July 16, 2014

The Seven Fated Wishes, By Sarah Hausman

"Dolce Far Niente," by John William Godward, artmagick.com

Editor's note: The marvelous retelling of "Pandora's Box" mixes themes from fairy tales with the age-old myth. A surefire winner!

Long ago, there lived the Princess of an ancient kingdom. The kingdom was a wonderful place which knew no pain or sadness. The King and Queen loved their only daughter dearly, and the Princess spent her carefree days busying herself with the beauties of life. She would walk through the castle gardens, examining flowers and butterflies. Royal courtiers would give her lessons in art and music. When the Princess tired of her castle, she could mount her lovely white steed and ride freely through the villages and countryside, where she was always well-received by all of those she met. Her life was carefree and happy, as were the lives of all the people in her kingdom because there was only Goodness in the world. Evil was not yet known.

One day, the Princess was admiring the beautiful things in the royal treasury and she came across a small and unusual box stored on a high shelf. Neither the markings nor the intricate adornments gave her any clue to its purpose. When she tried to open the box, she found it was locked. Not finding a key, she took a pin from her hair and tried it in the lock, but her poking and prodding was to no avail as the tiny lock held fast. She shook the box to try to guess its contents, but it made no sound.

Being a very inquisitive young lady, the Princess took the box to her father’s throne to learn what it might contain. She found him there being entertained by a troupe of jesters, but when the King saw the box in her hands, he immediately dismissed the jesters who leapt, twirled, and somersaulted out of the grand room to leave him alone with his daughter.

“Where did you find that?” he demanded in a tone that the Princess had never heard before, although he knew well enough what her answer would be, for he immediately recognized the enchanted box.

“I found it in the treasury on a high shelf, covered in dust. What is inside? May we open it?” she asked in her innocence and eagerness to satisfy her curiosity.

“No. It shall never be opened. Give it to me at once,” he said, extending his hand. “You had best forget you ever held it.”

The obedient Princess did as she was told, but she did not understand. The King refused to discuss the matter further, which only added to her curiosity. As the days passed, her curiosity grew and she became very frustrated. One day, when she was walking through the garden, she became so frustrated that tears began to well up in her eyes. The Princess was accustomed to only happiness and she did not know what was happening. She ran to the well to draw a bucket of clear water to use as a looking glass, and, as she bent over the well, her tears fell inside.

Suddenly, a peculiar voice called out to her from the well. “Dear Princess! Why do you cry?”

“I, I don’t know,” stammered the startled Princess. And truly she did not, for it had never happened before. But her tears stopped as a new curiosity took hold of her.

“Are you a troll?” she called down the well, hoping so because she would really like to meet one. Trolls were known to dwell in small spaces and they were quite harmless.

“Certainly not!” said the voice, now sounding indignant. “I am a fairy and I can surely say I have not tasted a princess’s tears in a dragon’s age. Now, what troubles you, Sweet Princess? I am certain I can help.”

Now the Princess was laughing. “A fairy? And I suppose I am to believe you are living down there with the giants and dragons and other beasts of jesters’ tales?”

“Fair Princess, I assure you that I am quite real and my purpose is to lend aid, if you will only accept it,” the mysterious voice offered.

“As you wish, Fairy of the Well, I will tell you my trouble,” started the Princess, and she told the Fairy of the curious little box.

“I know the box of which you speak, Princess. The box holds seven enchanted fairy coins and the fairies have missed them dearly. If you return them to me, I will grant you seven wishes, one for each coin,” said the Fairy.

The Princess was delighted to finally learn the contents of the box, but she lamented, “Alas, I cannot open it! I have tried.”

“The problem is no matter, for I have a key. Send down the bucket.”  Moments later a beautiful silver key arrived by bucket from the bottom of the well. The Fairy assured the Princess it would fit the lock, and she promised she would return with the coins.

The Princess crept into the treasury and found the box again on its high shelf. She fit the tiny key in the dainty lock and it sprung open at once. Inside, she found seven tiny velvet pouches lying neatly in the silk-lined box. She untied the drawstrings of each little purse and admired the lovely gold coins inside.

The Princess spent much time in thought about what she might possibly wish for, as she already had nearly everything a young lady could want. Finally, she thought of something that she might enjoy greatly and she returned to the well where the Fairy had been patiently waiting.

She tossed the coin into the well as told and said, “Kind Fairy, give me the voice of a bird so that I may sing more sweetly than any other maiden in the land.”

“As you wish,” said the Fairy, “but know that if you take the voice of a bird you will sometimes lose their company.”

“No matter,” said the Princess, and she thought that a strange price to pay.

The Fairy granted the Princess her wish and she immediately sang the most beautiful song anyone had ever heard.

“Thank you, Kind Fairy,” she said with great happiness. “I will enjoy my gift and return in one year’s time with another coin and another wish.”

The Princess did enjoy her gift and she was praised for her lovely talent. Soon winter came and the weather grew quite cold. Snow and ice covered the land, such that had never been seen before. The birds flew away to the south and Famine and Sickness came to the people of the villages, who were not prepared for such cold. They had an emptiness in their bellies they had never felt before and they became very thin. Some coughed and became feverish.  But the Princess was safe in her castle, which was well-supplied with food and firewood, and she hardly noticed when in a few months the snow melted and the birds returned.

In one year’s time, the Princess stole into the treasury again and retrieved a second magical coin. Again the Fairy was glad to see that she had returned and asked her to state her second wish.

“I have the most beautiful voice, Good Fairy, but I would like to also be the most beautiful maiden in all the land,” she uttered as she tossed in the second coin.

“Understand, My Princess that for you to be the most, someone must also be the least,” said the Fairy.

“No matter,” said the Princess, whose cheeks became rosier and her smile instantly more charming.

Now, the Princess was already very pretty, as was everyone in the joyful kingdom, but for one to be the most beautiful meant the others could not be. Soon each person began to wonder if they were more or less beautiful than the next, and so Vanity spread across the kingdom. With Vanity came Unkindness, and those who were not as handsome were mocked so that everyone could be sure who was more and who was less attractive. But the Princess did not notice, as she already knew she was the most beautiful and did not need to compare herself to anyone else.

Another year passed and the Princess returned to the well, saying, “Fairy of the Well, the cold winters have begun to deplete our stores and treasury. Make me the wealthiest princess in the world so that my family and I will never go without.”

It was very likely that the Princess was already the wealthiest princess in the world in those days, but the Fairy adorned her with the most brilliant crown of gold and diamonds so that when she went out of the castle everyone would know it. The Fairy’s magic then filled the treasury with even more gold and jewels than before so the Princess could be certain the family would not want for anything that money could buy.

As with beauty, the knowledge of who had the most wealth gave birth to the notion of least. People certainly did not want to be the least and, when they began to want more, Greed infected the kingdom. With Greed came Crime, and people began to lie, cheat, and steal. But the royal family’s wealth was safe behind castle walls and no one dared to cheat them.

When another year went by, the Princess went to the Fairy and said, “I have enjoyed my talent, beauty, and wealth, but I long to share it with someone. I wish for every man in the kingdom to fall in love with me so that I may have my choice as a husband.”

Of course, she could have had nearly any man in the kingdom anyway, but nevertheless she dropped the fourth coin in the well and soon after suitors began to come from far and wide to court her. As they did so, they left behind many a distraught maiden who felt the pangs of Envy. Similarly, the men experienced Rivalry between them as they fought for the Princess’s attention. But she fell blissfully in love with only one and took him for her husband.

A year later, the Princess brought a fifth coin to the well and pleaded, “Kind Fairy, I have been married nearly a year now and I am not yet pregnant. Please, give me a child.”

Certainly if she had given it time she would have born a child regardless of magical intervention, but she did not want to wait and as soon as she tossed the coin into the well she joyously felt new life stirring within her.

Some months later, the Princess experienced a tremendously difficult childbirth like nothing her midwives had ever seen. With her miserable cries, Pain was unleashed upon the world. But, as time passed, the Princess loved her baby so much that she forgot the agony of childbirth. However, Pain still existed and tormented humanity whenever it could with Injury.

The Princess waited another year to return with her sixth request, which was tremendous. As she dropped in the sixth coin, she said, “Generous Fairy, I have my own family now and I wish for my own kingdom so that we may rule it together.”

“Noble Princess, I can accomplish many things with my magic, but an entire kingdom? The price for this will be very high,” said the now familiar voice from deep within the well.

“No matter,” she said.

At first nothing happened and the Princess grew suspicious, but the Fairy assured her that by the end of one year’s time she would be Queen.

As the months passed, the King and Queen became very ill and the Princess nearly forgot about her wish as she cared for them. Time, which had once stood still in the glorious kingdom, was now beginning to show in the lines on their faces and in their weakening bodies. Then, on the eve of the day of her birth, the Princess’s mother and father died.

The darkness of Death fell over the land, and the Princess experienced an ache inside her that she never thought possible. She now knew Death’s companion, Grief. But, as she had wished, the kingdom was hers and she was the Queen.

The next day, the new Queen went to the garden and leaned over the edge of the well to make her final wish. She clutched the seventh coin in her hand.

“Wicked Fairy,” she pleaded, “I can no longer withstand the torments of Famine and Sickness, Vanity and Unkindness, Greed and Crime, Envy and Rivalry, Pain and Injury…” Her words trailed off, she sighed shakily, and then continued with a trembling voice, “…Death and Grief.”

“With this final coin,” she went on, as she dropped the coin into the dark void, “I wish for you to take back all of the Evils of the world.”

Her mournful pleading was met only with vile laughter as the Fairy said, “Foolish Queen, your wishes can not be undone and it was you who unleashed the Evils into the world. But, I will give you something for your final wish, for I am not completely heartless. Something that comes as close to removing the Evils from the world as possible, and that is Hope. As with all of my gifts, however, Hope comes with a price.  With Hope comes Fear. When you experience Fear, you will turn to Hope for comfort.”

The young Queen had no choice but to accept the last gift and use it as best she could. As the years passed, her kingdom learned that with Hope came also Faith and Strength, and with the Goodness of Love and Happiness that they already knew, they were able to go on.

And still, to this day, the hopeful descendants of the kingdom are known to throw coins into wishing wells.

Sarah Hausman loves writing, roller derby, and her cat.  She is lucky enough to have an awesome husband who allows her to spend time on all three.

July 15, 2014

Into Gold, By Russ Bickerstaff

Editor's note: This amazing mashup of "Rumpelstiltskin" and data was a winner from the moment I read it.

he data was impossibly complicated. She saw all of the data. She saw how it could be combined to make something more than it was. Raw numbers and readings and things. And she could spin it all into raw profit. She could turn all of that data into gold. This was what she had discovered she could do. The problem was that the head of the department found out that she could do it. The department was really just there to process information. the fact that she could turn into a huge profit for the corporation was something that could be a valuable asset to the company.

You might think that this would be a great opportunity for her. The difficulty with this was inherent in the system. She reported to her supervisor.  Her supervisor oversaw the entire department. Her supervisor was always looking for ways to impress upper management. And so he ended up taking credit for her talent. He always had a  tendency to get carried away with what he promised--which had gotten him into trouble on more than one occasion. Not this time, though. This time was going to be different. He had someone who could turn raw data into pure gold. And he was going to work her like a machine. She was locked away in her own suite and promised money that she would never be officially contracted to receive so long as she kept spinning the data into gold. She knew that she would never see any of what was promised to her. That was the way these sorts of things always went.  

Of course, she didn’t like this situation at all. Not that she really had much of a choice. She was contracted to work for the company. If she left because of unfair work conditions, she wouldn’t be able to get a decent job in her field for another five years due to the contract that they’d made her sign. What was worse, the demands were impossibly high. She had fun working with the data. It kind of reminded her of working on puzzles with her father as a little girl. The rate at which she was expected to produce robbed her of the fun she’d had with it. And there was honestly no way that she could have been expected to make her first deadline.

She was distraught as she worked through the data as quickly as possible. The stress was killing her until a strange, little window popped-up. Evidently it was an Information Mapping Protocol application. The IMP queried as to whether or not it could be of service. She explained her situation. The IMP app told her that it could help her out in exchange for a few rather obscure music files that were nestled in her personal device. (They were from an obscure indie band that could not be found in any online store.) She agreed to copy the files into the database that the IMP designated in exchange for the IMPs help. The IMP went to work. In  half hour it had finished processing all of the information and turning all of the raw data into profit. She was elated.

The next day, her supervisor WAS pleased. And so he gave her an even larger packet of data to work with, once again demanding a ridiculously large amount of information be processed by the following morning. The IMP agreed to help her out in exchange for some obscure movies she had on her portable device. She transferred the old art house indie films to the designated database and it processed the data for her. The following day the head of the department was so pleased with her that he left her in charge of ALL the rest of the data that was currently on the department’s mainframe. He told her to turn all that data into raw profit by the next morning. If she did not, she would be terminated. If she was able to do as he asked, however, she would be given her own department to oversee that would allow her to develop applications that would do for the company what she and the IMP had been doing all along. By this time, the IMP had grown tired of media files, so she didn’t have much hope of keeping her job. It was willing to work with her, though. She had made a deal with the IMP: if it helped her out on this one last project, she would agree to give the full copyright on the first application that her department developed. She agreed to it. The IMP did its thing.

The department head stuck to his agreement, even though it was a verbal one made behind closed doors with no written documentation of any kind. Sometime in the next fiscal quarter, the first app was developed. It was ready to go live when the IMP came by requesting the official copyright on the app. Of course, the app in question was a labor of love that had been developed in fond memory of her father. It was actually something that he’d started work on. The completion of that application was the final realizations of a dream that her father had. She didn’t want to give it up. She had offered to give the IMP anything else that it wanted so long as she was allowed to keep the copyright on the app. 

The IMP needed nothing more, but it offered to relinquish claim over the copyright if she was able to correctly guess its true name in three days or less. Over the course of the next several days, she’d texted numerous guesses off to the IMP, but they all proved to be false. As she was an excellent hacker, she was able to follow a trail of information that lead right to the name of the IMP. Odd that it ended up being her father’s name. He had passed away over a decade ago. It felt strange entering the name of her father as a password. Correctly entering her fathers name as the  true name of the IMP caused it to open an encrypted video file. There he was. She hadn’t seen him in ages but there he was in high definition letting her know how proud he was of her. No longer of any real use, the IMP tumbled whimsically around on her desktop. She’s kept it there ever since. 

Russ Bickerstaff is a theatre critic and aspiring author living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and two daughters.

July 13, 2014

The Goblin Players, By Ross Smeltzer

Editor's note: The creeping wildness and horror of this story are so delightfully at odds with the academic tone of the writing, I knew there was a winning story here.

The sandy, bog-girded region of Saterland—in Lower Saxony very near the city of Leer—has mothered a glut of ingenious and improbable tales, many of which I have carefully documented in my previous folkloristik publications, including “Winter’s Deific Cavalcade: Percht, Holda, and Related Figures in the Folk Beliefs of Schleswig-Holstein,” and “Trials of the Moon: Witchery in the Folkways of Lower Saxony.” These and other publications were met with acclamation by my estimable colleagues, and it seems they have aroused their insatiable curiosity. It is to appease them that I submit this tale, which I chanced to collect from a stooped and antique woman in the village of Hemeln. She assured me of the tale’s veracity, as she spat it out from a mouth barren of teeth. It is a curious tale, lacking identifiable antecedents. It is likely a very old tale indeed.

The folklorist aims for a true rendering of his subject’s narrative, though it is not wholly possible for him to suppress his editorial instinct. I submit that I have faithfully transcribed the old Hemeln woman’s mutterings, though her tale has been—necessarily—shaped, in the interest of clarity and style.


A long time—but not so long ago that men still remembered the olden gods—there was a town near here. It is gone now, but you can find its crumbled foundations hidden under orange and brown leaves if you look in the right places. It is a lonely place now, and is rarely visited. It can only be arrived at by following a narrow cleft in the gangly trees and tangled thorns that have swallowed it. Shrubs and saplings grow oddly there, cropping up among bursts of yellow gorse and tufts of grey lichen, and the knots of the oaks grin wickedly like elfish things were bound fast in their insides. If you go there at night (which you should never do) you will find it blue beneath the crescent, and alive with the furtive stir of hidden things.

The town that used to stand in the woods was prosperous, and it was not erased by war, plague, or poverty as other towns sometimes are.

On a holy day—which one I don’t remember—the folk of the abandoned town erected a maibaum in its square, decorating it with green wreaths and streaming ribbons. Their fellows forgot their toils for a while and left their fields and animals. They streamed into the town. There, they danced around the colorful maibaum. Their feet obeyed the thumping of a little boy’s drum and their ears were cheered by the blended skirls of shagbuts, shawms, and other instruments going with wind. Some drank syrup-sweet wine and ate gold-skinned meat pies in the town square, giving the orts and leavings to hungry dogs.

The townsfolk suspended these revelries when they saw a roofed cart emerge from a nearby grove of trees. They had not felled the grove, though they knew not why they had stayed their sharp axes. They knew only that moonlight shimmered strangely on the trees that grew there, and that the beasts from their farms grew restless and mad-eyed when they neared it. In truth, the grove had been hallowed by the auguries of the old fathers a long time ago. Even the oldest townsfolk did not know this.

The townsfolk watched the squat, heavy cart—its surface smeared with bands of soft pink and deep green paint—as it rolled into their town. It halted its progress when it was adjacent to the tall maibaum. Its wheels churned the earthen streets, leaving deep gashes in them. The dogs were dispersed by the commotion the cart made as it clattered into the town. They slunk into the trees, but they did not go far; you could still hear them whimpering and yipping, conversing among themselves nervously. The townsfolk were intrigued by the queer cart and they began to throng it, pawing the old wood and petting the sturdy but rumpled he-goats that drew it. They were unaccustomed to visitors and their earlier amusements made them hospitable.

The cart ejected a patchwork carpet from a small door at its stern. This cascaded down onto the ground, delighting the expectant and cheery townsfolk. The opened door revealed the cart’s murky interior and the multitude of eyes that gazed out from within it, all sparkling like faraway stars. To the surprise of the townsfolk, a cavalcade of little beings exited the cart. Dressed in the colorful finery of traveling players, the little beings—kobolds of old legend—paraded down the carpet. Some had wide watery eyes like toads, and some had long snouts like lizards, and some had thin, wispy ears like bats. They were all small, smiling, and lipless as fish.

The band of merry kobolds assembled around their cart, and swiftly began to reconfigure it, crafting a makeshift stage from one of its sides. The industry of the kobolds thrilled the townsfolk. They laughed to see the little beings grasping tools in their spindly salamander-fingers, wielding them with the purpose of practiced craftsmen. The whimsy-begotten garments of the creatures amused the townsfolk further. One wore a floppy jester’s cap, which ended in dried and splintered acorns that rattled against one another. Another wore an elaborate mask made of bark, which was fashioned in the shape of a scowling moon.

The kobold players speedily erected their little stage, and the townsfolk formed a press of bodies around it. Excitable, they were eager for songs and sonnets and fantastic tales. They were greedy for amusement. 

The players mounted their stage, took a bow, and began to perform. Their tales were lewd and bloodthirsty, and so proved charming to the townsfolk. Regicides and killings were mixed with tales of cuckolded husbands and ribald animals. There were odder plays, too. Rituals replete with mock solemnity, which the townsfolk took to be jests at the Church and at the sacraments they did not understand. The townsfolk liked these best of all, even though the kobolds performed them in a language they could not recognize: it was all riddled hexes and scrambled hisses. The kobolds’ tales were new to the townsfolk, though they had been visited by traveling players many times before and were familiar with their stock productions. They quaked with laughter, regardless, knowing that it was the way of kobolds and their uncanny kin to find delight in perplexing men.

As the main body of the troupe performed tirelessly on the stage, other members of the kobold band wandered among the crowd, transfixing children with their gleaming eyes and juggling balls, knives, and hammers. The burliest of the little beings performed feats of physical prowess, to the surprise and enjoyment of those assembled. And one of the kobolds, clad in the garish raiment of a jester and bearing a swollen pig’s bladder on a sharpened stick, leapt from one rapt spectator to the next, poking at each gingerly and cackling at his or her expense. His laugh sounded like metal scraping against a rough stone.

It was growing late. The red sun had begun to set, and the wine in the townsfolks’ full bellies made them sleepy. The kobolds, unmindful of their dozy audience, carried on, mounting more of their vulgar plays and singing more of their madcap songs, punctuating these performances with more of their eccentric rites. The townsfolk laughed as before, but tiredness was impinging on their merrymaking. One by one, they began to fall asleep. They sank into the churned mud of the town square. The sky was like ink when the last townsfolk succumbed to their weariness. The sleeping townsfolk bore wide, contented grins on their ruddy faces. They had been much amused.

Only one of their number was not slumbering, a young lad who was not interested in plays and songs. He had wandered into the woods when the other townsfolk had rushed towards the covered cart of the roaming kobolds. He had amused himself by gathering nuts, chasing rabbits and butterflies, and picking bunches of colorful flowers from under the tall trees. He had returned to the village when it was growing dark, for he knew it was not wise to linger in the preserve of skulking wolves. He was greeted with a queer sight when he reached the village: his fellow townsfolk were all asleep together in the street, piled atop one another. Perplexed, he remained in the trees, surrounded and warded by the town’s many dogs. It is from this lad that we know what became of the town in the unvisited hollow.

The kobolds, considerate creatures that they were, had ceased their performing. But they did not pack away their little stage and return to the cart from which they had come. Instead, they seated themselves around the mass of drowsing men, women, and children. Some chortled at the snores coming from the jumbled townsfolk. Others were sober and expectant. Having fatigued themselves in their performances, they were eager to be amused by a show made just for them.

The cart convulsed, shaking from side to side, and another being issued from it. This second creature was unlike the kobolds that had preceded it. Hunched and skeletal, with dangling udders and a mangy hide that sprouted mushrooms and grey mosses, she had two horns like a lamb. Her long snout very nearly touched the ground. The kobolds laughed and clapped their bony hands together upon seeing the monstrous frau their stealthy rites had succeeded in awakening.

The great and terrible frau examined the heap of men, women, and children before her with wide, red-flecked eyes. Drool collected around her mouth and fell from it in thick ropes. She had gone long without the sacrifices upon which she had formerly subsisted. She remembered when men had brought her nine heads yearly, and spilled blood to appease her and her kindred; when wandering clans of men convened in woods hallowed by the auguries of their ancestors and the awe of ages and offered some of their number to her. That was a time when men were respectful. She had not hungered in the days when bodies were suspended from the stout trees that grew in the groves she governed, their still frames all mixed-up and swaying with the wind.

She sank among the townsfolk, and began to glory in a sacrifice that had not been freely given. It satisfied her anyway. No noises—not the nibbling on bits of finger and not the clattering of big teeth on now-naked bones—disturbed the agreeable dreams meandering through the townsfolks’ heads. The goblin-prattle grew loud and joyous. They were much pleased by the flouted, dejected deity they had found among the moldy leaves. They would tend to her now, as men once did, for they enjoyed her performances.

And this is how the town in the noiseless woods came to disappear.


I submit to my colleagues the following interpretation: from this tale, one is to learn of the perils of refinement. The peasant intellect, accustomed to paucity and deprivation, perceives the arts as fundamentally irreconcilable with itself: a sign of profligacy. It is quite amusing to see that, in this tale, the ennoblement of culture is dispensed only by wicked goblin-men intent on feeding their audience to an abhorrent troll. This tale, like all folkloric fragments, functions as a window into the Weltanschauung of a culture whose extinction is imminent. Had I not spoken with the Hemeln crone who supplied me with the amusing tale I have related above, it would most surely have been lost and irretrievable!

As a postscript to this tale, I must note that I requested the Hemeln woman interpret the tale she had laboriously spun for me—an unorthodox practice, I know, but one that can be of value to the practiced folklorist. I expected her to meet my inquiry with a dull-eyed, cowish look; the peasant can rarely be compelled to exit his or her daily anxieties and enter the loftier realms of thought, where erudition and contemplation hold sway. She eyed me fiercely and replied, “Doktor, we may have forgotten the old gods but they have not forgotten us.”

I must confess: it was only by great exertions that I stifled a chuckle. The peasant consciousness remains a cold, spirit-glutted place indeed. Untouched by the warm light of reason, it is obstinately bereft of understanding.

Born and reared in the forests of the Berkshires, Ross Smeltzer now lives in Dallas, Texas with his understanding and endlessly patient wife, his brainless terrier, and his unhinged cat. He currently works as a freelance writer. He has seen four short stories published in Bewildering Stories magazine and will see a fifth published there in the coming months.

July 3, 2014

Arabian Nights: Two Retellings of Tales from One Thousand and One Nights, By Lissa Sloan, Fairy Tale Book Reviewer

In which Lissa reviews The Drowning Guard and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.

Esma Sultan, the Sultan’s favorite sister, is ill.  She is plagued by the smells of rotting flesh and visions of drowned men.  They are her victims: her Christian lovers who spend a night with the Sultaness in her bed and are sentenced to be drowned in the Bosphorus before dawn.  When a doctor prescribes confession as a cure, Esma Sultan chooses to unburden herself to one who shares her culpability.  Ivan Postivich, a former cavalry captain demoted by the Sultan, is her drowning guard, ordered to carry out her lovers’ death sentences.  Postivich, too, is tormented by the souls on his conscience, and despises his mistress for forcing him to murder innocents.  But, as ordered, he listens as Esma tells him her story to while away her sleepless nights.

Set in Constantinople during the lead-up to the 1826 Janissary revolt against the Sultan, Linda Lafferty’s The Drowning Guard presents a detailed picture of the Ottoman Empire, complete with its opulence, diversity and contradictions.  One of these contradictions is Esma Sultan, a powerful woman who, despite her culture’s repressive attitudes toward women, exercises great influence over her brother and provides a sanctuary from the world of men for the women in her harem.   The Drowning Guard can be seen as a reverse-gender retelling of Scheherazade, with Esma Sultan as King Shahryar, sentencing a string of innocents to their deaths.  However, Esma is also Scheherazade herself, drawing Postivich into her story against his will, making him increasingly eager for the next installment, and her company.  This part of the story, with its themes of guilt and redemption, intrigued me, and had me anxious to know Esma Sultan’s secrets.  Unfortunately for fairy tale fans, the Scheherazade elements of the story wane about halfway through, leaving a story which is much more historical romance (containing some sexually explicit material) than fairy tale. While The Drowning Guard fails to fulfill its fairy tale promise, Lafferty’s lush portrayal of a fascinating place and time makes for a transporting read.

In London, young Ali bin-Massoud is far from his home in Wadi Al-Nejd.  He misses his home and family, but is grateful to his father for arranging his apprenticeship with renowned inventor Professor Charles Babbage.  He loves learning with the professor and hopes one day to be an artificer like his teacher, building complex machines.  But when a clockwork falcon delivers an intricate puzzle box with his name on it, Ali’s life begins to change.  He must return home following the death of his beloved father, pursued by sinister men trying to steal the box.  Back in Wadi Al-Nejd, Ali must deal with his jealous older brother, solve the mystery of the contents of the box, and fulfil his destiny as guardian of a cave of ancient treasure, aided by a captivating djinni.

In Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn: A Steampunk Faerie Tale, authors Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed retell Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in a steampunk setting.  The cave of treasure is opened, not only by magic words, but gears, pulleys, and steam power.  Travel is accomplished not only by traditional means, but also airships and mechanical camels.  The authors’ set-up of this world feels forced at the beginning, but eventually becomes more comfortable.  The steampunk setting of this Middle Eastern tale allows for an interesting exploration of magic, science, and faith, and the way they interact, but examining these themes more fully might have given the story more depth.  Aside from altering the setting and fleshing out the story and characters, the authors make few changes to the original story.  The most notable change is the origin of Morgiana, the clever servant girl who aids Ali in his conflict with the gang of thieves.  While the story’s ending is the desired one, the way it comes about feels untrue to the world of the book, so the climax lacks the emotional resonance I hoped for.  However, Ali is a resourceful, soul searching character, and he gives the story heart, making it a pleasing Arabian Night’s entertainment.

Which country or culture’s fairy tales would you like to see more of in TV, film, or book form?  Join the Enchanted Conversation and share your thoughts.  Happy reading!

Lissa Sloan has contributed stories, poems, and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation, but she also writes and illustrates for younger readers. Visit her online at her website, lissasloan.com, or on Twitter, @LissaSloan.
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