Tag Archives: fairy tales

Why Steampunk? Why Fairy Tales for Adults?

1880-miss-bernhardt-the-ocean-express-miss-bernhardt-with-person-in-deep-sea-diving-gear-standing-alongside

Why do I mainly write in the genres of Steampunk and Fairy Tales? One is a Science Fiction subgenre, the other is a genre all of its own. I have both a rational and emotive nature, and these two genres manage to hit all the buttons for me.

Steampunk has it roots in alternative history, but without its strong links to scientific advancements and innovations, it wouldn’t exist. I love Science for its own sake; I blame Isaac Asimov and his robot stories I read when I was eight. Science fiction has so much potential.

Fairy Tales tap into the archetypes that underlie all storytelling. They are metaphors, told with beautiful prose. They are a completely different style from Steampunk. Richer in symbology.

I wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t write both.

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Filed under Fairy Tales, Genre, Steampunk, The Writing Life, Writing Career

Happy News

My retelling of Cinderella, ‘Ashley’, will appear in volume 4 of the Clarion Call.

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Filed under Anthology, Fairy Tales, Short Story, The Writing Life

A King May Look at a Cat – a fairy tale

  By Lynne Lumsden Green

Queen Cat

 

Felina strolled past the palace twice a day.  The royal guard dogs would get hysterical every time, slobbering and barking and quivering with their fury and rage, as she paraded in front of the iron gates.  The cat, cool and sophisticated, would ignore them.  Most days, she wouldn’t even acknowledge them with a twitch of whisker or tail.

Felina was a beautiful cat, and as she walked there were ripples of silver, pearl and black just like fluttering ribbons of watered silk.  Felina was a true aristocrat, all elegant bones and knowing, haughty eyes.

The King hated her.

She had all the freedom in the world.  She walked with her insolent tail held high and jaunty, as close to a wild thing as any mortal creature in his kingdom.  A Queen.  An Empress.  A Witch.

The King envied her.  He was a bitter, small-souled man.  His people feared him, for he was bad-tempered and cared for little other than his own desires.  Felina knew the King was watching her.  She was used to people staring at her.  Her jewel-jade eyes never met his steaming gaze.  She didn’t care…and her uncaring stung the King like a thousand poisoned needles.

The King wanted her.  He wanted her to be frightened by his dogs.  He wanted to her to see him, to be reflected in her green eyes – like a kaleidoscope – as a million powerful men worthy of her respect.  He wanted to tear her casual elegance to shreds.  He wanted to her to *see* him.

He went to his Royal Wizard with a request.  “Curse the cat,” he ordered.  “I want her freedom, her wildness, to be taken away from her.  I want her to be changed into the form of the ugliest, most miserable creature in the kingdom.”

“As you wish, milord.”

That night, the King went to bed a nearly happy man.  In the morning, he woke up as a stunted tomcat.

Now, Queen Felina rules in the palace.  She sets the dogs onto every tomcat she sees lurking around the palace gates.  She has dismissed the Royal Wizard.

Her people love their kind and graceful queen, so beautiful with her silver hair and pearls and black silk dresses.  She strolls around the palace gardens twice a day, cool and content, as she surveys her well-run kingdom with knowing, haughty, green eyes.

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The White Deer

White Stag original handmade OOAK clay art by creaturesfromel

There once were two men who followed the Way of the Warrior. This meant they were paragons of honour and honesty, of courage and benevolence, of loyalty and respect, and of justice and integrity. The older samurai was called Takeshi, which meant ‘warrior’ in his native tongue, and the other was a young man named Katsuo, which meant ‘victorious hero’. They were lovers, as Takeshi was leading Katsuo into teachings of Shudo, the Way of the Young, the traditional relationship for warriors. Followers of Shudo believe that the love of women fosters feminine weakness in a man. The practice of Shudo was held in high esteem, as the older warrior would lead his protégé into the true beauty of the Way of the Warrior.

To the misfortune of the men, they came to the attention of a Qilin, a spirit woman, which some in the West confuse with the unicorn. It is never wise to attract the attention of the supernatural. Some deer spirits have fickle natures, which belie the wisdom of their long lives.

As the men rode through the woods, the Qilin watched them with curious eyes. She saw the bond between the men, and their pride in that bond, and it was a challenge she couldn’t resist. The bond had to be tested. If they passed her test, she would gift them good luck. She had found that some people might break when tested, but their bond would mend, and would grow stronger and more beautiful just like a pot mended in the Kintsukuroi method.  If they didn’t pass her test, she wouldn’t need to engineer their doom; they would make their own fate. That would be punishment enough.

The Qilin took the form of a beautiful woman called Shinju. She chose that name to be a warning, to give the two warriors a fighting chance. Shinju can mean ‘pearl’; however in theatrical tradition it can also mean ‘double suicide by lovers’. In the form of Shinju, the Qilin had skin as white and smooth as a pearl, and her hair was as lustrous as an oyster shell. Her kimono was of pearl-coloured silk decorated with a pattern of dancing white stags, and the antlers of each stag flowered with pink blossom, while their eyes were picked out with rubies. Her manner of dress was also meant as a subtle warning.

In this guise, she created a house and servants and a noble father. She knew the two warriors would seek shelter at the house for the night. She would be a daughter of the house. And so her trap was laid, with her as the bait.

Samurai are meant to be as clever with their wits as they are with their swords; and yet they are mere babes compared to one of the immortals. As it was, both men fell in love with Shinju the first time they saw her. Her fairy glamour spun a web around their hearts, trapping an unnatural love within their spirits. They could see only what she wanted them to see, hear only what she wanted them to hear. If they had been aware of the bewitchment, they might have noticed the unique smell of the Qilin, an odour resembling violets; instead, they took her scent for rare perfume.

“Greetings, great warriors. My father has sent me to serve you with tea, or would you prefer plum wine?” said Shinju, her eyes demurely turned to the floor. Her eyelashes lay dark against the cherry-blossom smoothness of her cheeks, and her brows fluttered like moths. Crystal bells chimed as she spoke. The men were enchanted. The web pulled tight around their hearts.

Manly Takeshi stepped forward and said, “We are, you and me, like two pine needles which will dry and fall – but never separate.”  This love poem has become quite famous, though few know it was first spoken by the great warrior. His eyes met with Shinju’s. For just a moment, his heart struggled to escape the snare of her magic, knowing something was amiss. The spell used his own pride to wash away his doubt, and in place of that doubt a demon of jealousy was born.

Chivalrous Katsuo unsheathed his swords, his daito and his shoto, and offered them to Shinju, “Your beauty has cut me deeper than ever these blades could manage.”  The swords glittered like rare jewels, and Shinju gave a small smile. She could feel the power in those swords. Blood is always linked to power, and immortals love power in any form.

Takeshi was enraged that Shinju seemed to be more impressed with Katsuo’s gesture than with his poem. Wasn’t he the greatest warrior? Wasn’t he the better educated? Katsuo was handsome, but surely the youth’s beauty was no match for his own magnificence. Takeshi was pulled two ways, by his love for Katsuo, and by the little demon of jealousy. His heart grew a turtle shell and his eyes glittered as sharp as the swords. He decided to take charge, as the elder warrior should.

“The maiden will attend only me,” said Takeshi. He put an imperious expression on his face, and gestured to Shinju. She shuffled over to his side, pretending to be obedient to his wishes.

Katsuo felt his own heart grow hotter and larger within the silver cage of his ribs, until he thought that Shinju and Takeshi must hear it sizzling like hot fat. “I beg to differ, my lord. She is a free woman, a daughter of the house. She can choose to serve us both, or just you if that is her desire … or she may wish to serve just me.”

The men faced off against each other, their faces red, and their shared love forgotten. Katsuo still held his twin swords in his hands. With a flip of his wrists, Takeshi would be dead upon the ground, and Katsuo’s honour would be smoke twisting in the breeze. The tension vibrated faster than a glass bell; a hammer could have shattered it.

Neither man was taking much notice of the Qilin, who was resisting the urge to smirk with delight. Making her expression seem humble and sweet, she said. “Oh please do not fight over me. I am not worthy of such a duel.”

“A duel!” exclaimed Takeshi. “What a splendid idea. Shall we meet again after we have made our sacrifices to the gods?”

For a moment, Katsuo hesitated. A duel was such a final option. Surely no mere woman was worth ruining such a friendship as he shared with Takeshi. He looked over to the girl. She was lovely, very lovely … with all the dainty grace of a doe. Yet, on some level, she troubled him.

Takeshi stepped between him and Shinju. “Are you agreeable to a duel? Or do you concede?”

“Concede? And lose all honour?” asked Katsuo. He was horrified that his mentor would even consider the possibility.

“I will allow you to retain your swords,” said Takeshi.

Such a gesture would relegate Katsuo to the status of a mere child. It wasn’t a kindness, it was an insult. Katsuo’s misgivings were all forgotten.

“Yes. A duel will settle this,” said Katsuo. He was confident he would win, as his mentor was older. Older meant slower. He would coat his glittering swords with Takeshi’s blood.

Takeshi went to the shrine of Bishamonten, the god of treasure, the god of war, and the god of warriors. There, he burnt incense and set out bowls of wine for his god. He asked his god that he retain his honour in the coming conflict. A pigeon, the sacred messenger of Bishamonten, flew through a window and landed at Takeshi’s feet. This was a sign that the god had indeed listened to his heart.

Katsuo went to the shrine of Benzaiten, sea-goddess, dragon-wife, the goddess of Beauty and Music. There, he cut a lock of his hair and burnt it at the altar. He prayed that he would find a true and pure love. A tiny green snake slithered up to his feet, a signal from Benzaiten that she had indeed listened to his heart.

Shinju went to the temple of Inari, both god and goddess, spirit of the rice, but she made no offerings. The Qilin had tested the Samurais’ bond, and found it wanting. She didn’t need to see the outcome of their duel. Instead, she returned to the form of a pure white Qilin with branching horns like a stag, and she danced on cleft hooves into the sacred arch of a vermillion tori. The last anyone knew of her was a cry that chimed like a woman’s crystal laughter, accompanied by the strong smell of violets, as she disappeared into the spirit world.

The samurai met for the last time. The spell ensured they could no longer remember the affection that they had for each other, as master and disciple, as friends, as lovers. Instead, each saw the other as a rival and as an enemy. They formally bowed to each other, and then took their fighting stance with their swords drawn.

“Make ready!” ordered Takeshi.

“I am more than ready,” said Katsuo.

Their swords flashed, and the air chimed. For many hours, the two men struggled. Both were peerless warriors and well matched. However, in the end, Takeshi’s experience favoured him, and he struck his friend a terrible blow.

The younger man fell to the ground, his blood staining the soil red. The Qilin’s spell shattered.

At that moment, Takeshi felt his rage leave him. Seeing Katsuo so injured shocked the older man to his senses. “What have I done,” he said, “I have brought dishonour to my family name.”

There is only one path left to a samurai who is disgraced: seppuku. Takeshi took his katana and with one swift motion he disembowelled himself. He lay beside Katsuo and drew his dying friend into his arms, holding Katsuo close as his protégé’s eyes grew dim. Takeshi’s pain from his wound was nothing compared to the pain in his heart. He saw the world darken, and the warriors perished together, wearing their blood as a cloak. Takeshi had regained his honour, and Katsuo had regained the love of Takeshi. The gods had answered their prayers appropriately.

It is never wise to attract the attention of the supernatural.

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The Moon Gone Past

This post is going to be a musing on the story-telling traditions and implications of witches, blood magic and the moon. Many cultures link a woman’s menstrual cycle to the phases of the moon, and links the powers of witches to the same cycle. Many stories have a pubescent witch coming into her powers with her first menstrual bloods. So what happens to a witch when she goes through menopause?

When I think of menopausal witches, I think of the long-suffering protagonist, Jenny Waynest, of Barbara Hambly’s Winterland series. Jenny’s less-than-spectacular powers wane and wax while she suffers hot flushes. I read this book before I went into menopause, and had little insight that menopause felt like you are going through puberty backwards. I now know that Hambly’s descriptions were spot on. The helplessness that Jenny feels is a perfect metaphor for the feelings of inadequacy that come with menopause. And yet Hambly’s Jenny seems to be the only example I can find in my own library of a middle aged witch going through menopause. The next closest character is Wanda in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. The witch Thessaly can call on the power of the moon. Poor Wanda from A Game of You – who knows soul deep that she is a woman trapped in an inappropriate masculine body – isn’t allowed to walk the Moon’s road because her rejected masculinity. This made Wanda my favourite character, because of her humanity and her flaws.

So, what would happen to a post-menopausal witch whose powers no longer wax and wane with the moon? Would she lo longer have any powers at all? This makes no sense to me, as this would mean a woman’s power only comes from her sexuality, and that isn’t Feminist thinking.

Then there is the power of three, the maiden, the mother and the crone. It might surprise you to learn that  – though three women representing Fate is quite common for most belief systems – the trilogy of maiden, mother & crone is a relatively modern twist to the mythology. (It just feels so right, though.) Of course, the crone has to be a post menopausal woman. Her powers come from her connection to the other women in her coven of three, as do their powers. I feel this is closer to a Feminist ideal  with uniquely talented women working together to achieve their goals.

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A Cat May Look at a King

A Cat May Look at a King – or – A Feminist Fable with a Cat, a King, a Curse and a Kaleidoscope

 

 Felina strolled past the palace twice a day.  The royal guard dogs would get hysterical every time, slobbering and barking and quivering with their fury and rage, as she paraded in front of the iron gates.  The cat, cool and sophisticated, would ignore them.

Once or twice, she boldly teased them by sitting down, just a breath away from their snarling muzzles, to wash herself with dainty unconcern.  Most days, she wouldn’t even acknowledge them with a twitch of whisker or tail.

Felina was a beautiful cat, and as she walked there were ripples of silver, pearl and black like fluttering ribbons of watered silk.  Felina was a true aristocrat, all elegant bones and knowing, haughty eyes.

The King hated her.

She had all the freedom in the world.  She walked with her insolent tail held high and jaunty, as close to a wild thing as any mortal creature in his kingdom.  A Queen.  An Empress.  A Witch.

The King envied her.  He was a bitter, small-souled man.  His people feared him, for he was bad-tempered and cared for little other than his own desires.

Felina knew the King was watching her.  She was used to people staring at her.  Her jewel-jade eyes never met his steaming gaze.  She didn’t care…and her uncaring stung the King like a thousand poisoned needles.

The King wanted her.  He wanted her to be frightened by his dogs.  He wanted to her to see him, to be reflected in her green eyes – like a kaleidoscope – as a million powerful men worthy of her respect.  He wanted to tear her casual elegance to shreds.  He wanted to her to see him.

He went to his Royal Wizard with a request.  “Curse the cat,” he ordered.  “I want her freedom, her wildness, to be taken away from her.  I want her to be changed into the form of the ugliest, most miserable creature in the kingdom.”

“As you wish, milord.”

That night, the King went to bed a nearly happy man.  In the morning, he woke up as a stunted tomcat.

Queen Felina rules in the palace.  She sets the dogs onto every cat she sees lurking around the palace gates.  She has dismissed the Royal Wizard. Her people love their kind and graceful queen, so beautiful with her silver hair and pearls and black silk dresses.  She strolls around the palace gardens twice a day, cool and content, as she surveys her well-run kingdom with knowing, haughty, green eyes.

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My Disappointment in Disney’s ‘Frozen’.

 

 

I haven’t even seen ‘Frozen’ yet, and already I am torn about how I feel about it. ‘Frozen’ is supposedly based on Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’, my favourite Andersen fairy tale. I have been avidly reading all the pre-release marketing, and the more I read, the more my heart sinks. 

 

Now, we all know that Disney has a terrible track record when it comes to sticking to the plot of an original fairy story. In the original stories, we know Ariel dies when her prince marries another, and become a wind spirit; Rapunzel was the daughter of ordinary people, and only became a princess through marriage; and so forth. I was pretty annoyed with ‘The Little Mermaid’ for changing the ending, but I tend to allow them some artistic licence with their animated movies.

 

Then I read some of the teasers for ‘Frozen’. So I did some more investigating and…

 

I don’t know if any of you have read the original ‘The Snow Queen’. It is told in seven chapters:

  1. About the Mirror and its Pieces
  2. A Little Boy and a Little Girl (Kai and Gerda)
  3. The Flower Garden of the Woman Who Knew Magic
  4. The Prince and Princess
  5. The Little Robber Girl
  6. The Lapp Woman and the Finn Woman
  7. What Happened at the Snow Queen’s Palace and What happened Afterwards

 

Now, you can see from the chapter headings how many women are central to the plot. Apart from the heroic Gerda, my favourite was and still is the fickle Little Robber Girl, who loved Gerda enough to give her up. And yet, now that I am older, I also love and appreciate Kai’s grandmother and her wisdom. There are ambiguous women in the story, like the Woman Who Knew Magic, who loves Gerda and wants to keep her as her own child, against Gerda’s wishes. Even the villain is a woman; the beautiful icy Snow Queen who steals away Kai.

 

It is the boy, Kai, who is need of rescue, not Gerda.  Gerda is the central, active protagonist, helped along by strong and powerful female characters. It is a story that really passes the Bechdel Test.

 

Then look at the ‘Frozen’ plot summary from the Walt Disney website: Walt Disney Animation Studios, the studio behind “Tangled” and “Wreck-It Ralph,” presents “Frozen,” a stunning big-screen comedy adventure. Fearless optimist Anna sets off on an epic journey—teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven—to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom.

 

Oooh-kay….

 

I can live with Gerda’s name change to Anna, since Gerda isn’t a common name these days. At least Anna is fearless and optimistic, as I imagined Gerda. However … where is Kai? Kai has been removed completely, if that plot summary is anything to go by. The Snow Queen is the one who is being rescued? What the hell? And who the crap is Kristoff?  Since he supplies the reindeer, is he the replacement for the Prince and the Princess? Or worse, is Kristoff the replacement for Kai, and so he is no longer in need of rescue – since the Snow Queen is no longer a villain but a cursed sister. Instead of Gerda winning through by her own strength and resourcefulness, do we now have a male hero to do all the scary adventurous stuff? AND … where are all the other female characters? Don’t even get me started on Olaf … another male character making a sudden appearance.

 

There appears to be nothing, NOTHING, left of the original story, including most of the key female characters. And that is why I am so disappointed. I was expecting Disney to change the story somewhat … I expected a minimum of a comedic sidekick and I knew some cute animals were bound to show up. But to change it this much? Here was an opportunity to have a story that was all about an empowered, independent girl aided or hindered by empowered women, and there is nothing but rags left.

 

As well, Disney has ‘white-washed’ the fairy tale. I always imagined the Little Robber Girl as being of a Sámi extraction (because of the reindeer, not because she was a bandit), but it looks like she is gone from the story, and of course the Lapp Woman and the Finn Woman are gone as well. So much for multi-culturalism.

I should have guessed this would happen after I saw how the Disney franchise ruined the characterization of Merida when they transformed her into a Disney Princess.

 

And so ends my rant. Disney really has the power to annoy and delight me.

 

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