a statue of the mermaid in Price’s likeness. Upon hearing that she’d have to pose nude, Ellen declined the offer to model. Eriksen instead sculpted the body of his wife, Eline. She posed as the lovesick young mermaid, sitting atop a rock and looking longingly out at the sea. Eriksen then sculpted Price’s head atop his wife’s body, and the mermaid was completed. 

The statue was unveiled to the public on August 23, 1913, 100 years ago. She has survived multiple acts of vandalism and was once even transported to Shanghai, China, for Expo 2010, a grandiose world fair event. She has had to be repaired and retouched several times, but she stands (sits, actually) today at her original spot on the rocky shore, and hopefully will continue to dwell there for another 100 years.

If the idea of a mermaid ballet intrigues you, you’ll want to check out the San Francisco Ballet’s production of The Little Mermaid from 2010. John Neumeier’s adaptation of Andersen’s tale was covered as part of PBS’s Great Performances program, and the entire production is available to view through the PBS website!

Neumeier’s ballet is entirely different from the one that captivated Carl Jacobsen a century ago, but it’s similarly received a great deal of acclaim. The two-act production has a score by Lera Auerbach, a Russian-born American woman (it’s always nice to hear about female composers). John Neumeier, a Milwaukee native, designed the sets, costumes, and lighting, and choreographed the entire show all by himself. His version of the show is said to play up the intense emotional struggles of the characters in a dazzling new way.

Yuan Yuan Tan’s performance as the Mermaid has been praised by many critics for its delicate grace. In this version of the story, the evil sea witch is played by a male dancer. There’s even a dancer portraying Andersen himself, making an appearance at the beginning of the show. In the playbill, this character is referred to as ‘The Poet,’ and his actions set the plot in motion. See it for yourself at www.pbs.org.

People all over the world get inspiration from fairy tales, probably because they seem to somehow touch us all deep inside, and speak to us in a universal language. Here’s an interesting question for you: How does being a lover of fairy tales affect your everyday life? 

Does your love of fantasy have any impact on your personal wardrobe? If you said yes, then you’re not alone. In fact, there are quite a few Japanese fashion “subcultures” that might interest you. The “Mori Girl” trend is probably my favorite, and sadly, it isn’t very well known here in the states.

“Mori Girl” is a fashion movement that started in Japan, much like how “Punk” has its roots in the UK. (Editor's note: Elderly rock fans like myself see punk as more of a transatlantic movement--and let's not forget the Aussies.) “Mori” is Japanese for “forest." The clothes of the Mori Girl reflect the natural and serene beauty of the woods, emphasizing loose and flowy garments in earthy tones. She is a nymph-like creature, living among the trees, always looking youthful, pure, and very modest, wearing brown knits, cream-colored cottons, and floral headbands. Antique lace, seed pearls, key-shaped jewelry, and vintage pieces are often incorporated into this look. Picture Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden, preening the rose bushes, wearing brown tights and a lacy-collared dress.

This is a movement rooted deeply in old-world European aesthetics, like the designs found in classic fairy-tale storybooks. Mori Girls have been known to look through such books for their fashion inspirations. 

The newest trend in Japan these days is an extension of the “Mori Girl” movement, known as “Hama Girl." The Hama Girl draws her inspiration from the ocean, with all of its lore and mystique. “Hama” means “sea," after all. Hama Girls often don pale summer dresses and crocheted vests, and pose on the beach with seashells in hand. Such images always make me think of Andersen’s young mermaid, exploring the beach, having just been transformed into a human. 

Anyone interested in these subcultures should search through Tumblr using Hama or Mori Girl as tags. You might find an interesting new way to add a bit of fairy tale flavor to your everyday life. Happy Discoveries!

Bio: Nora writes, "I have been a lover of creative writing and fairy tales for basically my entire life! I just graduated Cum Laude from Rutgers where I completed a minor in English, with a focus in Creative Writing and Shakespeare (I majored in Psychology)." 

October 28, 2013

The Red Shoes: A Fairy Tale Film, By Christina Ruth Johnson, Vintage Fairy Tale Sleuth

Editor's note: Christina digs into the treasure trove of film to bring us her latest vintage fairy tale find. And get a load of the fabulous images she dug up!
Today, fairy tales seem to be popping up in one form or another everywhere we look, especially in popular visual media (as Nora’s columns continue to affirm). It is fun to look back, however, and realize that fairy tales have been inspiring the film world for decades, and not just by way of Disney.

In 1948, a movie was released that critics to this day herald as one of the most influential films ever to grace the early screen: The Red Shoes.
This British film, released in 1948, was written and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. It was based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the same title. In fact, the very first image of the film is a gothic still-life of a wax candle atop an old book with this author’s name flourished across the spine. A pair of red ballet shoes rests in front of the book. Blood-red, painted letters spell out the film’s title in the background, their presentation subtly presaging the tragic, culminating scene of the story to come.

**SPOILER ALERT: Do not read further if you wish to watch the movie uninformed of its main events and ending. NOTE: I watched it fully aware of what was to come and still enjoyed it completely.**

Many people with a much greater ability to critique movies have analyzed and lauded and elevated every nuance of The Red Shoes. I will not attempt to add to this large corpus. Rather, I wish to look at it from the perspective of the original fairy tale. In what way did elements of the original tale manifest on screen?

In Andersen’s story, the young protagonist, Karen, is given a pair of red shoes by her guardian. The beauty of the shoes distracts Karen in her daily life, especially at church where she cannot concentrate on her prayers. Though aware of their power, Karen dons the shoes to attend a ball, where they begin to dance of their own accord and whisk her through tortuous night after tortuous day and into the dark woods. “Dance you shall,” repeats an unmoved angel who watches from the church steps. Finally, Karen prevails upon an executioner to cut off her feet with his axe. Her devout contrition is rewarded with a sign of forgiveness, her heart breaks with joy, and her soul rises to heaven. (Read it here: http://surlalunefairytales.com/redshoes/index.html)
"The Red Shoes," by Anne Anderson
The film follows the rise and fall of the beautiful ballerina, Victoria Page. Boris Lermontov, the ambitious owner of a famous ballet company, offers Vicky the lead role in a new ballet, written by the young composer Julian Craster. The new ballet is, of course, Andersen’s The Red Shoes. The show is a success, and Lermontov is captivated by his new prima ballerina. Then, Vicky and Julian fall in love. She leaves the company, giving up her dream of dancing to get married. But Vicky’s desire to dance weighs on her, and Lermontov manipulates this desire to convince his muse to return to the stage to once again perform The Red Shoes.

Christina Ruth Johnson, vintage fairy tale sleuth
Julian confronts her backstage. She cannot choose. He leaves. Suddenly Vicky is chasing after him, and we do not know if it is her own feet or the red ballet shoes she wears that fling her off a balcony to a bloody and broken death on the train tracks below. Her last request is for Julian to remove the shoes.

Like in the original tale, the red shoes in the film ostensibly lead to the protagonist’s death. But where vanity was Karen’s downfall, what was Vicky’s? Was it her passions or desires that led to her demise or was she innocent of her own blood? And who, really, was the personification of the red shoes in her life? Was it Lermontov, who tempted her with dance; or was it Julian, who tempted her with love?

If you have seen the movie, I encourage you to discuss these questions in the comments. I would love to hear your thoughts! If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. The color! The music! The dance! You could watch this film without understanding a word of the dialogue and still be entranced. And yet, the dialogue and the story add a whole other level to the film. One critic poignantly describes the movie as a folktale in its own right, dedicated to the idea that art is worth dying for.

What do you think?

Christina Ruth Johnson recently received her Masters in Art History with a focus on the ancient Mediterranean and a side interest in the 18th and 19th centuries. Her other great love is fantasy literature from ancient times to present day.

October 24, 2013

The Little Girl and the Mannequin, By Benjamin Chang

Editor's note: Benjamin's story so evoked the lovely joys and sadness of classic Hans Christian Andersen tales like "The Little Mermaid," I couldn't resist it.

Dedicated to Buddy Chang— beloved dog, friend, brother, and son. May you live a thousand years.

tailor had been saving money for years and finally was able to buy a little store on the corner of a street. He found himself a good wife who was also skilled with needle and thread, and they worked very hard to keep their business afloat.

The wife made a big mannequin and a little mannequin and placed them in front of the shop. She placed the finest adult clothing on the big one and the cutest children’s clothes on the little one.

Soon, the couple had saved up enough money and decided to have a child. Months later, the tailor’s wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with hair as black as the raven. And as the years went by, the beautiful baby grew up to be a healthy little girl. She loved life and enjoyed hopscotch and jump rope. However, she did not seem to enjoy playing with other children.

As she grew older, the little girl became more and more reclusive. Her parents became worried. “How will she ever get married?” the mother asked. The father, hearing this, would only shake his head.

When the girl was eight, the mother and father decided to have another child, hoping dearly that a brother or a sister would help the little girl be more outgoing. When the mother’s belly had become great and swollen, she had terrible pains. She moaned and groaned loudly. Finally, the agony was unbearable.

The father was greatly worried and brought the wife to doctors of all kinds, but no physician could cure her. Desperate, the father went to the cabin of a witch who lived on the outskirts of the village. The father’s legs were shaking as he approached the old cabin. He knocked and found that the door wasn’t locked, for it swung open with a loud creak.

“Hello? Hello?” the father asked desperately. “Is there anybody here? Please, I need your help!”

A gentle voice bade the tailor to come in.

The father approached the witch nervously and saw her face. She was hideous and it scared him greatly. However, the witch was kind and spoke in a mellifluous voice. She offered the father tea with honey to calm him down and asked what bothered him so. The father was in tears as he told the witch about his difficult situation—about his wife’s agony, about his reclusive daughter, and about his unborn child.

The old witch frowned as she said solemnly, “My young man, I am sorry to say that there is nothing I can do to save your wife. Her death is God’s will. However, I can help your daughter. Take this enchanted button. When your wife starts shedding tears from her unbearable pain, let a teardrop fall onto this button. She will die, but some of her life’s essence will be preserved. Sew this button onto whatever object you will, and instantly that object will magically come to life with an amazing ability to communicate with others. Have that object talk to your daughter.”

The father thanked the ugly witch and kissed her on the cheek. Although he was heartbroken that his one true love would die that night, he rejoiced in knowing that there was still hope for their daughter. That same evening, he did everything the witch had instructed, and it was the longest evening the father had ever lived.

When the mother’s tear dropped onto it, the button glowed for a moment. And just as it returned to its normal state, the mother drew her last breath and died, along with her unborn child.

After this, the tailor’s daughter became more silent than ever and refused even to leave the shop. The father deliberated for a long time what object to sew the button on.

A ball? But what would she do if it rolled away? 

A coat? But what would she do if she became hot and forgot it in a corner?

A bracelet? But what would she do if it were stolen?

The father did not know what to do. He looked sadly at his daughter—his lonely daughter who spoke to no one but the little mannequin in the front of his shop. The mannequin!

Quickly, the tailor took the little mannequin and sewed the magic button onto its breast and instantly the mannequin came to life. He shook the father’s hand and smiled brightly. Just by looking at his face, the mannequin understood how the father felt. Immediately, he walked up to the little girl whose hair was as black as the raven.

The little mannequin extended his hand. “Little girl, pretty little girl, do you want to play with me?”

“No. I do not want to play with any person,” she said timidly.

The little mannequin grinned. “But little girl, pretty little girl, I am not a person, so play with me!
Come, let us go play with a ball and some jacks! Let us go play with the spindle and thread!”

The girl seemed reluctant at first, but then she nodded and ran along with the little mannequin all throughout the father’s shop. They played and danced and sang. Needless to say, they had a lovely time.

A few years went by, and as the girl grew taller, she grew livelier and more cheerful. Her hair, which was as black as the raven, grew longer and more beautiful. She was nearly as tall as the little mannequin now. The little girl did chores around the shop and loved her father dearly. However, she dared not leave the shop, and the father became more and more anxious.

The little mannequin saw this and knew what to do. One day he approached the tailor’s daughter.

“Little girl, pretty little girl, the store is so crowded and small, let us go run in the green grass. Let us go jump in the bright sunshine!”

“No. I do not want to see the dangerous world,” said the little girl timidly.

“But little girl, you shan’t be in danger, for I shall always protect you.”

The mannequin took the little girl’s hands and slowly led her outside. When she felt the warm glow of sunshine on her cheeks, the little girl did a few twirls and landed on the grass. The mannequin and the little girl played jump rope and hopscotch during the day, and lay on the grass gazing at the stars at night.

Years later, the little girl was already taller than the little mannequin, and her dark hair was ever so long and beautiful. She became accustomed to the outdoors and spent many a day hanging cloths outside to dry and playing and singing with the little mannequin on the grassy lawn in front of the shop. They were the dearest of friends. She told him her deepest secrets and the mannequin, as you might expect, turned out to be a great listener.

Gradually, the mannequin brought the little girl farther and farther from her home, taking her all across town. He introduced her to the neighbors, to the town baker, to the judge and the sheriff, to the milkman and the mailman. The little girl grew fond of the village folk, and the people loved her dearly, for she was so kind and beautiful.

At the age of seventeen, the little girl, who was really not so little anymore, fell in love with a handsome young cobbler’s apprentice. The mannequin had taught her to speak to many people, and she had enjoyed wonderful conversations with the baker and the mailman. However, when she tried to address the handsome young apprentice, she couldn’t utter a sound—the harder she tried, the more her tongue refused to budge. And so, she ran home to her little mannequin, weeping.

“Little girl, pretty little girl,” the mannequin said, “what ails you so?”

“Oh, my dearest friend, you wouldn’t understand, for you are not human and you have no heart that aches and no tears to shed. I am in love, yet I do not know how to win my love’s heart!”

Although she did not know it, the little girl’s words greatly hurt the little mannequin. Though it was true the mannequin had no heart, the magic button that had been sewn on his breast to give him life had also given him great love. Though it was true he had no tears to shed, that was all the more reason why he suffered so inside.

“Little girl, pretty little girl, you are not a small, frail, pretty little girl anymore. Instead, you are now a big, strong, and beautiful woman! Trust your heart! Follow it, for God loves the innocent and shall surely guide you to your true love.”

And so the beautiful woman, whose long hair was as black as the raven, took the little mannequin’s advice, and tried again to speak to the handsome apprentice. And this time, her words flowed, and immediately, the apprentice fell in love with the young woman. Within a month, they were wed.

Seeing that his job was done, the mannequin decided to leave the shop and travel around the world. He began packing his things, but he hadn’t much to pack for he was not human and did not require clothes or food. The father, now old and weary, gave the mannequin and great hug and shed a tear.  

“Although you are not human, you are like a son to me. Thank you for all you have done. May God bless you on your journey.”

With the father’s blessing, the little mannequin sailed the seven seas and went to exotic places. He saw elephants in Africa and rubies in India. He went to the magnificent Chinese Empire to see its fine silks and to Russia to see its glorious mountains.

Because the little mannequin was so good at communicating with others, he was able to talk to animals as well, and on his travels he befriended a pug and a nightingale. During his long voyages, he sang with nightingale and danced with the pug. At night, he would regale his friends with stories about the father and the girl, as they sat there, listening eagerly. The little mannequin, because of his great talking abilities, also had a knack for trade. Over the next ten years, accompanied by the pug and the nightingale, he traded spices and silks and other fine things all around the world. He traveled farther than Marco Polo and braved the most dangerous waters of the New World, selling rare goods from all over the globe. He accrued great wealth and fame.

The little mannequin had no need for money, however, as he had no use for even the most exotic foods, nor did he covet gold or glory or great houses or palaces. Instead, throughout all his travels, he spent only ten gold coins, three of which he used to by a little blue collar for his beloved pug friend, another three for a little red scarf, which he gave to his dear nightingale. The last four gold pieces he used to buy a handsome suite and a good-looking hat.

A few more years passed and the little mannequin and his pug and nightingale were still the closest of friends. However, the nightingale did not sing as much as before, for she was getting tired, and the little pug would not dance as lively as before for he had trouble breathing. One day, as the little mannequin watching his companions eat, the nightingale suddenly stopped and said, “I think it is time for me to go.”

“Go where, my little nightingale?” the mannequin asked.

“High, high above the clouds.”

“Will I ever see you again?”

“Hopefully not for long time, my dear friend.”

And so the pug and little mannequin stood on the deck of their trading ship and bade the nightingale farewell as she soared higher and higher in the sky until all that was left to see was a small black dot with a little bit of red in it—the scarf she wore around her neck. A moment later, she was out of sight.

The little mannequin could not help feeling sad. The button, which was his heart, seemed heavier than usual. He could not understand why his friend had gone away. The pug, however, knew what had happened. The nightingale was getting very old and had flown to another world, a more peaceful world from where she would never visit them ever again. He explained this to the little mannequin, and thus the little mannequin began to deeply miss his old home. “What if the tailor and his daughter also flew up beyond clouds?” he thought to himself. He decided to sail home.

After a long voyage, the little mannequin returned to the tailor’s shop and found that it was owned by someone he had never seen before. He asked the owner about the old tailor and was told that the old tailor had died years ago, peacefully in his sleep. The little mannequin was sad indeed. However, the little pug cheered him up with these words, “Do not feel sad, little mannequin, for the tailor lived a good life and, like the nightingale, is high up above the clouds now. He is one with God. I’m sure he thought of you as he died and wished all the best for you.” The mannequin knew this to was likely and felt much better. He also asked about the beautiful woman with hair as black as the raven and was told where he could find her.

The woman and her handsome husband lived in a little cottage up on a hill, and so the mannequin and his little pug friend went there to see her. Just as the mannequin was about to knock on the door, he saw his old friend through the window. She had on an apron and was cooking stew. Around her were little children, a boy and a girl, who were playing with wooden blocks. The husband, who was now a master cobbler, was fixing a shoe in the corner, but now he walked up to the woman, kissed her on the lips, and told her that her stew smelled delicious.

The mannequin decided not to go in, and he and his pug friend went back to the village. The pug was breathing even louder than usual and he asked his wooden friend to stop so he could rest. The mannequin sat on a log and rested his head on his hands.

“What ails you, my dearest friend?” the pug asked.

“I don’t know, little pug. I think about lucky I am, and I know I should feel happy, but I just feel sad inside. Very sad indeed,” the mannequin replied.

“Does it have anything to do with the beautiful woman in the cottage?”

“I guess so.”

“But my dear friend, you mustn’t forget. You’ve lived such a full life, a life that other mannequins can only envy. You’ve seen creatures of all kinds and gone on amazing journeys to the farthest edges of the world.”

“I know, little pug. I enjoy the never-ending love of a father, who still prays for me in God’s kingdom. I’ve listened to the most beautiful and heart-felt songs from our beloved nightingale, and I watched her ascend to a more peaceful and brighter world. And I have you by my side, comforting me at all times. I should be the happiest little mannequin in this world, yet my heart aches so, little pug. I’ve accomplished so much—I have done what men in this world can only dream of, and yet I could not win the love of the little girl, all because I am not a handsome man, but a little mannequin, whose bolts now are beginning to rust and whose color has faded greatly with the years. Is it God’s will that I be sad like this when I know I should be happy?”

The pug sat there for a while, not knowing what to say, for he understood that life is unfair sometimes, yet he also had full faith in God. “Little mannequin, you mustn’t think this way. God has a plan for all creatures great and small, even for you, friend. Come, let us go the nearby zoo. I know you always smile brightly when you play with animals in the brilliant sunshine.”

And so they walked into the village, but the pug was coughing and coughing. Finally, he could go no farther and he lay on the ground.

“What is happening to you, little pug!” the mannequin exclaimed.

“I fear it must be my time to leave as well, my dearest friend.”

The mannequin was heartbroken. “Will you be joining the little nightingale in the clouds?”

“I fear not, little mannequin, for I have no wings to carry me there.”

“Will you be joining the tailor in the God’s kingdom?”

“I fear not, little mannequin, for heaven is only reserved for God’s greatest creature.”

“Then what will become of you, little pug?” The mannequin tried to cry, but of course no tears could flow from his eyes for he was only a thing of wood.

“I do not know, my friend. But you mustn’t worry about me. You have no flesh that can rot, and so I am sure you will continue to live happily for many, many long years.”

“But what life is there to have when all my dearest friends are gone. Don’t leave me, little pug, for my heart is already broken.”

There was nothing the little pug could do or say to make the mannequin feel any better, so he closed his eyes and waited for his life to leave him.

The mannequin refused to let the little pug venture into the unknown, and so he picked up his friend and ran straight to the tailor’s shop. He had no lungs and had no muscles, so he sprinted faster than any man could. Racing into the shop, he grabbed some thread, a needle, and a pair scissors. He cut off his magic button and, careful not to drop it, used the thread and needle to sew it onto the old pug’s blue collar. The pug begged him to stop, for he understood that once the little mannequin let go of the magical button, he would cease to exist, as he had no wings with which to fly about the clouds and he had no soul with which to ascend to the kingdom of heaven. However, he was so old and weak, and he was powerless to stop him.

When the button was firmly attached to the little pug’s collar, the mannequin bent down and kissed his friend on the forehead with his dry, wooden lips, and said, “Thank you so much my friend, for all you’ve done for me. Do not cry for me, little pug, for this is what I want to do.” And so, the little mannequin let go of the pug’s collar and immediately the essence of life in the magical button invigorated the little pug. The little mannequin was now…just a little mannequin, and he stood there motionless, with a smile on his lips and what appeared to be a little teardrop that fell from his wooden cheeks. The little pug wailed in agony for he did not yet know what God had in store for the little mannequin.

Seeing the mannequin’s great love and pure heart, and the great sacrifice he had made, God decided 
to reward the little mannequin with a soul. It flew at once from the wooden man into the tailor’s embrace. God also heard the little pug’s painful wails and had mercy on the poor thing. He cast winds down into the tailor’s shop and turned what remained of the little mannequin into golden dust, which the winds carried up into the deep, blue azure of the sky.

The pug saw this and understood. He cried no more, and with his newly invigorated body, continued his travels across the world, making new friends. He eventually settled down with a master and married a beautiful girl pug.

From heaven, the little mannequin smiled lovingly upon the little pug and the beautiful woman with hair as black as the raven. His heartache was no more, and he visited the lovely nightingale high up in the clouds every now and then to sing with her. Every day from that day onwards, the little mannequin said a prayer for his beloved pug friend and for the woman’s family.

Whether this tale is true or not, I do not know. On the surface, it does seem rather fantastical. But then again, a little pug (who wore a blue color with a black button on it) spoke rather fine English and told me this story, which seemed very convincing. I adopted him, as he was kind and trustworthy, and we live quite happily.

Benjamin Chang is an 18-year-old student. Born and raised in Beijing, he lives there happily with his mother, father, and brother.

October 23, 2013

The Flower Garden, By Sabrina Zbasnik

"Summer Roses," by Edmund B. Leighton

Editor's note: I am devoted to flowers and gardening, so this story, more of a fable than a fairy tale, was an easy choice. The dark little twist a the end is a reminder that all "enchanting" stories have a touch of death in them.

Hidden behind the castle walls grew the sublimest garden in the whole of the kingdom. Braving miles of bandit festooned-road people traveled just to get a glimpse of the inviting and exquisite flowers, many never wishing to go back to their own humdrum verdure back home.

From this garden each day the princess would pick one flower to adorn her hair. The people loved their little princess, remarking upon her beauty nearing full bloom, "She is more elegant than a rose and fairer than a lily."

The early morning sun drifted over the castle's high walls to reach the sleeping flower bed. In her own time each lovely flower would stretch and awaken for a new day. As they worked on their primping and sprucing up to face the world so would begin the same old argument.

"I think today the princess shall choose me for her fair hair," started the Lily as she straightened out her petiole. No one wants a curled up petiole on their flower.

"Oh don't start that again, Lily," pricked the Hibiscus, messing up the rouge on her stamens.

“My goodness, the sun certainly is bright today," the Gardenia exclaimed as she pulled up her leaves to provide some shade. "The princess would certainly refuse me if I were to accidentally burn. You're so brave, dear Lily, proudly flaunting those freckles of yours. I know if I acquired them I'd be positively mortified and never show my face."

The Pansies giggled, "Yes 'fair' Lily, do try to shade yourself or you could give the princess a real fright."

"Oh and dear Pansy, do you delude yourselves to think the princess would favor any of you?" The Gardenia was on par this morning despite the heat.

The Pansies passed around their purple, blue, and yellow paints to emphasize their petals, taking great strides to get each wrinkle, "Well, why wouldn't she? We are by far the most vibrant of all you old stick in the muds. We'd fit in perfect at her parties."

"Such a shame about the beard though. Maybe if you painted over it then the princess would happily wear you," Daffodil snorted as she crimped her own yellow petals.

The Pansies looked down and mumbled, "We can't help the way we were born," and tried furiously to paint away their once beloved and now despised black petals.

Baby's Breath began to giggle to herself, "Poor Pansy, no one likes a flower that reminds them of their dirty uncle."

Finished fluffing herself, Daffodil turned to face the sun and opened wide, "I bet the Princess shall pick me today. Nothing compares to a bright daffodil on a sunny day."

"Truly, Daffodil? I see why your Latin name is Narcissus," called down the Cherry Blossoms who are usually above such petty arguments, but could never turn down a good pun. As none of the other flowers caught their joke they muttered under their breath about the uncouth and went back to being the most sagacious flower in the garden.

"Forgive the intrusion from your sun bathing Daffodil, but while the princess has enjoyed the company of your lovely sisters we all know that despite your machinations, you shall never hold a candle to them," Hibiscus said, brushing some pollen off her petals.

"What makes you think that, sweet Hibiscus?" Daffodil asked, her roots churning deep beneath her.

"You know I never lower myself to point out another's faults," Hibiscus cooed, before responding, 
"Your little stamen discoloration is barely noticeable and I am sure that some people are charmed by your disturbingly long nose petals."

"Daffodil, Daffodil; a nose as long as a bill. Hide from the rain under pretty Daffodil," twittered Baby's breath.

Pulling herself up to her full height, Daffodil turned to face Hibiscus but making certain to keep her extra long nose in the shadow, "Well, I'd much rather have a larger nose than be as corpulent as you, Hibiscus. The princess would need a head larger than a wagon wheel to fit you."

Sensing the new change in ridicule the Baby's breath altered their jibes, "Hibiscus, Hibiscus; watch out or she'll eat all your biscuits."

"Beloved fellow flowers, must we delve into the same argument every morning? It's unbecoming of us. We must set an example for the commoners in the kingdom," pleaded the Peony as she smoothed down her ruffled petals and added a dash of pink to her edges.

“We can always count on dear Peony to be the voice of reason," chimed in Gardenia, bringing a bright smile to Peony's face, "After all, it isn't as though she's beautiful enough to ever adorn the princesses ear, and being pleasing to the ear is almost as good as pleasing the eye."

"If I were not a lady and taught to hold my tongue, I would share exactly what I think of you Miss Gardenia."

"Now now, Peony. No offense was meant. I certainly don't want you to overtax you poor mind. Why don't you just think about something soft and pink while we have an adult discussion?"

"You may think me simple minded, Miss Gardenia, but at least I am not as backwatered as Miss Daisy." Peony was feeling rather smug for coming up with her first quip and had to write it down in her diary right away lest it should vanish from her little brain.

Hearing her name, Daisy looked up from her happy patch of newly fertilized earth, "What's up your stem, Peony?"

Feeling up for some fun, Gardenia jumped onto the thread, "Daisy, do not tell me you have dreams of entering the palace? Your rural, wildflower roots are sure to rack the delicate sinuses of the princess."

"Sneezy sneezy; watch out for Miss Daisy," giggled Baby's Breath, giving Peony another pun to jot down.

"Psh, who cares about looking beautiful all the time? I'm out doing things, seeing the world and soaking up the sun. While you, Gardie, just hide in the shadows afraid of a little sun. I don't have time for all those paints and rouges you girls rely on so much. Good old fashioned colors are just fine for me." Daisy turned away from the other flowers and smiled, for in her heart she just knew the princess would one day only admire the Daisy's natural beauty and spurn the charlatans.

"Why sweet Gardenia, I dare say this morning you have been positively incomparable. You mentioned every flower's short comings but have been kind enough to misplace your own. I fear your modesty has overcome you and that I shall have to step in and alleviate this misgiving." All flowers turned to what many of the garden's visitors claimed was the most perfect rose in all of history. Due to this high mantle thrust upon her, it was required of Rose to wait until everyone was awake and bright eyed before she herself rose, so they could watch her alluring display spinning apart her petals each morning to reveal their crimson beauty.

"Rose, I was so concerned you were going to forget to open today and completely miss your adoring public. It's so hard to enjoy a rose's beauty in the night, your color vanishes into the background."

"Yes, dear Gardenia," Rose said with a thick smile, "But white stands out like a magnificent beacon even during the owl's time." Gardenia beamed from the compliment, even daring to let herself drift into the light. Rose continued, "It is such a shame those black spots on your back mar the light."

"What? Where?!" Gardenia spun around on her stem so quickly she heard a crack, causing her head to droop.

"I am loath to state poets have never felt it compelling to compare the flush of a pretty girl to a spotted gardenia. Perhaps if you took care of those they might."

The Baby's Breath plotted a new taunt for Gardie's spots when a shadow passed overhead and the garden fell silent. A large head peered down among the flowers. They recognized him immediately as the head gardener who came to pick a flower for the beloved princess.

Each girl prepared herself for this life altering decision. Lily masked her freckles, the Pansies did their best to smile through five layers of paint, Daffodil turned her head to the side to hide her large nose, Hibiscus pulled herself in a bit to appear smaller, Peony frilled up her skirts and tried to look smart, Daisy secretly rubbed herself against the smaller roses to have a pleasing scent, and Gardenia and Rose battled to see who could have the dewiest petals.

"Why, each flower is the most gorgeous reflection of nature I've ever seen today," exclaimed the gardener, "I have no idea which the princess would prefer." So he picked every one and carried them to the princess to let her decide.

Holding his arms out proudly to her as she skipped past, "My dearest Princess, which of these beauties do you think can live up to your own and decorate your hair?"

But the princess looked up at him and pulled a face, "Do not talk to me of flowers. Don't you know they are no longer fashionable and all the beautiful women wear silver and gold in their hair. Go and fetch me a silver hair clip or I shall never be happy again."

"Yes, right away my Lady. But what should I do with these flowers?"

"Throw them away for all I care. No one is interested in flowers anymore."

The flowers were left to rot and die on the table, without the princess once turned her gaze upon them.

Sabrina Zbasnik is mostly human and mostly harmless. She has two fantasy satire books available from Amazon, Tin Hero and TerraFae.

October 22, 2013

The Burger Bargain, By W. Klein

Editor's note: This story, which in part focuses on the mundane objects of our 21st-century world, is truly enchanting. It is delightfully twisty toward the end.
Once upon a time in a far-off land, there was a miller who defeated a dragon and outwitted three trolls to rescue a princess.  After these remarkable adventures, the couple married and settled down to live a quiet life in their enchanted castle.  The princess -- now a queen -- gave birth to a boy.  On his christening, three fairies gifted him with three magical objects which he was to keep with him at all times. 
The first was a stone which, when thrown into standing water, could reveal to him the answer to any question.  The second was a top with an arrow painted on it.  When spun, it would always land in such a way that, when it finally came to rest, the arrow would point the one who spun it towards his home.  The third was a shell which -- when held to his ear -- would allow him to hear beautiful music to soothe his soul.
As the prince grew, he continued to bring these objects with him in a special drawstring bag which he tied to his belt.  He'd skip along the edge of the castle's moat with his friends, and -- whenever they discovered a creature they didn't recognize -- the prince would throw his magical stone in the shallow water.  Words and images would appear on the surface of the water, telling the boy the name of the creature and what its magical properties were.
When the prince and his friends would go on adventures in the forest, they never had to worry about getting lost, for the boy would spin the magical top, and they'd stand over it with wide eyes until it came to a rest, the arrow pointing them in the direction of home.
And when the prince was alone in his room at night, he'd entertain himself by holding the magical shell up to his ear and listening to the beautiful music which echoed out from it.  So, through his gifts, the prince had everything that he needed, and then some, but he was not entirely content.
More than anything else, he longed to do something exciting.  Sure, he had outwitted a witch and threw her in an oven at the age of five.  When he was eight, he encountered a leprechaun who gave him a pot of gold.  At age ten, he had been briefly turned into a toad by the spiteful sister of the witch whom he had killed.  But by the time he turned twelve, he was tired of battling dragons,breaking spells and rescuing damsels in distress.
What he really wanted to do was to visit the magical world which he had only read about in books -- a world where children visited dentists, rode to school on fantastic yellow carriages called buses, and were lifted in mechanical boxes called elevators to the top of sky-scraping towers.  His parents scowled at his choice of literature.  They tried to replace his copies of Harriet the Spy and The Boxcar Children with more appropriate stories of "Rumplestiltskin" or J"ack and the Beanstalk," but the prince would not be deterred.
So, on his twelfth birthday, he packed up his drawstring bag with his stone, his top, and his shell, and set off to find the enchanted lands about which he had only read.
He wandered far and near, without catching a glimpse of any of the wonderful things he hoped to see.  His world was entirely devoid of trains or planes or automobiles.  Not a single bicycle crossed his path, and -- search as he might -- he couldn't find a single accountant or lawyer.
He sat down, discouraged, beside a well.  A bucket of water had been drawn and upon seeing his reflection in the clear water, he had an idea.  He threw his stone into the water and asked in a loud voice, "Oh, magical stone!  How do I get to that world I've read about in my books?"
The prince looked into the bucket, but all he could see was the reflection of the well on the surface of the water.  He shrugged, figuring it was worth a try.  Climbing upon the stony edge of the well, the boy leaned in and yelled, "Hello?"
From below, he could hear a tiny voice crying out for help.  Quickly, he attached the bucket to the pulley, and lowered it down.  "Hop in!" he called.  As he waited, the rope shifted and something fell --plop! -- into the bucket.  When the prince pulled it up, splashing in the bottom, gasping for air, was a mouse.
"Dear little mouse," the prince said.  "What were you doing in that well?"
The mouse squeaked at him, and in a rather bewildered voice said, "Oh, my!  I was just running through the sewers and I got lost.  I don't know how I ended up here, but this must certainly be a magical place, for I've never been able to speak to a human before!"
"How wonderful!" the prince said.  "You must come from precisely the place to which I wish to go!"
"Good luck," said the mouse.  "As for me, I shall see what I find here!"
The prince waved goodbye, hoping that the poor little mouse wouldn't find his world too terribly dull, and hand over hand lowered himself down to the bottom of the well.
After swimming down through the sewers, the prince washed up in a river in the wonderful world of his stories.  He climbed out of the river and as he wrung out his clothing, stared in awe at the cars and trucks whizzing past him.  He followed the river's edge until he came upon the most amazing discovery: a fast food restaurant with a giant hamburger standing before it.
"Marvelous!" he said, rushing to the door.  Inside, he waited in line and when it was his turn, he approached the counter and declared, "I would like a hamburger!"
"That'll be a dollar twenty-five."
The prince turned red and stuttered.  "I... I'm afraid I don't have any of your currency.  Might you take something in trade?"
The man across the counter just shook his head.  "Next."
The prince would not be deterred.  On a bench outside, two boys about his age were sharing a pile of hamburgers between themselves.  "Perhaps they would be willing to barter," the prince said to himself.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said.  "I would like one of those delicious hamburgers, but I have no money with which to buy one.  Would you be willing to trade?"
"For what?" a red-headed boy asked.  "Your dopey hat?  What kind of costume is that, anyway?"
The prince was bewildered, but undeterred.  "It's not a costume at all.  I come from a place far, far away, and this is the type of garment everyone wears there.  I would be willing to trade the hat for a hamburger, though."
"Nah, we don't want your hat," the other boy, a blond-haired lad said.  "What's in your bag?"
The prince had a clever idea.  "This bag contains three items of the greatest magic.  I will show them to you... in exchange for one hamburger."
The boys wrinkled up their noses.  "We don't like magic tricks," the redhead said.  "They're for babies."
"Oh, you'll like these," the prince said confidently.  "You've never seen anything like this here."
"Fine," said the blond, nudging his friend.  "But if we have seen it before, we don't have to trade."
The prince smiled, confident that he would win.  "Excellent.  First, allow me to show you my magic stone."  Glancing around, he found a puddle of water and dropped it in.  "Now you may ask it any question, and it will give you an answer.  For instance...
"Oh, magical stone--"
"--what's the answer to six minus three?" the redhead asked.  The three boys leaned their heads in.
"There," the prince said.  "One, two, three boys are reflected in the puddle.  The answer is three."
"That's lame."
"My phone can do the same thing," the other said, pulling out his smart phone.  He opened up a calculator app and punched in '6 - 3'.  The number 3 lit up the screen.

The prince frowned.  "Well, your device certainly won't be able to do anything like this," he said, revealing his magical top.  He set it on the ground and flicked his wrist to set it spinning.  It spun and spun, and finally landed, its arrow pointing in the direction which the boy had come.
"I don't get it.  What's the magic part?"
"It is pointing me in the direction I need to take in order to find my home," the prince said.
"That's it?"  The blond boy pulled out his phone again.  He hit a button, and instantly a map appeared, with a route plotted in green from the restaurant to his home.  The prince just stared in amazement.
With a sigh, the prince held out his final object, the shell.  He turned it around in his hand and then held it out to the others.  "I realize now your magical device is far superior to any of mine.  All this one does is fill my head with the sounds of music.  I'm sure yours must do that as well, though perhaps even better.  I would bet you can hear all sorts of music on your device, instead of the same song over and over again.  I should have known that this fantastic land would be so much better than my own."
The two boys just stared at him, and then at one another.  The prince looked so sad, so tired, and so hungry that the boys felt a twinge of pity for this weird kid with the funny accent and strange clothes.  How sad it must be to come from a place where you couldn't text your friends or play Tetris or watch funny videos of cats falling off things!
"You know what?" the redhead said, winking at his friend.  "That is a pretty great shell.  You win, buddy."
The prince clapped his hands in delight.  The hamburger passed from the boy's hand to his own, and into his mouth, where the cheese oozed and meat patty juices ran down his throat.  With that first bite of greasy perfection, the prince knew without a doubt that this truly was the most magical place ever.

W.Klein lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons.  She is an avid reader and is currently seeking representation for her first novel.