a time to cheer

First reason:

In response to Jenna St. Hilaire, The Finish Line.

11/30/2010 12:12 PM
50,909 words


Jenna has written 50,ooo words in thirty days. And another 909 words just for the heck of it. Reflecting on the final moments of the effort, she says:

Not being a marathoner myself, I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that when you get to the last mile, you’re pretty confident you’ll make it. You might want to die one step beyond the finish line, but you will. get. there. Or else.

It’s definitely true of this great November write-a-thon.

As the only man I ever knew who’d run over 70 marathons (it’s probably closer to 100 now) said to me, the last four miles were fine. Right around mile twenty-one, he said, it started getting really hard. But after about a mile, it was fine—just getting up to the finish line.

Consider this a virtual screaming my head off.

Second reason:

New Fairy Tales, Issue 6, is now available. Go read it, and watch for a review at Paradoxes.


anti-tales: an interlude


It’s been two weeks since I spoke at the Anti-Tales Symposium, discussing the hilariously subversive (anti) fairytales of James Thurber.

It’s been two weeks since I had the singularly unique experience of sitting in a conference room and undergoing the exact intellectual strain of reading twelve accomplished academic essays in less than eight hours. For two days in a row.
I didn’t say ‘bad’—I said unique.

I’ve promised a review—and a review is coming. However, I’ve thankfully swung from one deadline (the symposium) into another (details forthcoming, eventually) and that deadline, dear readers, is today.

You’ll forgive me if I save my thoughts on Anti-tales to another day. But, if you’re interested, I highly recommend Claire Massey’s excellent review of the symposium, over at The Fairy Tale Cupboard. She said nearly everything I wanted to say. Thankfully, this deadline gives me a chance to think up something else to add to her already outstanding write-up.

Happy Friday, everyone. Why not try subverting a fairy tale this weekend?

unsettling wonder

Household Tales: A Grimm Read-through



here is an ethic to elfland, as Chesterton and others have pointed out—a grim, unbending code of conduct when one ventures in the Perilous Realm, a swift and unbreakable chain of cause and effect, action and consequence. The most recent and, to me, most powerful statement of this code is Neil Gaiman’s ‘Instructions.’

This tale, however, subverts that ethic. At once, seems somehow weird and wrong. It’s jarring, almost sadistic in its vision. Ashliman, who translated the title ‘The Strange Musician,’ called it a ‘cruel tale.’ Even the Grimms, so bland about child cannibalism and exquisitely hideous executions (barrel full of adders set on fire and rolled down a spiked hill into boiling tar, anyone?) seem uncomfortable with the tale. In their notes they suggest it’s unfinished—there should be some explanation, they say, for the musician’s deceit.

I think there should be explanation for the woodsman.

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the age of fairy tale


(Just thought you’d like to know…)

Last week at this time saw the erudite madness of Anti-tales: The Uses of Disenchantment, the symposium in Glasgow. I’m hoping to give a full report next week, but a particular thought appealed to me just this moment.

One of the many intriguing observations made during the conference was that fairy tales, and their evil counterpunctal cousins, anti-tales, appear thrive during times of crisis. National, political, personal crises seem to engender a subversive discourse of fairy tale.

It’s as if the world goes wildly off-kilter—more so than usual, I mean—and the (anti-)fairy tale surfaces to right it. This fits with my own theory that fairy tale and fantasy are ways of dealing with grief and trauma—the human experience of agony.

We’re not exactly in a Holocaust again, thank G-d. But I’ve been noticing a marked dehumanization that’s accelerated rapidly over the past few years. Notably in my home country of the US, thinking people of all persuasions are lamenting the degeneration of public discourse into puerile name-calling, of public image into lookist voyeurism.

A stark recent example is the vitriol that first alarmed and then attacked the impeccable journalist Gwen Ifil, when she tried addressing a sensitive subject in a sensitive way. What alarmed me most about the incident was that it didn’t surprise me. It’s what I’ve come to expect from the political sector, and from much of the internet-feeding public.

Is it possible that we are in, or are entering, an age of resurging fairy tale? A quasi-Victorian era of disenchantment, perhaps, suburban, G-d-killing fear (to allude to the Madman), that will lead ultimately to what Zipes pithily called the revolt of the fairies and elves? Will our own fancies and imaginings rise up in condemnation and in rescue, at once reproving and reviving us with bright, flashing glances of absurdity and wonder?

unsettling wonder

Household Tales: A Grimm Read-through

The Good Bargain


his story is not a fairy tale. If we follow, as I do, Professor Tolkien’s definition—or approximation, perhaps—of the fairy tale, this isn’t one. This tale combines two other tropes, the simpleton tale and the trickster tale. For this reader, it fails as a simpleton tale because for no apparent reason the simpleton suddenly becomes a canny, witty trickster. Also for this reader, this story fails as a trickster tale, because the trick is framed around racist presumptions which I find disgusting, even in a story like this.

‘The Good Bargain’ begins innocently enough. Unnamed peasant sells his cow for seven thalers. On the way home he hears the frogs squarking ‘aik aik aik!’ No, he says, only seven. Aik, aik, aik, the frogs insist. Count them yourselves, if you don’t believe me, shouts the peasant, and throws the seven thalers into the pond. The frogs aik happily. The peasant waits, and when they don’t give the thalers back, he storms off in a rage.

He goes the the market again with a slab of beef. ‘Wow, wow, wow!’ cries a dog at the gate. Yes, says the peasant, it is an impressive slab of beef, isn’t it? Wow! shout several dogs at the gate. Do you really think so, asks the peasant? Wowowowowowowowow, cry the two hundred and thirty-four dogs at the gate.

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