unsettling wonder

Reading the Grimms  


Fitcher’s Bird 


his story should seem familiar to those who know the ‘Bluebeard’ tales, and the story of ‘Mr Fox’. But, the striking title aside, this is a variant worth getting to know. I link to Hunt’s translation here, but it’s also worth hunting around for newer texts.

This variant features, not the grim and mysterious nobleman, but a ragged beggar that steals girls away from their homes. There could of course be all sorts of xenophobic reasons for this, and all sorts of pedagogical ‘Don’t Talk to Smelly Strangers’ reasons. And in fact most of the rationales of that sort are probably still embedded in our society today. There’s also a temptation—I admit, I study the Victorians—to see Fitchter, ragged beggar-wizard as a type of Odin or Zeus, the disguised, rapacious deity that the hero of the tale must overcome. In that sense the story serves a mythological function. Here, again, the violent and oppressive tendencies of the oppression of the male over the female, the functions of patriarchy and arrogance, are externalised.

What strikes me most about this tale is the sheer courage and indomitable pluck of the heroine. Anyone disgruntled with namby-pamby Snow Whites and horribly demure Sleeping Beauties should really consider Fitcher’s Bird. Despite the Grimm’s obvious efforts to constrain it, its a wonderful and bitterly delightful deconstruction of patriarchy and oppression. The two older sisters (in the way of these things) enter the bloody chamber and are hacked to bits for it. The younger sister enters it as well, but manages to resuscitate her dismembered sisters by reassembling them. She is a sort of counter-storyteller, and anti-teller if you will, who rewrites the narrative.

As in ‘Mr Fox’, she gets a cruel vengeance on her would be lover/killer, and gets to carry it out herself. Whereas Mr Fox is battered to death by the father and brothers of his betrothed—something that could have actually happened in early English or Viking society—the younger sister takes into her own hands. She burdens Fitcher with a prohibition of her own; he must carry the basket a her parents but never once stop to rest. She will be watching from afar. Of course, the basket contains her sisters, who scold him with her voice whenever he slows his pace. One can see the hunted, panicked look  in Fitcher’s eyes as he arrives, harried and exhausted, at journey’s end.

Also unlike Mr Fox, he gets to return home—blissfully unaware that hell awaits in the arms of the vengeful dead.


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.


it’s not wednesday!

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a fan of Fry and Lewis’s Over the Hedge. I also write about quirky deconstructions of fairy tales, or anti-tales, whenever I get the chance. Usually on Wednesdays, almost. So the world must just be conspiring to be very nice to me* when Over the Hedge and anti-tales are the same thing:

Over the Hedge

Poor Verne. His story times are always mini-disasters. Tellingly, comments on this cartoon tend to agree with RJ. I’m not sure what that says about us, or fairy tales, or anti-tales. But it certainly says something.

Check out the whole series, which includes a discussion about the perils of wearing glass.

Glass is not not the new anything. It’s just plain old ouch.

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.


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?