It’s not Thursday!

This week finds me writing an anti-tale, of sorts. No, you read that correctly.

The book launch for Anti-Tales: The Uses of Disenchantment (Cambridge Scholars, 2011) is this weekend, and I’ve been graciously asked to read a story of mine as part of the festivities. So I’m spending way too long with revisions and wondering whether it wouldn’t just be better to go to sleep.

So, to get us all in the swing of things, Issue 13 of Scheherezade’s Bequest goes live today. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading it yet, or most of it (see par. 1). But I do have the pleasure of appearing in it. The ever-astounding Erzebet Yellowboy was kind enough to decide to interview me, and our conversation was published concurrent with Issue 13. I think the title (Erzebet’s idea) just about says it all: ‘Discovering the Anti-tale.’

It’s always great craic to natter on about anti-tales, and even more fun to natter on about anti-tales with Erzebet. (We get around to mentioning both Schoenberg and Santa Clause, and some others, somehow.) So this interview was simply a delight . Which I guess is the point, or part of the point, of fairy tales, anti or otherwise.

Read it and let me know what you think. We’ll soon return to our regularly scheduled Paradoxes, sort of.

Mr Pond in Print

an anti-wednesday post*

Today, I present you with two announcements worthy of anti-wednesday. First, I’m thrilled to give you a trackback to Paradoxes regular catrionmcara’s blog:

Anti-Tales Published!

That’s referring to the book, not the phenomenon. Yes, the book. It is in bookstores and on shelves, including my shelf, and it’s beautiful. Here’s a section from the blurb to entice you:

Although anti-tales abound in contemporary art and popular culture, the term has been used sporadically in scholarship without being developed or defined. While it is clear that the aesthetics of postmodernism have provided fertile creative grounds for this tradition, the anti-tale is not just a postmodern phenomenon; rather, the “postmodern fairy tale” is only part of the picture. Broadly interdisciplinary in scope, this collection of twenty-two essays and artwork explores various manifestations of the anti-tale, from the ancient to the modern including romanticism, realism and surrealism along the way.

One of the twenty-two, I add (smiling modestly and scuffing the toe of my shoe in the dust), was penned by a overly loquacious and needlessly pedantic wee blogger with the nom de plume of Mr Pond.

Secondly, I’m just as delighted to tell you all that an article which found part of its origins on this very blog has just been published in a peer-reviewed, cross-disciplinary journal. In collaboration with my esteemed and eloquent colleague Mike McDuffee, I’m pleased to present:

‘As if, if: Being the sayings of Mr. Pond and Mr. Puddle, a drowning pair without a care.’

[The Atrium, 2:1 (2011).] It’s available at this link. And here’s a quote from an abstract if the title wasn’t enough:

Wonder assails us in a vision of our shattered inheritance and the endless promise of the empty expanse from which words are born, the silence that gestates speech. Suffering wrenches us through its grotesquery, the clamor that silencing words cannot silence, the frenetic waiting on becalmed waters for regenerated winds of change. There is a horror in these words, a haunting sense that a man lost at sea will die of thirst, that the long-awaited daylight is only the prelude to another nightfall.

But there are still the words themselves. And that is reason to hope.

Read and enjoy. And let me know what you think.

*No, I’m not forgetting our dear Brothers Grimm. But this week, ‘unsettling wonder’ got bank-holidayed. If you’re that upset, you can tide yourself over and read some nice fairy tales here.

this is not an anti-post

Here’s your cheerful reminder that we have a giveaway going on. It involves a wonderful signed copy of West of the Moon, and a folktale called ‘Clever Hans.’ Those of you who have read and commented on the tale tend to be universally bewildered by it. I don’t blame you. If this is a fairy tale, then we’re miles away from charming princesses and happy endings.

It’s not a fairy tale, not really. Folktale, yes. Fairy tale, if we follow Tolkien’s stringent definition, no. There’s no interfacing with another world, no brush of the eldritch, only a clueless duffer who can’t figure out how he’s supposed to act around girls and so ends up dismembering a bunch of sheep. Yes, it’s that weird.

In fact, it’s very much like another folktale that we’re all more or less familiar with: ‘The Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.’ I have a particular revulsion for that song, I confess, whilst adoring it as a cracking good time. An illustrated copy of the lyrics was available in the classroom library when I was a first year. I read it, delighted with the illustrations—a bewildered goat, a terrified cat. And then the song ended:

She’s dead, of course.

It was my first encounter with a non-Bowdlerised tale. I was appalled. It didn’t help that all the animals she had eaten were standing round her like mourners at a funeral. But, come to think of it, what else is supposed to happen when you swallow a horse? It seemed logical then. It still seems logical now.

I didn’t read it again. I preferred happy endings as a child. I still do, although I have a much broader definition of happy. In fact, there could be a certain degree of ‘happy’ in the death of the old lady—she’s rapaciously devoured the natural world from insect to mammal, and finally it rises up and crushes her. That’s eco-criticism begging to happen. That’s also thinking like an academic and not a child.

Which is the whole point, really.

I’m not going to say that I learned to really like un-Bowdlerised versions of ‘The Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly,’ and how much better they are. Everyone knows the old lady died—that’s the point. The whole song becomes a sort of ritual to see who can Bowdlerise the tale with the greatest aplomb.The best versions are the ones that creatively avoid or deny it—‘Perhaps she’ll die, but—she’s alive and well, of course!’ Here the happy ending is an inversion, a distortion. It’s amazing how subversive a good happy ending can be.   I’m not sure where that fits into any pattern of retelling. But a happy-ending itself may be a form of anti-tale. This seems at least in Tolkien’s term for such things: ‘eucatastrophe.’

The book did help me understand that these stories change. They’re different every telling, depending not only on the teller but on the moment, the audience, the illustrator, the lighting. In some abstract sense the tale exists, we know it an can recall it from some atemporal sphere. In a concrete sense, it’s a patter of words and sounds, horses and flies, that exists only once, only in the telling of it.

Did ‘The Old Lady and the Fly’ teach me how to behave in society, as I believe ‘Clever  Hans’ is able to? No, not really. Mister Rogers did that. Stories work differently these days. But it did teach me to respect the stories and their tellings, that no ending and no character in these tales is sacrosanct, and that sometimes no version is more shocking than the original.

Folktales are alive and well, of course.


Over the Hedge

That about sums it up, folks.

On the other hand, it may be helpful if we all went and read Don Miller’s immensely helpful review of a book that’s stirring quite a bit of controversy in some circles. If you’re not in those circles, it’s not worth your while figuring out what the controversy is. But Miller’s review is, as I say, helpful.

I wrote a nice, thoughtful, literary post about fairy tales and characterisation and my very good friend Claire Massey today. And then realised I really wanted to run it on Friday instead.
And it had nothing but nothing to do with anti-tales.

So I’m posting this instead.

And if I add this way-ultra-cool graphic on the right, flyer CSPthis has everything to do with anti-tales.

There may be no more anti-wednesdays, except in theory. In theory and in hope. By which I mean, anti-wednesday continues to exist in potentiality, the shadow of a Wednesday. Without capitalization.
How very ‘00s.

It’s just that, really, Katherine Langrish’s stupendous guest post is an extremely difficult act to follow. By the time I gather my wits, half of everybody will have rushed out the door to buy a copy of West of the Moon, and if you haven’t yet, why don’t you?

(Then you’ll have done the required reading when I write my not-really-impartial-at-all review.)

I’m thinking I may retire anti-wednesday, at least partly. Although it has generated a good bit of conversation about anti-tales. It may become a monthly feature, or a fortnightly.

What do you think?

bluebeard. mr fox. and harald silkenhair.

an anti-wednesay post

West of the MoonA Word from Mr Pond: I’m delighted to welcome my friend and colleague Katherine Langrish to Paradoxes. Katherine, as you may already know, has been journeying across the blogsphere a virtual book tour for her new epic fantasy, West of the Moon (HarperCollins, 2011).

I’m half way through my copy, and I love it. Just enough scary, just enough thrill, just enough balance of darkness and hope. A cracking good tale. Look for a review here in the near future. And you have a chance to win a free copy: concurrent to this post, I’m running a giveaway over at The Hog’s Head, and there’s plenty of time to join the fun.

Katherine’s visiting us for anti-wednesday, and is discussing some of the anti-tale elements of her work—notably the anti-heroic anti-hero who appears as a particularly unpleasant antagonist.

Bluebeard. Mr Fox. And Harald Silkenhair.
by Katherine Langrish

First of all – and I feel quite cheerful about saying this – trying to define the anti-tale is pretty much like trying to catch your own shadow. You’ll have fun, but you won’t succeed. (Or if by some nursery fireside magic you do, don’t try and stick it to yourself with anything as slippery as soap; get a little girl to sew it to you with teeny tiny stitches and a sharp steel needle.)

Of course the ‘anti-tale’ can be a useful term: ‘subverting, satirizing or re-imagining the traditional tale’; but what that means depends on what we all think ‘traditional’ includes. And excludes. It’s best to look at the whole thing out of the corner of your eye while pretending to be absorbed in something else.

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