July 2012

Random Experiments

I amuse myself lately looking at skate art, or graffiti art, or whatever the heck it’s called these days.

Kevin is out of town, leaving me at home with my dogs, weaponry, and Assassin’s Creed 2 expansions. There are tadpoles in my rain barrel. I drank too much coffee today and now I’m jittery and queasy, but I have knocked on nearly 9K in the last two days on this version of Beauty and the Beast, despite being occasionally seized by doubt that Rose Daughter is the definitive retelling and this will come off as a bad homage by somebody who thinks roses are too damn much work.But the Beast’s a smartass, which is nice, and there’s some creepy stuff going on, although I’m running into the problem that it’s hard to get a lot of action in a story that’s basically about somebody stuck in a freaky magic house. The heroine’s stabbed him once already. To do it again would be repetitive.

I have no idea what to do with it once it’s done, other than sending it to my agent and saying “Can you find someone to publish this?” which is my usual modus operandi, although it will require finding a totally different publisher than Dragonbreath, obviously. (and yes, I could self-publish, but I really kinda like having other people that I don’t have to pay involved.) I just hope that my current spate of hammering on it will sustain to the end, and not peter out just short of the finish line, as has been known to happen before. (On the other hand, we’re at 40K already, and there is a certain momentum once you crack about twenty.)

So that’s what I’m up to these days. How are you, internet?

EYESEARING! 6 x 6, mixed media. For sale, of course.

Annotated Fairy Tales: Two Cinderellas

Hey, gang!

Time for yet another installment of Ursula Comments On Peculiar Fairy Tales. This time, since they’re both short, we’re doing two versions of Cinderella. One is Greek and one is from Georgia (Not the one with Atlanta.) They both have some very odd moments, but since neither is very long, it’d be a short commentary of either one on their own.


Little Saddleslut

And hey, let’s just stop right here for “Is that a helluva title or what?” Good heavens.


There were once three sisters spinning flax, and they said, “Whosever spindle falls, let us kill her and eat her.”

I will hand it to the Greek storytellers here that they did not mess around getting to the weird plot point. No “Once upon a time in a land far far away…” no marital history of some poor woodcutter, just bam! Cannibalism right out of the gate. I can only assume that very easily distracted children were involved, and if you didn’t have a hook in under two seconds, they’d go tie explosives to the cow.

The mother’s spindle fell, and they left her alone.

Again they sat down to spin, and again the mother’s spindle fell, and again and yet again.

You’d think Mom would be a little more careful, given the context, or, I dunno, excuse herself to go visit relatives that were less…predatory.

“Ah, well!” said they, “let us eat her now!”

“No!” said the youngest, “do not eat her; eat me, if flesh you will have.”

Mom is still curiously silent during this whole exchange.

But they would not; and two of them killed their mother and cooked her for eating.

When they had sat down to make a meal of her, they said to the youngest, “Come and eat too!”

But she refused, and sat down on a saddle which the fowls were covering with filth, and wept, and upbraided them.

This has got to be some kind of translation thing, or else it was normal among the Greek peasantry to have a saddle laying around the house being crapped on by the chickens. Lacking any context, I’m picturing a big Western one, but I suspect something like a sawhorse might be more accurate.

Many a time they said to her, “Come and eat!” but she would not; and when they had done eating, they all went away.

Well, that was delicious. Time to go to the mall!

Then the youngest, whom they called Little Saddleslut, gathered all the bones together and buried them underneath the grate, and smoked them every day with incense for forty days; and after the forty days were out, she went to take them away and put them in another place. And when she lifted up the stone, she was astonished at the rays of light which it sent forth, and raiment was found there, like unto the heavens and the stars, the spring with its flowers, the sea with its waves; and many coins of every kind; and she left them where she found them.

Apparently it’s hereditary. If my sisters were cannibals and had left town for the moment, I would grab the money and run like hell. Raiment like unto the heavens and the stars will buy a pretty good horse, and hey, you’ve already got a saddle!

Yes, yes, I know, it’s like “Why didn’t the Eagles take the Ring to Mt. Doom?” Because then there wouldn’t be a story. Moving on.

Afterwards her sisters came and found her sitting on the saddle, and jeered at her. On Sunday her sisters went to church;

Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I killed and ate my mother following a rash of spindle-dropping. How many Our Fathers is that, exactly?

then she, too, arose; she washed and attired herself, putting on the garment that was as the heavens with the stars, and went to church, taking with her a few gold pieces in her purse. When she went into the church all the people were amazed, and could not gaze upon her by reason of the brightness of her garments. When she left the church, the people followed her to see whither she went. Then she filled her hand with money from her bag and cast it in the way, and so she kept throwing it down all the way she went, so that they might not get near her. Then the crowd scrambled for the coins, and left her alone.

This trick also works in Assassin’s Creed.

And straightway she went into her house, and changed her clothes, and put on her old things, and sat down upon the saddle.

Her sisters came home from church and said to her, “Where are you, wretch? Come and let us tell you how there came into the church a maiden more glorious than the sun, who had such garments on as you could not look on, so brightly did they gleam and shine, and she strewed money on the way! Look, see what a lot we have picked up! Why did not you come too? Worse luck to you!”

“You are welcome to what you picked up; I don’t want it,” said she.

Next Sunday they went to church again, and she did the same. Then they went another Sunday, and just as she was flinging the money, she lost her shoe among the crowd, and left it behind her.

Now the king’s son was following her, but could not catch her, and only found her shoe. Then said he to himself, “Whose ever foot this shoe exactly fits, without being either too large or too small, I will take her for my wife.”

The shoe definitely comes up a lot.

And he went to all the women he knew and tried it on, but could not manage to fit it. Then her sisters came to her and spoke as follows to her, “You go and try; perhaps it will fit you!”

I’m…torn. On the one hand, they’re cannibals and did stick her with that nickname. On the other hand, this is possibly the only Cinderella story I’ve ever read where the sisters try to get the heroine to try on the shoe, apparently without any malice.

“Get away with you!” said she. “Do you think he will put the shoe on me, and get it covered with filth? Do not make fun of me.”

The prince had taken all the houses in turn, and so he came at length to the house of Little Saddleslut, and his servants told her to come and try on the shoe.

“Do not make fun of me,” she says.

However she went down, and when the prince saw her, he knew the shoe was hers, and said to her, “Do you try on the shoe.”

And with the greatest ease she put it on, and it fitted her.

Then said the prince to her, “I will take you to wife.”

“Do not make fun of me,” she answered, “so may your youth be happy!”

“Nay, but I will marry you,” said he, and he took her and made her his wife.

Then she put on her fairest robes. When a little child was born to her, the sisters came to see it. And when she was helpless and alone they took her and put her into a chest, and carried her off and threw her into a river, and the river cast her forth upon a desert.

Danae? Is that you?

There was a half-witted old woman there, and when she saw the chest, she thought to cut it up [for firewood] and took it away for that purpose. And when she had broken it open, and saw someone alive in it, she got up and made off.

So the princess was left alone, and heard the wolves howling, and the swine and the lions–

I will admit that wild swine can be rather dangerous, but I have to think that if you have wolves and lions, the swine are maybe just as nervous as you are.

–and she sat and wept and prayed to God, “Oh God, give me a little hole in the ground that I may hide my head in it, and not hear the wild beasts,” and he gave her one.

Is it just me, or is this essentially “Oh god, make me an ostrich!”

Again she said, “Oh God, give me one a little larger, that I may get in up to my waist.”

And he gave her one. And she besought him again a third time, and he gave her a cabin with all that she wanted in it; and there she dwelt, and whatever she said, her bidding was done forthwith.

Hole…slightly bigger hole…enchanted cabin that responds to voice commands! Either holes were much nicer back then, or this escalated REALLY quickly. Then again, maybe God was just annoyed by all that beating around the bush.

GOD: Stop asking! Just tell me what you want the first time! I AM A BUSY DEITY!

For instance, when she wanted to eat, she would say, “Come, table with all that is wanted! Come food! Come spoons and forks, and all things needful,” and straightway they all got ready, and when she finished she would ask, “Are you all there?” and they would answer, “We are.”

Useful if you worry that you’ve swallowed a fork.

One day the prince came into the wilderness to hunt, and seeing the cabin he went to find out who was inside; and when he got there he knocked at the door.

And she saw him and knew him from afar, and said, “Who is knocking at the door?”

“It is I, let me in,” said he.

“Open, doors!” said she, and in a twinkling the doors opened and he entered. He went upstairs and found her seated on a chair.

“Good day to you,” said he.

“Welcome!” said she, and straightway all that was in the room cried out, “Welcome!”

Nothin’ creepy about that at all. I’m sure the prince wasn’t unsettled in the slightest.

“Come chair!” she cried, and one came at once.

“Sit down,” she said to him and down he sat. And when she had asked him the reason of his coming, she bade him stay and dine, and afterwards depart.

He agreed, and straightway she gave her orders: “Come table with all the covers,” and forthwith they presented themselves, and he was sore amazed.

“Come basin,” she cried. “Come jug, pour water for us to wash! Come food in ten courses!” and immediately all that she ordered made its appearance.

Were I somewhat younger, I might picture the singing table service in Beauty and the Beast, but being me, I just went straight to Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Afterwards when the meal was ended, the prince tried to hide a spoon, and put it into his shoe; and when they rose from table, she said “Table, have you all your covers?”

“Yes I have.” “Spoons, are you all there?”

“All,” they said, except one which said “I am in the prince’s shoe.”

When confronted with singing silverware, I know my first instinct is always to cram it into my boots.

Then she cried again, as though she had not heard, “Are you all there, spoons and forks?”

And as soon as the prince heard her he got rid of it on the sly and blushed.

And she said to him “Why did you blush? Don’t be afraid. I am your wife.”

I have learned to accept your minor bouts of kleptomania as normal.

Then she told him how she got there and how she fared. And they hugged and kissed each other, and she ordered the house to move and it did move. And when they came near the town all the world came out to see them. Then the prince gave orders for his wife’s sisters to be brought before him, and they brought them and he hewed them in pieces. And so henceforward they lived happily, and may we live more happily still.

 Short and to the point, although I do like that ending vs. ‘happily ever after.’
Conkiajgharuna, the Little Rag Girl


There was and there was not, there was a miserable peasant.

Now that’s a marvelous opening. Okay, not as rapid as the cannibalism, but still elegantly phrased.

He had a wife and a little daughter. So poor was this peasant that his daughter was called Conkiajgharuna (Little Rag Girl).

Some time passed, and his wife died. He was unhappy before, but now a greater misfortune had befallen him. He grieved and grieved, and at last he said to himself, “I will go and take another wife; she will mind the house, and tend my orphan child.” So he arose and took a second wife, but this wife brought with her a daughter of her own. When this woman came into her husband’s house and saw his child, she was angry in heart.

She treated Little Rag Girl badly. She petted her own daughter, but scolded her stepdaughter, and tried to get rid of her. Every day she gave her a piece of badly cooked bread, and sent her out to watch the cow, saying, “Here is a loaf; eat of it, give to every wayfarer, and bring the loaf home whole.” The girl went, and felt very miserable.

That’s awesome. I am much impressed with some of the phrasing in this one.

Once she was sitting sadly in the field, and began to weep bitterly. The cow listened, and then opened its mouth, and said, “Why are you weeping? What troubles you?” The girl told her sad tale. The cow said, “In one of my horns is honey, and in the other is butter, which you can take if you want to, so why be unhappy?”

…sort of wondering about the mechanics of this. Do the horns unscrew? Are they hinged? Do you squeeze them out like ketchup bottles?

The girl took the butter and the honey, and in a short time she grew plump. When the stepmother noticed this she did not know what to do for rage. She rose, and after that every day she gave her a basket of wool with her; this wool was to be spun and brought home in the evening finished. The stepmother wished to tire the girl out with toil, so that she should grow thin and ugly.

Once when Little Rag Girl was tending the cow, it ran away onto a roof. [In some parts of the Caucasus the houses of the peasantry are built in the ground, and it is quite possible to walk onto a roof unwittingly. (Note by Wardrop)]

(Thank you, translator note! If I haven’t mentioned, these are both from the marvelous Folktales collection at University of Pittsburgh, and this particular one is attributed to Marjory Wardrop, collected in 1894.)

She pursued it, and wished to drive it back to the road, but she dropped her spindle on the roof. Looking inside she saw an old woman seated, and said to her, “Good mother, will you give me my spindle?”

The old dame replied, “I am not able, my child, come and take it yourself.” The old woman was a devi.

Checking around on-line, the best comparison I can find of ‘devi’ in this context is “ogress.” They’re generally portrayed as evil, but I’m gonna guess that this one is somewhat like Baba Yaga—not exactly GOOD, but rewarding quick thinkers. If any native speakers or people with knowledge of Georgian mythology have a more nuanced explanation, please comment!

The girl went in and was lifting up her spindle, when the old dame called out, “Daughter, daughter, come and look at my head a moment. I am almost eaten up.”

The girl came and looked at her head. She was filled with horror; all the worms in the earth seemed to be crawling there.

Eww, eww, eww!

The little girl stroked her head and removed some, and then said, “You have a clean head. Why should I look at it?”

This is possibly the only Cinderella that has done anything pretty darn awesome. Most of them are awfully passive and just cry on their parent’s bones a lot. This one gets right in there and starts pulling out head worms. You go, Little Rag Girl!

This conduct pleased the old woman very much, and she said, “When you leave here, go along such and such a road, and in a certain place you will see three springs — one white, one black, and one yellow. Pass by the white and black, and put your head in the yellow and rinse it with your hands.”

The girl did this. She went on her way, and came to the three springs. She passed by the white and black, and bathed her head with her hands in the yellow fountain. When she looked up she saw that her hair was quite golden, and her hands, too, shone like gold.

I’m sure the devi meant well, but I don’t know if I’d want to go around with gold hands. At best it’d be odd, at worst you might get somebody with an axe and a mercenary streak. (God knows, it won’t be the first time in these stories…)

In the evening, when she went home, her stepmother was filled with fury. After this she sent her own daughter with the cow. Perhaps the same good fortune would visit her!

So Little Rag Girl stayed at home while her stepsister drove out the cow. Once more the cow ran onto the roof. The girl pursued it, and her spindle fell down. She looked in, and seeing the devi woman, called out, “Dog of an old woman! Here! Come and give me my spindle!”

The old woman replied, “I am not able, child, come and take it yourself.” When the girl came near, the old woman said, “Come, child, and look at my head.”

The girl came and looked at her head, and cried out, “Ugh! What a horrid head you have! You are a disgusting old woman!”

The old woman said, “I thank you, my child; when you go on your way you will see a yellow, a white, and a black spring. Pass by the yellow and the white springs, and rinse your head with your hands in the black one.”

The girl did this. She passed by the yellow and white springs, and bathed her head in the black once. When she looked at herself she was black as an African, and on her head there was a horn. She cut it off again and again, but it grew larger and larger.

We will pause now to gaze out the window and think dark thoughts about the racism of fairy tales, and of Georgians in the 1890s. Seriously, people, that’s practically modern-day. Get with the enlightenment, Georgia!

Horn’s kinda neat, though. I wonder if there’s honey and butter in it?

She went home and complained to her mother, who was almost frenzied, but there was no help for it. Her mother said to herself, “This is all the cow’s fault, so it shall be killed.”

I am not sure how she made the logical jump here. Wouldn’t you go yell at the worm-woman?

This cow knew the future.

Oh, for god’s sake, seriously? You had a talking prognosticating cow and you wasted all this story on an evil stepsister and a woman with poor scalp hygiene? How does the cow tell the future? Why didn’t it mosey off before this happened? Why didn’t it and Little Rag Girl hit the carnival circuit as Miss Ragolinda And Her Amazing Bovine Oracle?

When it learned that it was to be killed, it went to Little Rag Girl and said, “When I am dead, gather my bones together and bury them in the earth. When you are in trouble come to my grave, and cry aloud, ‘Bring my steed and my royal robes!'” Little Rag Girl did exactly as the cow had told her. When it was dead she took its bones and buried them in the earth.

I would just like to point out that a cow skeleton is a big thing. And I have a hard time digging a big enough hole to plant a rosebush. Little Rag Girl did some serious shovel work to get that cow in the ground.

After this, some time passed. One holiday the stepmother took her daughter, and they went to church. She placed a trough in front of Little Rag Girl, spread a large measure of millet in the courtyard, and said, “Before we come home from church fill this trough with tears, and gather up this millet, so that not one grain is left.” Then they went to church.

Little Rag Girl sat down and began to weep. While she was crying a neighbor came in a said, “Why are you in tears? What is the matter?” The little girl told her tale. The woman brought all the brood hens and chicken, and they picked up every grain of millet, then she put a lump of salt in the trough and poured water over it. “There, child,” said she, “there are your tears! Now go and enjoy yourself.”

I love this neighbor. Most heroines require having saved ants or sparrows or something to get this kind of effect.

Little Rag Girl then thought of the cow. She went to its grave and called out, “Bring me my steed and my royal robes!” There appeared at once a horse and beautiful clothes. Little Rag Girl put on the garments, mounted the horse, and went to the church.

There all the folk began to stare at her. They were amazed at her grandeur. Her stepsister whispered to her mother when she saw her, “This girl is very much like our Little Rag Girl!”

Her mother smiled scornfully and said, “Who would give that sun darkener such robes?”

Point one for the stepsister. I wonder if she’s still got horns?

Little Rag Girl left the church before anyone else; she changed her clothes in time to appear before her stepmother in rags. On the way home, as she was leaping over a stream, in her haste she let her slipper fall in.

A long time passed. Once when the king’s horses were drinking water in this stream, they saw the shining slipper and were so afraid that they would drink no more water. The king was told that there was something shining in the stream, and that the horses were afraid.

…okay, “the fairest lady in the world dropped this shoe” is one thing, but, “and the horses are petrified!” is something else again.

The king commanded his divers to find out what it was.

Naturally he had divers! Part of any good royal household. You’ve got the butler, the food taster, the ladies-in-waiting, and the royal divers.

They found the golden slipper, and presented it to the king. When he saw it, he commanded his viziers, saying, “Go and seek the owner of this slipper, for I will wed none but her.” His viziers sought the maiden, but they could find no one whom the slipper would fit.

Little Rag Girl’s mother heard this, adorned her daughter, and placed her on a throne.

You know, one of the thrones you keep in the cupboard for a special occasion.

Then she went and told the king that she had a daughter whose foot he might look at. It was exactly the model for the shoe. She put Little Rag Girl in a corner, with a big basket over her. When the king came into the house he sat down on the basket, in order to try on the slipper.

Little Rag Girl took a needle and pricked the king from under the basket. He jumped up, stinging with pain, and asked the stepmother what she had under the basket. The stepmother replied, “It is only a turkey I have there.”

You know, one of those new-fangled needle turkeys. We crossed them with porcupines so they could eat tree bark. Tasty, but you have to be really careful plucking them.

The king sat down on the basket again, and Little Rag Girl again stuck the needle into him. The king jumped up, and cried out, “Lift the basket. I will see underneath!”

The stepmother pleaded with him, saying, “Do not blame me, your majesty, it is only a turkey, and it will run away.”

It’ll kill us all! You wouldn’t believe the range of a needle-turkey’s quills! And the gobbling! The horrible buck-toothed gobbling!

But the king would not listen to her pleas. He lifted the basket up, and Little Rag Girl came forth, and said, “This slipper is mine, and fits me well.” She sat down, and the king found that it was indeed a perfect fit. Little Rag Girl became the king’s wife, and her shameless stepmother was left with a dry throat.

While it lacks the oomph of “And they exploded into pebbles!” I have to say that that last is a kind of nice touch. Nobody gets killed or hacked to pieces or pushed off cliffs in barrels full of unpleasantness, but ‘left with a dry throat’ definitely leaves you with a sense of chagrin.

Two Quickies

Doing some quick and silly pieces in a desperate attempt to squeeze art in around the edges of Dragonbreath and writing. And because I wanted to outline some things in white. BECAUSE I CAN, DAMNIT.

Happy boar!
“Tur” is a funny word.


That grumpy red fellow is called a “Tur.” It’s a type of mountain antelope-goat-thingy that lives in the Caucasuses. He is grumpy because of a despicable lack of grilled cheese sandwiches in his natural habitat. I cannot blame him.

Both of these are 6 x 6 mixed media on board, ready to hang as-is, and if you’d like to buy one, shoot me an e-mail.

The Care and Feeding of Your Artist GoH

The idea for this has been kicking around for awhile, and I figure perhaps I will finally get it down, in hopes that it might be useful for con organizers (and artists) out there somewhere.

I have been a Guest of Honor at a fair number of conventions over the years, starting back in the early 2000’s, and since we’re coming up on ten years of GoHing soon, I figure I’m probably as qualified to talk about it as I’m going to get.

So let’s say you’re a con organizer, and you want to get an Artist Guest of Honor at the con…

1. Ask far in advance. A year is not too much. Many cons are all clustered together, and I’ve had to turn down a gig or two because it fell on the weekend of an existing con, or immediately before or after. (I try very hard to avoid doing cons on successive weekends, because they kill me dead. Other artist are better prepared or more resilient, but respect that “I’m sorry, that’s a super busy time for me,” is a valid excuse even if you’re not on the exact same weekend.)

This is also smart for you, because I’ve had to cancel once or twice owing to family emergencies. Generally I offer to come back the next year, in that case, because I feel horrible. One con, apparently cursed, had this happen TWICE. Leave time to find a pinch-hitter artist.


2. Room, board, travel. To get an Artist GoH (or indeed, any GoH) you will be expected to pay for their hotel room and travel to and from the convention. If humanly possible, you also pay for their spouse/significant other/assistant to come to the con. (9 out of 10 cons pay for Kevin to come with me, for example.) If you are a teeny-tiny con and can only afford one plane ticket, be sure to make that clear. (I’ve had a con offer to pay half of Kevin’s plane fare, because they had such a tight budget, and that, I thought, was completely fair under the circumstances.)

2A. Offer your Artist GoH a table. From the artist’s point of view, here, you are asking them to take a weekend away from their other projects, PLUS the days of prep time (and believe me, there are days of prep time) travel to some semi-far away place, hang an art show, go to a whole bunch of panels, and be gracious to strangers who have no idea who they are and who may have the social skills of cheese.

This is work.

No, really.

More importantly, it also costs the artist money. Even if you are paying for the plane tickets, the artist almost always has to shell out for checked luggage these days, they may pay for shipping art, they certainly pay for food at the con. Every con I go to these days costs me money, usually more than I expect, and the only places to recoup it are the art show and the dealer’s table. As the art show generally does not cut a check until a month or so later (and MFF still wows me with their pay-right-this-minute ability) the dealer’s table is where they make money to, y’know, eat.

2B. Speaking of which… Contrary to popular wisdom, your artist will need to eat. This means that either you are paying them a per diem for food (which some cons do, and some don’t) or that they are having to shell out for three meals a day.

Do not expect your artist to live out of the con suite. This makes the artist very sad. There are some really spectacular con suites, but there are also less spectacular ones. If your GoH is watching someone run their grubby fingers through the last bowl of potato chips and wondering if they can live on a dry hot dog bun, you are Doin’ It Wrong. (Also, some people have very specific dietary requirements, re: gluten, vegan, peanuts, Judaica.)

If you cannot afford a per diem, again, it happens. No shame attaches to you.  If you cannot afford a per diem and you are not providing a dealer’s table, though….um.

(Now, I do have a con upcoming where they ask that we not have a dealer’s table, but use the print shop, as they feel that their artists are more accessible floating the con and interacting with people. I’m genuinely curious as to how this will work out, as I usually find that the table is useful for people trying to find me, but I’m willing to give it a shot, and will let you know. It may be awesome, it may involve me sitting at the bar with Kevin, eyeing strangers askance.)

Side note: If you are getting an Author GoH, I assume they’re probably getting paid a separate fee, as they have no such money-making potential at the table. Realize that you are asking them to spend money on your behalf.


3. Make it clear what you expect in terms of art. It’s pretty standard that, in exchange for room, board, and plane tickets, your artist GoH will do a conbook cover and/or T-shirt design and/or badge design for you. Seriously, this is a business deal—you’re paying for them to come provide a service, and most of the time, art is included. That’s fine. It’s standard. (I’ve only had one con say “You don’t need to worry about it, we have tons of artists and we know you’re busy.”) Make sure they know how much art and the deadline, because this may influence whether they’ll be able to schedule you. (Do not say “Be the artist GoH!” and then three weeks later say “And by the way, we need you to design our shirts, book, staff shirts, posters, web graphics, decorative shotglasses, and all in full color and by Tuesday!” This is a Bad Thing.)

3a. Be a responsible art director.   When you commission art, particularly art with a deadline, the artist has the responsibility to get it to you on time, to your specifications. You, on the other hand, have to make sure that your specifications are clear, that they know what you want, that they know the dimensions (dear god, get the dimensions up front! If I had a nickel for every time I have had to write back “Yes. That’s great. What are the dimensions? Yes. Firebreathing. Uh-huh. Marvelous. What are the dimensions?”) color, black and white, how much room to leave for dead space, what space on badges is required for names, etc.  (That last is really important, and nobody ever thinks of it in advance, I swear.)

I have had a few cons really drop the ball on this one, where my contact stopped answering questions, weeks went by without contact, and I have eventually had to contact the con chair saying “You have three weeks til deadline, I’ve heard nothing the last three time I’ve e-mailed, if you want the art done, you have about ten minutes to tell me what you want and what size it should be.” This is very frustrating for the artist and can’t be great for the staff, either. (I should note that I had one where that happened, and I was put in touch with someone who had been made the vice-chair while she was unconscious in surgery and couldn’t object. She was AWESOME. She didn’t know anything about art, but she had exactly the right attitude, which was “I am probably going to ask some stupid questions, bear with me, and tell me what information I need to get. We Will Fix This.” She was fabulous.)

It is also totally okay to ask your artist for changes, within reason. Within reason is “We love this idea, but damnit, it’s a whiskey bottle and we can’t actually sell merch about alcoholic beverages, under the terms of our charter.” Within reason is “This is a little too adult for us.” Within reason is “Our mascot’s always shown wearing one shoe, can you take the other shoe out?” or “We’d like to print this on X, can you send a version minus the background?”

Within reason is not “Can you make the cover the con staff’s D&D group, and my character just leveled, so here’s the description of his new helmet and armor…” because you will make an artist somewhere cry.

As a corollary to this, for the artist in question, be professional. This is a case where not having something done by deadline means that the con may have to spend a lot of extra money for rush printing, OR won’t be able to use it at all. Make your deadlines. Don’t half-ass it.


4. Keep your artist secure.

I may go off on a bit of a tangent here, since I have strong feelings about convention security these days, so bear with me.

I am lucky.

I am female and not terribly physically imposing and I hate confrontation. That said, I also don’t have any serious weirdos who come after me at conventions. Other people are not so lucky. There are big name authors who hire personal bodyguards for public appearances. (A friend of mine had a signing with one once, and apparently the author had received death threats. Her bodyguards dragged bookcases into place around the table so that no one could get at her without going over the table and mapped out escape routes from the building. They nearly jumped a fan who tried to hug her. This is a funny story when my friend tells it, but also a frightening one.)

The convention that I feel safest at is Anthrocon. The reason for this is partly that I know many of the security staff, but that’s true at a couple of cons. The reason that I feel safe there is because their security wear bright red t-shirts when on-duty that say “ANTHROCON SECURITY” in big letters. You can find one instantly in a crowd. They are a visible presence.

I realize that not all cons can afford to do this—that’s a lot of T-shirts to wrangle!—but PLEASE make security an obvious presence. Big ribbons are good. Vests. Something. If I am scanning badges trying to remember what color is security staff and which one is a minor badge, or trying to read teeny text, that’s a problem.

I once had an organizer tell me, somewhat contemptuously, that sure, they had security but they weren’t “in your face.” You wouldn’t pick them out of a crowd. I grunted something noncommittal into my wineglass (see above about hating confrontation.)

What I didn’t say was that this is all very well and good for a man with a neck as thick as my thigh, but it didn’t do me a damn bit of good. If I’d been feeling harassed, my options were reduced to screaming “FIRE!” or running all the way to Con Ops, which was on the second floor, and since there were no visible security on the elevators either, it would have taken me forty-five minutes to get there.

(Do not, I beg of you, get the idea to get all cute and put your security in fantasy/sci-fi/paramilitary uniforms. I thought they were all cos-players and was starting to get a little weirded out.)

Anyway, back to topic, take your guest’s security concerns seriously. Some of them have stalkers. Some of them have freaks. If they express concern to you, pay attention. (Likewise, for artists (or anyone!) if you possibly can, report any such incidents. It may not be just you that they’re bothering. Security can’t do anything if they don’t know about it. If you do report it and they do nothing, you are at a very bad convention and can be forgiven for immediately packing up and going home.)

Okay, rant done. Onward!


5. Make sure travel is arranged well in advance. You don’t need to send a limo, but do send SOMEBODY to the airport. Hand out cell-phone numbers. Do not leave your artist to cool her heels at the airport for two hours. (Happened to me once on a book tour. I had to call my publicist at 9 at night to arrange a car, because I had no idea where I was going and the car hadn’t arrived. It was awkward.) Likewise, make sure that your artist knows how she’s getting BACK to the airport, specifically, instead of just a vague “Oh, somebody’ll take you…” which leaves her with a sinking feeling of dread that she is at the whim of somebody who is more interested in winning Klingon Bingo than in making sure she doesn’t have to spend the night at the airport.


6. Schedule kindly. Part of getting an artist GoH means that you get to put them on all kinds of panels. This is part of the service you’re buying, and the artist is absolutely obligated to show up to said panels if humanly possible, and in a semi-coherent state at that.

Do not put more than two or three panels back to back. Give your artist time to pee. She is probably running on coffee and adrenaline. Food is also awesome. Multiple panels during dinnertime are hard. I realize that sometimes you’re wrist-deep in a spread-sheet trying to make sure that George R. R. R. R. Martin is not signing opposite the costume ball opposite the panel on hot werewolf lovin’, but spare a thought.

(Likewise, do not schedule your artist at the critical hours of dealer room teardown. They need that time. I have attended very few closing ceremonies because it’s always opposite teardown, and I’m sorry to miss them, because generally they politely acknowledge your existence and I feel guilty not being there for it.)

6a. Not everyone is good with kids. Super-uber-importantly, ASK before you schedule panels with small children. I am not a kindergarten teacher. I have had cons tell me that they have a big kid’s programming track, and that’s awesome, but it’s NOT awesome when I’m in a room with three or four kids and no grown-ups and apparently I’m expected to do something with them. I realize I write children’s books, but, har, I actually have absolutely no experience with small children. (How do you think I write the things in the first place?) I never babysat anyone, ever. I had been assured (before agreeing to do the panel) that there would be a staffer there who ran the track, and when they didn’t show up, the only thing that saved the day is the fact that Kevin used to be a Boy Scout leader and is good with kids. I am pretty resilient on the panel front now, I can give talks more or less extemporaneously and joke with the audience and shut down all but the most persistent of hijackers, but stuff like that makes me hyperventilate and want to lock myself in my room.



7. Managing multiple GoH’s. I have been to cons where there was one GoH (me) and cons where there were ten or fifteen, all with spouses and entourages. If humanly possible, when you’ve got a lot whole lot of guests, a closed Green Room or a GoH suite is AWESOME. You want your GoH’s to interact with the fans—that’s why they’re there, after all!—but particularly if they don’t have tables, such a room may be their only source of temporary retreat other than running to their room. Being a GoH at a con is a little like being on stage—you are playing the role of Noted Illustrator or Famous Author or Brilliant Filker Who Has Taken The World By Storm, and sometimes you really need a place to sit down and not be on for just a minute. By the third day, the bathroom often smells too bad for this to be a viable option.

7a. If one of your guests is really really famous, don’t put the unknown on the panel with them, or “Everyone Was Very Nice That Time I Was On Stage With George R. R. Martin, But Really, Let’s Not Kid Ourselves, I Was The Comic Relief.” (That said, everyone WAS very nice, particularly Mr. Martin, and I thought it was funny as hell, but I’m pretty laid back and my ego is invested in other things. Other personality types might have had a slightly harder time of it in that scenario. And this was BEFORE Game of Thrones got on cable.) Seriously, it’s also a matter of courtesy to the fans—they’re all there to see person X, and may tend to see person Y talking as a derailment. (Likewise, do not schedule their panel OPPOSITE the Really Super Famous Person’s panel, as a room full of chirping crickets is always a sad thing.)

7b. That said, try not to make it obvious that you think one GoH is way more important. Look, we all generally know who the star of the show is, and most of us aren’t bothered by it. We have our fields. The best-known illustrator in the world is not nearly as famous as a mid-list author, and the most famous filker or scientist ever can’t compete with an extra on Star Trek. However, if you schedule a GoH dinner, call it “The GoH Dinner” and when your artist GoH comes up and says “You’ve scheduled the dinner opposite a panel of mine, where do you want me?” do not say “Oh. That’s not really for you.” Call it “A Sponsor Dinner With Bob The Writer” if that’s what you actually meant, don’t leave your filker and your artist and your scientist going “…oh.” and going to the bar to drink heavily together and vowing never to darken your door again.


8. Tell how the art show is hung. And I don’t mean “well.” Honestly, some of my art can’t hang on those grid things, but can hang on pegboard, probably vice versa. Let the artist know the system in advance, since it influences what I’ll bring. Also, don’t expect ten panels worth of art. Ask how many to reserve, don’t just leave a vast naked space at the front of the gallery where the art will look embarassingly teeny. (That said, artists, bring a good amount of art, given what you can practically manage, given the constraints of flying and all. Don’t bring two paintings and an origami chicken, unless they are VERY impressive paintings.)


Now, having said all that, what about you, the artist GoH, who want to know how to please these nice people who were kind enough to invite you out and give you a hotel room and everything?

1. Be professional, be professional, be professional. You are On The Job. You are being Semi-Famous Artist. Do not tear off your clothes and scream obscenities unless asked to do so by the staff. (After that, it’s up to you.) Deliver your art on time, show up to your panels, and even if there are three people in the audience, do your best. Sometimes there will only be three people. (Sometimes no one will show up, in which case wait for at least five minutes and then go do whatever you want.)

If there is a sponsor lunch or something where you are supposed to mingle, then mingle goddamnit. This is really not about given you food. Don’t sit in the corner and mumble monosyllables into your pasta.

Do not deal meth at the table, do not get arrested until after closing ceremonies. YOU THINK I’M JOKING, DON’T YOU?

2. Be good-humored. Odds are good that they’re trying really hard. Crazy mix-ups happen, and rarely if ever is malice involved. If you travel very badly and tend to develop a persecution complex when things go wrong (ask your spouse/partner/friends if you’re not sure) then decline politely.

3. Be gracious. Look, if you’re not good with fans, that’s okay. Stay home. Many of us are introverts and these things are exhausting, and if you have seriously social anxiety disorders, then don’t put yourself through this. I’ve gotten pretty good at these, and I still come home from a con and take two days off and sleep like the dead because even the very good ones are exhausting. 

If possible, learn to do it, learn to give the panels, learn to talk to five hundred strangers in a day that know you and you don’t know them. It’s a remarkably rewarding experience. I recommend it highly. You meet some really awesome people. But don’t if you’re gonna be a dick or if it’s gonna make you miserable. Seriously.

This is a skill. It is a learned skill. I had to learn it myself. Hopefully if you’ve been in the dealer’s room at cons for awhile and on a few panels, you’ve already learned the skills. It can be learned. I am not entirely sure it can be taught.

3a. Learn to accept praise. I know, I know, when someone runs up and says “I love your work!” your inclination is to mumble an apology for wasting their time with your crappy art, or to say “It’s not that great.”


This is not about you. 

If somebody says “I love your art,” and you say “My art is awful,” then guess what? You just insulted them. You have told them, in effect, that what they love is crap and that they have poor taste. Clamp your teeth down on that urge, smile, and say “Thank you.” If you can’t think of a single other thing to say, I make you a gift of this phrase—“Thank you. You’re very kind.” Say this when you want to scream that you messed up the knees on the horse and the tail on the fox and the eyeballs on the woman. If you have to say it every single time, then do. You don’t have to believe it, you don’t have to jump on the table and say “That’s right, I’m AWESOME!”—

But don’t insult them.

4. Praise is good. Thank the staff for having you out. Thank them for making life easier for you, if they do. I know lots of people who give swag to the staff in thanks. A lot of times you will have a single staffer who is very helpful with something like art check-in or table set-up or whatever. Even if, like me, you are very bad with names, try to praise them to their supervisor, or if they’re the one in charge, thank them directly. (Hell, this isn’t just for a GoH—if you’re working or attending any con and con staff do a great job, TELL THEM.)

This stuff matters more than you think.


Some seriously awesome stuff that cons have done in the past:

The cheese plate. You all know my feelings about a fruit and cheese plate. I will forgive you a LOT for a fruit and cheese plate.

Putting me on the staff floor for hotel rooms. Staff floors are often much quieter (at least until Sunday night) because these people need to sleep. This isn’t always feasible because you never know who’s gonna have the screaming room party, obviously, but I’m always grateful for a quiet night.

Taking me out to dinner. It’s not required. Neither is inviting me to parties, although I’m grateful, and wish I could get out to more than I do. (Often I am exhausted after the end of the day, particularly if I’ve been traveling, and just need sleep.)

Green Room — mentioned this already, but man, those are great.

Coffee-clatches and teas — I don’t know when this started happening, but I have lately had a couple of cons that do a panel that’s basically an hour in a room with a coffee pot or (even better!) a high tea with little cucumber sandwiches. These tend to be much less formal than “Artist Sits At Front Of Room And Stares At Audience.” You can have real conversations. These are awesome, and if you have the option, I recommend it highly.

The Basket — Lotta cons give you a token gift for appearing. Mugs are popular. (One did pint glasses, which was nice.) It’s certainly not required, but on a side note, the best one ever had a couple of small bags of potato chips, some granola bars, and a set of Micron pens. This was a con that understood the reality of an artist’s life.

Assign a staffer to check on you in the dealer’s room. This is very helpful if you need to run to the bathroom, if there’s someone breathing heavily over your art for half an hour and giving you the sticky eyeball, if you desperately need a drink. I have had staffers run out to get me coffee, and I am always VERY grateful. (I also once had a fan run out and get me a bottle of absinthe. If you’re reading this, hon, I am STILL grateful!)


Whew. All I can think of now, and that is probably QUITE enough! Now! If you are an artist GoH of past or future, if you are a con organizer or a con staffer or a liason, please, please, please, tell me what you would add to the list. Great anecdotes about why so-and-so was a great guest and why you will take cyanide before working a con with Lou Ferrigno are all welcome. (Okay, okay, be nice. Somewhat nice. If it’s a complaint about why somebody was a dick, “An Author That Shall Remain Nameless” is perfectly fine.)

Anything I can hear that helps me make things easier for the con to deal with, and likewise that make it easier for the con to deal with me is valuable data.

Annotated Fairy Tale: The Deer Prince

We could probably all use a laugh today, and hopefully y’all aren’t sick of these yet…

Big thanks to reader Persephone_Kore for sending a link to this one (and a couple others I still need to check out, too!)

This one is short and sweet, and has a nice twist on some of the standard themes. It’s apparently from something called “The Danish Fairy Book.”


The Deer Prince

THERE was once a widower and a widow, who married each other. Now each of them had a daughter; but the daughter of the widower was lovely to look on, while the daughter of the widow was very homely. And the wife was jealous of her husband’s daughter because she was so much fairer than her own. Early and late her thoughts turned on how she might harm her, and she treated her very harshly.

Now her husband was away from home nearly every day, from morning till evening, and since he was never at home he did not notice how his daughter was treated.

Wicked stepmother, check. Ugly stepsister, check. Oblivious father, check.

One evening, after the door was locked and all had gone to bed, there was a knock at the door. The woman told her daughter to go and open the door, and see who was outside. This the daughter had no mind to do, but the woman insisted, and then the husband’s daughter offered to go to the door; but this did not suit the woman at all, and she insisted that her daughter go. So the girl went and drew the bolt, and there at the door stood a great antlered deer, or something of the sort.

I begin to suspect that the storyteller is not taking this entirely seriously. “It was a giant deer, or something. Might’ve been a dragon. Or a chicken. No, probably a deer. Something like that, anyway. I might remember specifics if someone gave me a beer.”

She picked up a broomstick and was about to beat the animal, but it at once disappeared. Then she went in again and told her mother what it had been. At night of the following day, after the door had been bolted, there was another knock, and this time the woman’s daughter did not dare to go down and draw the bolt, so the husband’s daughter had to do it. When she had unbolted the door she saw the deer standing outside, and she said to him: “Where do you come from, you poor fellow?”

“Little girl, mount on my back!”

Nothing sketchy about this, no sir!

No, that she would not do, said the girl, for it would be a shame, since the poor fellow had enough to do to carry himself. Well, she could not go along with him in any other way, replied the deer. So she climbed on his back, since she did not want to stay at home, and he ran off with her.

…walking next to him was right out?

They came to a meadow, and the deer said to her: “How would it be for us to enjoy this pretty spot together some time?” But the girl could not imagine how that could possibly come to pass or what it would be like.

I smell a euphemism!

Then they reached a wood, and here, too, the deer said, “How would it be for us to take a pleasant walk together in this beautiful wood some time?” But she could not imagine such a thing.

Two! Two euphemisms! Seriously, imagining a walk in the woods is very easy unless you’re imagining a “walk” in the “woods” with a “giant antlered deer or something of the sort” if you catch my drift. (Feel free to add nudges and winks as appropriate.)

At last they came to an enormous castle. The deer led her into it, and told her that she was to live there all alone; but that her every wish would be granted, and she could make her own plans for passing the time in whatever way she preferred. He would return to visit her before long. Yet there was one place in the castle which she must avoid: a place where there were three doors, one of wood, one of copper and one of iron. Under no consideration was she to unlock them but he thought to himself, that at the very first chance she would be quite certain to do what he had forbidden.

Oh my god, I love this deer. Seriously, in the history of fairy tales, how did it take until a Danish megaceros to understand human nature?

So she killed time all that day, quite alone as she was, until nightfall, and the following morning she began to look around. And she felt a great desire to open the iron door, and could not resist it and opened it.

I am shocked. Simply shocked.

There stood two men who were stirring a kettle of tar with bare hands and arms. She asked them why they were stirring with bare hands and arms, and they replied that they had no choice, but must do so until a Christian soul gave them something else with which to stir their tar. So the girl took a hatchet, chopped out a couple of flat wooden paddles, and gave them to the men to stir with.

The day passed, and night came, and the following morning she heard a great noise in the courtyard of the castle. Men were running about everywhere, grooms feeding the horses, and servants polishing the silver, all of them very busy, and they filled the entire courtyard And now she felt a desire to open the second door, and so she opened it. There stood two girls who were raking a glowing fire with their bare hands. She asked them why they raked the fire with their bare hands. The girls replied that they had no choice, until some Christian soul gave them something with which they could rake. Then the maiden gave them a pole, and the girls thanked her most gratefully.

On the following morning the castle was full of girls, sweeping and washing and polishing everything.

Waaaaait a minute….this is an entirely logical progression and outcome! And a grasp of human nature! And…well, there were the euphemisms. Still! How do you expect to say anything significant about the human condition if you are logical and understand how people think?

So that day passed; but she could not help herself, she had to open the remaining door, the wooden one. And there lay the deer on a pile of straw, and she asked him why he lay there. He said he had to lie there until some Christian soul took pity on him, and wiped the mud from his back. She took a handful of straw and wiped off the mud. And as she was doing it, he was changed into as handsome a prince as one would wish to see.

Well played, enchanted deer. Well played, indeed.

He explained to her that he and the whole castle had been enchanted; but that now all was well and they would celebrate their wedding. And a fine wedding it was, lasting several days.

Before we go any farther, I would like to take a minute to speculate on what might have happened if this girl had a little more imagination. I mean, the deer talks, so I’m not entirely sure if it’s bestiality at that point, or just…err…xenophilia. And he apparently propositioned her twice in the woods (leaving aside the “mount on my back, little girl” bit, ahem ahem.)

Is this the standard fairy tale wait-for-door-number-three thing? If she’d had a freaky talking deer fetish, would he have brought her home and married her? Would he have gone “Goddamnit, she’ll like me better as a deer, so we’re having none of that!” Did he not want to buy the cow when the euphemisms were free?

Hell, maybe he liked being a deer, and was checking to see if she was into it before deciding that reverting to human was the only option.

This just strikes me as a peculiar sequence of events, as if he went “Basic human curiosity about doors, not a problem. But if she loves me for my mind, I’m outta here.”

Now when some time had passed, the prince asked his wife whether she would not like to invite her stepmother and stepsister to visit her. She said she would like to do so very much.

Wait, what? Why? Are you crazy? Those people were horrible to you!

…unless this is one of those “By the way, I married an enchanted prince and check out my bitchin’ castle” visit, in which case you are probably allowed a certain degree of gloating, although given that it’s a fairy tale, I don’t necessarily recommend it.

So the prince told her, that when they came, he himself would not be with them at first, but that when she offered them wine, she was to spill a drop on her shoe. Then he would appear and dry it for her. And she must take care not to give her stepmother any one thing or three different things, but only a quantity of something, such as corn.

Okay, I retract my previous objections. This is the sort of stuff that screams “Element that might have made sense when first added but five generations later is completely nonsensical.”

So when the stepmother and stepsister arrived, the princess for of course she was a princess now—

Marrying into royalty turns one into a paragon of virtue. Well-known fact.

—was very kind to them. And when she poured the wine for them, she let fall a drop on her golden shoe, and that very moment the prince appeared and dried the spot with his handkerchief; and if the others had not already had eyes and mouth wide open, you may be sure they had when they saw the prince come in.

Then they went out into the garden, and the stepmother insisted on having an apple, though the princess would give her none. The stepmother, however, kept on insisting that she must have some apples, even though she had no more than three. But no, the princess merely said that when the apples were ripe her stepmother could have any number of them. Thereupon the stepmother grew furiously angry—

I will bet you a nickel that there was something that used to go here–maybe something like the “Spit in the sheath of my knife” thing from the one Russian Cinderella story—where some cultural element fit here and this made a lot more sense. Perhaps giving single items laid one open to witchcraft in some fashion, whereas giving a bushel basket didn’t.

If that WAS it (and without a Danish folklorist in the audience, I’m not sure if we’ll ever know) then boy, clever way to ward off the stingies, huh? “Sorry, you have to give me at least four or the Evil Eye gets you. Hey, I don’t make the rules.”

—and as she went off with her daughter, she was filled with envy to think that such good fortune had not come the latter’s way. And she could not resist telling her it was her own fault.

The daughter gave a saucy answer, and as usually happens, one word leading to another, they were soon quarreling violently, and in the end both of them burst into pebbles. And that is the reason that there are so many pebbles underfoot.

Okay, that is a far better closer than “Happily Ever After.” I don’t know if you could work it into a modern fantasy novel, but that’s pretty marvelous nonetheless.

Annotated Fairy Tale: The Golden Apple Tree And The Nine Peahens

A red-eyed vireo is lurking in the backyard, beating larvae to death on branches. In celebration of yard-bird number #54 (not bad for not being on a body of water!) I give you a bird-themed annotated fairy tale! This one’s from Serbia, bears strong resemblances to the Firebird story from Russia, and while much of it is standard fairy tale fare, it includes at least one interesting reversal of the usual course of events.

This one doesn’t delight me as much as the last, and the language is nowhere near as elegant, but it does have one or two moments worth visiting.


The Golden Apple Tree And The Nine Peahens

Once upon a time there lived a king who had three sons. Now, before the king’s palace grew a golden apple tree, which in one and the same night blossomed, bore fruit, and lost all its fruit, though no one could tell who took the apples.

As a gardener, let me just say that this is not how it works, and I always wondered where they’re getting these apple trees. And what’s pollinating them? There are bat-pollinated fruit trees—in fact, the ancestor of all peach trees is believed to have been bat-pollinated—but they tend to be in Asia and occasionally the American Southwest. I assume that somewhere there’s a magical mayfly that hatches on the night the apples blossom, pollinate, have an orgy, lay eggs under the bark and then die.

One day the king, speaking to his eldest son, said, “I should like to know who takes the fruit from our apple tree!”

And the son said, “I will keep guard tonight, and will see who gathers the apples.”

So when the evening came he went and laid himself down, under the apple tree, upon the ground to watch. Just, however, as the apples ripened, he fell asleep, and when he awoke in the morning, there was not a single one left on the tree. Whereupon he went and told his father what had happened.

Then the second son offered to keep watch by the tree, but he had no better success than his eldest brother.

So the turn came to the king’s youngest son to keep guard. He made his preparations, brought his bed under the tree, and immediately went to sleep. Before midnight he awoke and looked up at the tree, and saw how the apples ripened, and how the whole palace was lit up by their shining.

At least this story makes no bones about the fact that he succeeds because he’s a third son and not because he’s cleverer than anyone else. He just woke up because narrative demands it. Occasionally you get third sons who are nicer or kinder or smarter or whatever, but this time, he doesn’t even get a name, let alone useful skills.

At that minute nine peahens flew towards the tree, and eight of them settled on its branches—

In case you’re curious, peafowl don’t fly if they can help it. They prefer to escape on foot whenever possible. They certainly can get airborne, and will fly into trees to roost, but think turkeys rather than swans. Either the peaheans live on the grounds or they walked most of the way from Fairyland.

—but the ninth alighted near him and turned instantly into a beautiful girl — so beautiful, indeed, that the whole kingdom could not produce one who could in any way compare with her.

She stayed, conversing kindly with him, till after midnight, then thanking him for the golden apples, she prepared to depart. But, as he begged she would leave him one, she gave him two, one for himself and one for the king his father. Then the girl turned again into a peahen, and flew away with the other eight.

There’s a whole branch of—well, porn isn’t quite the term, but I’m drawing a blank on another one—devoted to people who are really into transformations into animals. You go to a furry convention as an artist, and sometimes you’ll get people asking for transformation drawings, and usually the more agonizing and painful and freaky it is, the happier they are. Tearing off your own skin to reveal the animal underneath is a common one (and has some precedent in Aztec mythology, if my memory isn’t failing me.)

I am not saying this to judge anyone’s fetish, and as these things go, this one’s pretty harmless, but it does bring up the point that transformation probably either goes one of two ways—either you get the glowy transporter effect thing and wham! Peahen! or you get the horrible bone-cracking internal organs on the outside oh god oh god it hurts and where did I put my pancreas I swear it was here a moment ago and then at the end of it, you’ve gone from a 150lb woman to a 10lb bird and the prince watching you is vomiting into the bushes in horror.

Gonna guess this was a glowy transporter effect one. Just a feeling.

Next morning, the king’s son took the two apples to his father, and the king was much pleased, and praised his son.

When the evening came, the king’s youngest son took his place again under the apple tree to keep guard over it. He again conversed as he had done the night before with the beautiful girl, and brought to his father, the next morning, two apples as before.

But, after he had succeeded so well several nights, his two elder brothers grew envious because he had been able to do what they could not. At length they found an old woman, who promised to discover how the youngest brother had succeeded in saving the two apples.

Never send a post-adolescent male to do an old woman’s job! Also, am I the only one picturing Jessica Fletcher from “Murder She Wrote?

So, as the evening came, the old woman stole softly under the bed which stood under the apple tree, and hid herself. And after a while, came also the king’s son, and laid himself down as usual to sleep. When it was near midnight the nine peahens flew up as before, and eight of them settled on the branches, and the ninth stood by his bed, and turned into a most beautiful girl.

The old woman, being under the bed and all, could only tell that she had really sexy ankles.

Then the old woman slowly took hold of one of the girl’s curls, and cut it off, and the girl immediately rose up, changed again into a peahen and flew away, and the other peahens followed her, and so they all disappeared.

…I guess her hair hung down to the ground? Otherwise Jessica Fletcher is a ninja.

Then the king’s son jumped up, and cried out, “What is that?” and, looking under the bed, he saw the old woman, and drew her out. Next morning he order her to be tied to a horse’s tail, and so torn to pieces.

Nooooo! Jessica! Who will solve Cabot Cove’s murders now? (or possibly secretly commit them?)

Seriously, though, this is way overkill. Your brothers hired the woman! If they didn’t step in and say “Whoops, sorry, told her to do that!” then they are scum and deserve whatever happens to them. And I do not think highly of your kingdom, when you are allowed to draw-and-quarter people the morning without a trial.

But the peahens never came back, so the king’s son was very sad for a long time, and wept at his loss.

Oh, you’re crying? That old woman had six grandkids. She was beloved in the community. Her gingersnap baking skills were hailed far and wide. You monster. The peahens probably aren’t coming back because YOU TIE LITTLE OLD LADIES TO HORSES, did you think of that?

At length he resolved to go and look after his peahen; resolving never to come back again unless he should find her. When he told the king his father of his intention, the king begged him not do go away, and told him that he would find him another beautiful girl, and that he might choose out of the whole kingdom.

But all the king’s persuasions were useless, so his son went into the world — taking only one servant to serve him — to search everywhere for his peahen.

I like to think that there were posters up with a picture of a peahen and “HAVE YOU SEEN ME?” written underneath.

After many travels he came one day to a lake. Now by the lake stood a large and beautiful palace. In the palace lived an old woman as queen, and with the queen lived a girl, her daughter. He said to the old woman, “For heaven’s sake, grandmother, do you know anything about nine golden peahens?”

And the old woman answered, “Oh, my son, I know all about them. They come every midday to bathe in the lake. But what do you want with them? Let them be. Think nothing about them. Here is my daughter. Such a beautiful girl! And such an heiress! All my wealth will remain to you if you marry her.”

I frequently try to marry my daughter to random vagrants who show up babbling about being in love with fowl. It’s a thing.

But he, burning with desire to see the peahens, would not listen to what the old woman spoke about her daughter.

Next morning, when day dawned, the prince prepared to go down to the lake to wait for the peahens. Then the old queen bribed the servant and gave him a little pair of bellows, and said, “Do you see these bellows? When you come to the lake you must blow secretly with them behind his neck, and then he will fall asleep, and not be able to speak to the peahens.”

The mischievous servant did as the old woman told him. When he went with his master down to the lake, he took occasion to blow with the bellows behind his neck, and the poor prince fell asleep just as though he were dead.

Drugged bellows are a new one. Generally they just go with poisoned drinks. I kind of wonder if small children were helping flesh out the details at this point.

Shortly after, the nine peahens came flying, and eight of them alighted by the lake, but the ninth flew towards him as he sat on horseback, and caressed him, and tried to awaken him. “Awake my darling! Awake, my heart! Awake, my soul!”

On the strength of three short conversations and an unjust draw-and-quartering, I am madly in love with you!

But for all that he knew nothing, just as if he were dead.

After they had bathed, all the peahens flew away together, and after they were gone the prince woke up, and said to his servant, “What has happened? Did they not come?”

The servant told him they had been there, and that eight of them had bathed, but the ninth had sat by him on his horse, and caressed and tried to awaken him. Then the king’s son was so angry that he almost killed himself in his rage.

Next morning he went down again to the shore to wait for the peahens, and rode about a long time till the servant again found an opportunity of blowing with the bellows behind his neck, so that he again fell asleep as though dead. Hardly had he fallen asleep before the nine peahens came flying, and eight of them alighted by the water, but the ninth settled down by the side of his horse and caressed him, and cried out to awaken him, “Arise, my darling! Arise, my heart! Arise my soul!”

But it was of no use. The prince slept on as if he were dead. Then she said to the servant, “Tell your master, tomorrow he can see us here again, but nevermore.”

With these words the peahens flew away. Immediately after, the king’s son woke up and asked his servant, “Have they not been here?”

And the man answered, “Yes, they have been, and say that you can see them again tomorrow, at this place, but after that they will not return again.”

When the unhappy prince heard that, he knew not what to do with himself, and in his great trouble and misery tore the hair from his head.

I’ve actually heard a firsthand account of someone tearing their own hair out before. Apparently it’s not as impressive as you’d think. Hair doesn’t fling very well, so once you have a few strands torn out, the only thing you can do is watch it sort of float down, which lacks a certain drama.

The person in question, apparently frustrated by the slow drift of hair on the breeze, turned and began to jog away down the middle of the street. He had some issues. The moral of the story, I suppose, is that you should never yell “You’re going to make me tear my hair out!” and then try to move beyond the realm of metaphor. It’s like trying to slam one of those safety doors that stop two inches from the threshold. Plan ahead.

The third day he went down again to the shore, but, fearing to fall asleep, instead of riding slowly, galloped along the shore. His servant, however, found an opportunity of blowing with the bellows behind his neck, and again the prince fell asleep.

At this point we should stop to notice at the servant is an amazing rider. He’s keeping up at a gallop and managing to work the bellows at the same time.

A moment after came the nine peahens, and the eight alighted on the lake and the ninth by him on his horse, and sought to awaken him, caressing him. “Arise, my darling! Arise, my heart! Arise, my soul!”

But it was of no use. He slept on as if dead. Then the peahen said to the servant, “When your master awakens tell him he ought to strike off the head of the nail from the lower part, and then he will find me.”

Thereupon all the peahens fled away. Immediately the king’s son awoke and said to his servant, “Have they been here?”

And the servant answered, “They have been, and the one which alighted on your horse, ordered me to tell you to strike off the head of the nail from the lower part, and then you will find her.”

When the prince heard that, he drew his sword and cut off his servant’s head.

Somewhat more justified than the murder of Jessica Fletcher.

After that he traveled alone about the world, and, after long traveling, came to a mountain and remained all night there with a hermit, whom he asked if he knew anything about nine golden peahens.

The hermit said, “Eh! My son, you are lucky. God has led you in the right path. From this place it is only a half a day’s walk. But you must go straight on, then you will come to a large gate, which you must pass through. And, after that, you must keep always to the right hand, and so you will come to the peahens’ city, and there find their palace.”

So next morning the king’s son arose, and prepared to go. He thanked the hermit, and went as he had told him. After a while he came to the great gate, and, having passed it, turned to the right, so that at midday he saw the city, and beholding how white it shone, rejoiced very much.

When he came into the city he found the palace where lived the nine golden peahens. But at the gate he was stopped by the guard, who demanded who he was, and whence he came. After he had answered these questions, the guards went to announce him to the queen.

Since this is the peahen’s city, I admit, I kinda hope that everyone in the city is a peacock. I just see this heavily armored peacock with a spear looking up at the prince and demanding his name and business.

When the queen heard who he was, she came running out to the gate and took him by the hand to lead him into the palace. She was a young and beautiful maiden, and so there was a great rejoicing when, after a few days, he married her and remained there with her.

One day, some time after their marriage, the queen went out to walk, and the king’s son remained in the palace. Before going out, however, the queen gave him the keys of twelve cellars, telling him, “You may go down into all the cellars except the twelfth — that must on no account open, or it will cost you your head.”

Oh please god, let this be a Bluebeard story. “Honey, you’re not my first prince…”

She then went away. The king’s son whilst remaining in the palace began to wonder what there could be in the twelfth cellar, and soon commenced opening one cellar after the other.

Corpses! It’s always corpses! I’m telling you, her last six husbands are eviscerated and lying around in the cellar!

Oooh, or they’re the husbands of the other eight peahens…maybe it’s a weird peahen murder cult. “We’re tired of the males getting the good tailfeathers. Screw it! THERE SHALL BE BLOOD!”

When he came to the twelfth he would not at first open it, but again began to wonder very much why he was forbidden to go into it. “What can be in this cellar?” he exclaimed to himself.

I’m telling you, dude, it’s gonna be pure Silent Hill: Poultry Edition in there.

At last he opened it. In the middle of the cellar lay a big barrel with an open bung-hole, but bound fast round with three iron hoops. Out of the barrel came a voice, saying, “For God’s sake, my brother, I am dying with thirst. Please give me a cup of water!”


Then the king’s son took a cup and filled it with water, and emptied it into the barrel. Immediately he had done so, one of the hoops burst asunder.

Again came the voice from the barrel, “For God’s sake, my brother, I am dying of thirst. Please give me a cup of water!”

The king’s son again filled the cup, and took it, and emptied it into the barrel, and instantly another hoop burst asunder.

The third time the voice came out of the barrel, “For God’s sake, my brother, I am dying of thirst. Please give me a cup of water!”

The king’s son again took the cup and filled it, and poured the water into the barrel, and the third hoop burst. Then the barrel fell to pieces, and a dragon flew out of the cellar, and caught the queen on the road and carried her away.

Now this is unusual.

Not because there’s a dragon in the barrel—although that’s a pretty odd thing to keep in the cellar, I grant you, and the question of how she got him in the barrel in the first place is a tough one–but this is one of the very few cases I can think of in a fairy tale where doing a compassionate deed screws you over. Generally if you give water to the thirsty, you’re rewarded for it. In this case, dragon steals your wife. Hmm. Interesting moral for the young’uns.

Then the servant, who went out with the queen, came back quickly, and told the king’s son what had happened, and the poor prince knew not what to do with himself, so desperate was he, and full of self reproaches. At length, however, he resolved to set out and travel through the world in search of her.

It worked last time. Also, in my head, it’s a small peacock gesticulating wildly to the prince and making that weird peacock noise. “And then—and then—kreeaalp!—he grabbed her in his claws–“

After long journeying, one day he came to a lake, and near it, in a little hole, he saw a little fish jumping about. When the fish saw the king’s son, she began to beg pitifully, “For God’s sake, be my brother, and throw me into the water. Some day I may be of use to you, so take now a little scale from me, and when you need me, rub it gently.”

Then the king’s son lifted the little fish from the hole and threw her into the water, after he had taken one small scale, which he wrapped up carefully in a handkerchief.

See? Good deed! You know it’ll be rewarded! This is the nature of things!

Some time afterwards, as he traveled about the world, he came upon a fox, caught in an iron trap. When the fox saw the prince, he spoke, “In God’s name, be a brother to me, and help me to get out of this trap. One day you will need me, so take just one hair from my tail, and when you want me, rub it gently.”

Then the king’s son took a hair from the tail of the fox, and let him free.

Again, as he crossed a mountain, he found a wolf fast in a trap; and when the wolf saw him, it spoke, “Be a brother to me. In God’s name, set me free, and one day I will help you. Only take a hair from me, and when you need me, rub it gently.”

So he took a hair, and let the wolf free.

After that, the king’s son traveled about a very long time, till one day he met a man, to whom he said, “For God’s sake, brother, have you ever heard anyone say where is the palace of the dragon king?”

The man gave him very particular directions which way to take, and in what length of time he could get there. Then the king’s son thanked him and continued his journey until he came to the city where the dragon lived.

When there, he went into the palace and found therein his wife, and both of them were exceedingly pleased to meet each other, and began to take counsel how they could escape. They resolved to run away, and prepared hastily for the journey. When all was ready they mounted on horseback and galloped away.

Y’know, if she’s that poorly guarded—and a were-peahen to boot—she could probably have escaped on her own.

As soon as they were gone, the dragon came home, also on horseback, and, entering his palace, found that the queen had gone away. Then he said to his horse, “What shall we do now? Shall we eat and drink, or go at once after them?”

“On the one hand, my bride has fled into the night. On the other hand, I could really go for some cheese and crackers about now. Decisions, decisions…”

The horse answered, “Let us eat and drink first. We shall anyway catch them. Do not be anxious.”

After the dragon had dined, he mounted his horse, and in a few moments came up with the runaways. Then he took the queen from the king’s son and said to him, “Go now, in God’s name! This time I forgive you, because you gave me water in the cellar. But if your life is dear to you, do not come back here any more!”

Welllll…I guess that sort of counts. And y’know, I have to say, that is awfully decent of the dragon. Obviously the peahen knew perfectly well that there was a dragon imprisoned in the cellar, which implies some sort of relationship between them. The dragon didn’t lay waste to the city or anything, he just grabbed her and kept going, which argues for a certain focus. I’m not saying you should kidnap enchanted were-peahens—although seriously, if you’re a dragon, at least you’d have something in common on the flight/magic/not-human front—but how DID he wind up in that cellar, anyhow?

And why couldn’t the princess have said “Dude, crazy stalker dragon in the basement, don’t let him out.”?

For my money, the dragon is her ex-husband, and our hero really wasn’t her first prince, but she didn’t want to get into detailed explanations. She could have perfectly good reasons, but she could also be planning a matching barrel for Prince Old-Lady-Killer when the honeymoon is over.

The unhappy young prince went on his way a little, but could not long resist, so he came back next day to the dragon’s palace, and found the queen sitting alone and weeping.

There are no guards in this town at ALL.

Then they began again to consult how they could get away. And the prince said, “When the dragon comes, ask him where he got that horse, and then you will tell me so that I can look for such another one; perhaps in this way we can escape.”

He then went away, lest the dragon should come and find him with the queen.

Oh, come on. The dragon could have walked in and the first servant in the hall said “Prince has been here,” and the dragon said “I have really got to hire some guards. This is getting silly.” This is not a clever dragon. He probably wound in the barrel because the princess said “Hey, I hear barrels are nice,” and stood around with a mallet.

By and by the dragon came home, and the queen began to pet him, and speak lovingly to him about many things, till at last she said, “Ah! what a fine horse you have! Where did you get such a splendid horse?”

I tried to elope with my new boyfriend yesterday, but hey, sexy times!

And he answered, “Eh! Where I got it everyone cannot get one! In such and such a mountain lives an old woman who has twelve horses in her stable, and no one can say which is the finest, they are all so beautiful. But in one corner of the stable stands a horse which looks as if he were leprous, but, in truth, he is the very best horse in the whole world. He is the brother of my horse, and whoever gets him may ride to the sky. But whoever wishes to get a horse from that old woman, must serve her three days and three nights. She has a mare with a foal, and whoever during three nights guards and keeps for her this mare and this foal, has a right to claim the best horse from the old woman’s stable. But whoever engages to keep watch over the mare and does not, must lose his head!”

Leprosy makes horses go faster. Well-known fact.

Next day, when the dragon went out, the king’s son came, and the queen told him all she had learned from the dragon. Then the king’s son went away to the mountain and found the old woman, and entered her house, greeting, “God help you too, my son! What do you wish?”

“I should like to serve you,” said the king’s son. Then the old woman said, “Well, my son, if you keep my mare safe for three days and three nights, I will give you the best horse, and you can choose him yourself. But if you do not keep the mare safe, you shall lose your head.”

Then she led him into the courtyard, where all around stakes were ranged. Each of them had on it a man’s head, except one stake, which had no head on it, and shouted incessantly, “Oh, grandmother, give me a head!”

Won’t lie. Kinda love this. Just try to find this in a modern fantasy.

Hmm, actually that would totally derail any fantasy I was writing. I’d be interviewing the talking stake. It might wind up being the new hero. After all, it has simple, clear-cut goals and hasn’t drawn-and-quartered anybody recently.

The old woman showed all this to the prince, and said, “Look here! All these were heads of those who tried to keep my mare, and they have lost their heads for their pains!”

My sister collects ceramic cats, and Mrs. Worthington down the road collects roosters. It’s just pure country kitsch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but between ou and me, going into her living room gives me hives.

Me, I collect severed heads. Started when I was a kid. I’ve got a Mickey Mantle that still has most of the hair and everything.

But the prince was not a bit afraid, so he stayed to serve the old woman. When the evening came he mounted the mare and rode her into the field, and the foal followed. He sat still on her back, having made up his mind not to dismount, that he might be sure of her. But before midnight he slumbered a little, and when he awoke he found himself sitting on a rail and holding the bridle in his hand.

Falling magically asleep at inappropriate moments is seriously the theme of this fairy tale, and you’d think the prince would have noticed by now. This is, by my count, the seventh time it’s happened. (SPOILER: It’ll be nine by the end.) I wonder if by this point, he starts to feel the magic coming over him and thinks “Oh crap, not AGAIN!” or if it’s still a surprise every time.

I wonder if magical sleep has side-effects if you’re repeatedly exposed. For all we know, the prince ends this story with a bad case of narcolepsy.

Then he was greatly alarmed, and went instantly to look about to find the mare, and whilst looking for her, he came to a piece of water. When he saw the water he remembered the little fish, and took the scale from the handkerchief and rubbed it a little. Then immediately the little fish appeared and said, “What is the matter, my half-brother?”

And he replied, “The mare of the old woman ran away whilst under my charge, and now I do not know where she is!”

And the fish answered, “Here she is, turned to a fish, and the foal to a smaller one. But strike once upon the water with the bridle and cry out, ‘Hey! mare of the old woman!'”

“My name is Lady Flicka Ramona Sparkle Rainbow Phantasmagoria, but fine, whatever.”

The prince did as he was told, and immediately the mare came, with the foal, out of the water to the shore. Then he put on her the bridle and mounted and rode away to the old woman’s house, and the foal followed. When he got there the old woman gave him his breakfast. She, however, took the mare into the stable and beat her with a poker, saying, “Why did you not go down among the fishes, you cursed mare?”

Aww, man. And here I was starting to like her. That’s it, back to the talking stake.

And the mare answered, “I have been down to the fishes, but the fish are his friends, and they told him about me.”

Then the old woman said, “Then go among the foxes!”

When evening came the king’s son mounted the mare and rode to the field, and the foal followed the mare. Again he sat on the mare’s back until near midnight, when he fell asleep as before. When he awoke, he found himself riding on the rail and holding the bridle in his hand.

So he was much frightened, and went to look after the mare. As he went, he remembered the words the old woman had said to the mare—

Wait, she said that in front of him? I start to see how the dragon outwitted her.

—and he took from the handkerchief the fox’s hair and rubbed it a little between his fingers. All at once the fox stood before him, and asked, “What is the matter, half-brother?”

And he said, “The old woman’s mare has run away, and I do not know where she can be.”

Then the fox answered, “Here she is with us. She has turned into a fox, and the foal into a cub. But strike once with the bridle on the earth and cry out, ‘Hey! you old woman’s mare!'”

So the king’s son struck with the bridle on the earth and cried, “Hey! old woman’s mare!” and the mare came and stood, with her foal, near him.

He put on the bridle, and mounted and rode off home, and the foal followed the mare. When he arrived the old woman gave him his breakfast, but took the mare into the stable and beat her with the poker, crying, “To the foxes, cursed one! To the foxes!”

And the mare answered, “I have been with the foxes, but they are his friends, and told him I was there!”

Then the old woman cried, “If that is so, you must go among the wolves!”

When it grew dark again, the king’s son mounted the mare and rode out to the field, and the foal galloped by the side of the mare. Again he sat still on the mare’s back till about midnight, when he grew very sleepy and fell into a slumber, as on the former evenings, and when he awoke he found himself riding on the rail, holding the bridle in his hand, just as before.

Then, as before, he went in a hurry to look after the mare. As he went, he remembered the words the old woman had said to the mare, and took the wolf’s hair from the handkerchief and rubbed it a little. Then the wolf came up to him and asked, “What is the matter, half-brother?”

And he answered, “The old woman’s mare has run away, and I cannot tell where she is.”

The wolf said, “Here she is with us. She has turned herself into a wolf, and the foal into a wolf’s cub. Strike once with the bridle on the earth and cry out, ‘Hey! old woman’s mare!'”

As as side note, this would totally make more sense with birds or squirrels or something vaguely arboreal than with wolves. I am vaguely bothered by the fact that both the foxes and wolves are in the earth. It doesn’t build in the standard way with the fish and whatnot.

Might just be me.

And the king’s son did so, and instantly the mare came again and stood with the foal beside him. So he bridled her, and galloped home, and the foal followed. When he arrived the old woman gave him his breakfast, but she led the mare into the stable and beat her with the poker, crying, “To the wolves, I said, miserable one!”

And the mare answered, “I have been to the wolves, but they are his friends, and told him all about me!”

Then the old woman came out of the stable, and the king’s son said to her, “Eh! grandmother, I have served you honestly. Now give me what you promised me.”

And the old woman answered, “My son, what is promised must be fulfilled. So look here. Here are the twelve horses. Choose which you like!”

And the prince said, “Why should I be too particular? Give me only that leprous horse in the corner! Fine horses are not fitting for me!”

But the old woman tried to persuade him to choose another horse, saying, “How can you be so foolish as to choose that leprous thing whilst there are such very fine horses here?”

But he remained firm by his first choice, and said to the old woman, “You ought to give me which I choose, for so you promised.”

Open sores are the new racing stripes!

So, when the old woman found she could not make him change his mind, she gave him the scabby horse, and he took leave of her, and went away, leading the horse by the halter.

The talking stake and the mare got very drunk that night and cried on each other’s shoulders. The old woman sulked and polished her heads.

When he came to a forest he curried and rubbed down the horse, when it shone as bright as gold. He then mounted, and the horse flew as quickly as a bird, and in a few seconds brought him to the dragon’s palace.

The king’s son went in and said to the queen, “Get ready as soon as possible!” She was soon ready, when they both mounted the horse, and began their journey home. Soon after, the dragon came home, and when he saw the queen had disappeared, said to his horse, “What shall we do? Shall we eat and drink first, or shall we pursue them at once?”

I won’t lie, I could really go for a little lentil soup.

The horse answered, “Whether we eat and drink or not, it is all one. We shall never reach them.”

When the dragon heard that, he got quickly on his horse and galloped after them. When they saw the dragon following them, they pushed on quicker, but their horse said, “Do not be afraid! There is no need to run away.”

In a very few moments the dragon came very near to them, and his horse said to their horse, “For God’s sake, my brother, wait a moment! I shall kill myself running after you!”

Their horse answered, “Why are you so stupid as to carry that monster? Fling your heels up and throw him off, and come along with me!”

When the dragon’s horse heard that, he shook his head angrily and flung his feet high in the air, so that the dragon fell off and brake in pieces, and his horse came up to them.

Then the queen mounted him and returned with the king’s son happily to her kingdom, where they reigned together in great prosperity until the day of their death.


You know, this feels a bit anti-climactic. You go to all this trouble for the enchanted horse, and then the horse talks the other horse into throwing off the dragon?

There’s a couple of win-the-magic-horse stories out there, and this is the only one I can think of where the horse, rather than epic chases and battles and mountains of glass and fire and whatnot, basically makes a Diplomacy roll and ends the story right there.

It’s not bad, but it’s no twenty-four headed otter, if you know what I mean. Still, the phrase “brake into pieces” does appeal to me, and bonus points for a clear-eyed “AND THEN THEY DIED” ending, rather than trying to disguise the basic mortality of mankind.

But y’know, this one left a lot of loose ends. In the Firebird stories, usually somebody’s enchanted and curse-breaking is involved. In this one, apparently this woman just happens to be a were-peahen. No curses, no enchantment, just lives in the peahen city and occasionally slips out for a snack with her eight…handmaidens? (They never show up again, you notice.) And nowhere does it say they transform.

Maybe they’re regular peahens and the queen just hangs around with them for fun.

Why does a dragon who can fly ride a horse, anyhow? And how did he get in that barrel?

I guess this is how you tell that fairy tales are the real deal and not conventional fiction, since fiction has to make sense, and fairy tales tend to just be jumbles of elements thrown together—the old woman with the horse had some Baba Yaga in her background, I’m betting—that wind up somewhere. While the good ones get at some basic truth, some of them just seem to be a kind of mythological magnetic poetry kit. This is obviously one of the magnetic poetry kit ones.

It’d be a hard one to retell, frankly. Just making sense of the various elements would get tricky, unless you cut some of them. (The barrel. I do not see the barrel working out well.) You could do some fun things with peacock masks and masquerades, maybe, although it does seem criminal to ditch an honest-to-god were-peahen, and you’d HAVE to keep the talking stake in, or what’s the point?

Not Making The Usual Mistakes

Thank you, internet! You’ve been most helpful, both on the travel-to-France front and the recommend-a-paranormal-romance front.

On that last note, let me take a moment to put some fears to rest—I am enormously flattered that so many of you say that you’d want to read the book I’d write, and not to worry about the genre. That is very kind of you, and I can assure you that I’d be hard pressed to write a book that wasn’t the sort of book I’d write. The writer is stuck being themselves. If I attempted to write Moby Dick, Ishmael would wind up as a were-squid, Queequeg would be a smart-ass shaman, and the driving plot would be to kill Ahab, who’s been driven mad by mermaid-syphilis and is killing innocent whales. (Presumably the White Whale is a spirit whale of vengeance…or a hired whale assassin….hmmm…) Also there would be lemurs living the rigging.

….What were we talking about?

Right, right.

Here’s the thing, though. In fiction—most particularly genre fiction—there are plots that Nobody Ever Wants To See Again. This is not to say that you couldn’t do something new and exciting with them (just to forestall anyone about to say that a good author can make any plot new again, which is true, if, y’know, you happen to write like an angel) but for the most part, when your reader figures out where it’s going, they’re going to roll their eyes and go play video games.

I mean things like “It was all a computer game!” “And the computer game turned out not to be a computer game at all!” “Genetically modified super-soldier learns that love is the most powerful thing in the universe!” “And those two people were Adam and Eve!” “And the computer with ghost-writing the whole thing!” “And the computer was GOD!” “And that planet was EARTH!” Pick your genre, really. “And it was all a dream!” “The butler did it!” “The were-squid wears Prada!” “Alien Jesus Anything!”

Feel free to fill in your own, but there’s a good dozen twist-endings-that-aren’t, and you wouldn’t know unless you knew the genre. Some of them may have been great once. Now…not so much. When I figured out where the meta-plotline in Assassin’s Creed II was headed, I about threw a controller through a wall, and only my love of jumping off buildings and stabbing guards in the neck during Carnivale kept me playing.

And that’s just plot. Straight up cliches of writing abound. No one’s eyes are ever limpid pools anymore, in a just universe, and the list of things that we can compare erections to with a straight face dwindles by the hour. If you are going to insist on a wise-cracking waitress, you have your work cut out for you, and much, much smarter people than I am will flay the skin off your bones if, god help you, the magical negro puts on an appearance. Super-enlightened beings of pure energy who have transcended their physical forms had better knock my damn socks off, because it has been done. (You can also do this to yourself. Charles de Lint should be barred from having another homeless person who turns out to be a shaman. I am fine with other people doing it, but the minute somebody living in a cardboard box shows up in his books, I assume they’ve got a condo in Faerie. That’s not actually relevant to my point, I just wanted to complain about it.)

On a related note—and my buddy Deb waxes angry about this on a regular basis—romance novels get no love as a genre. They are held in broad contempt by much of the rest of the writing world, never mind that they’re also the ones holding up an insanely large portion of book sales.

As a result, there’s a thing where non-romance writers, often professors and what not, will say something like “Pfff, romance! I should dash off a couple of those for money. It’s not like it’s real work.”

What they discover, if they actually try it and don’t just lounge around being assholes about it, is that either A) it’s a helluva lot harder than it looks, B) their manuscript is being rejected all over the place because it’s a compendium of all the bad cliches about the genre (in essence, they wrote “The butler did her.”) or C) what they’ve written isn’t a romance, at the end of the day, it’s literary fiction with some swooning.

(Also, D) the money in romance is not easy money, but that’s another story.)

I could not write a standard romance. I know myself and it would not go well. There would be ninjas or night-gaunts or I would get tired of the heroine and he’d run off with her elderly cook who knows that love is temporary but a good shepherd’s pie recipe is eternal. This does not make me better than a professional romance writer, it just makes me different, and (if anything) somewhat less disciplined.

Sofawolf Press, who is awesome and publishes Digger and Black Dogs and other stuff of mine, has said once or twice that submissions from mainstream science fiction writers are often just not suitable for their work, because “furry,” like any other sub-genre, has it’s own tropes and butler-did-its, and not knowing the genre, you tend to get stuff that just isn’t quite in the genre, or runs through the usual cliches. (If I remember correctly, I think one of those is “furry under-class genetically modified for labor/servitude/whatever.” But much of this conversation is remembered from dinners that had lots of bottles of wine at the table, so I might be wrong.)

The point that I am circling obliquely, like a whale assassin closing in on its peg-legged prey, is that if you’re going to write in something resembling a genre, you shouldn’t stifle your voice into what you think the genre requires. Write the book that only you can write. It may be of interest to no one, but at least you wrote it. (Mind you, you have to make a living, so if this is your day job, amend as needed to pay rent. You can only afford to be starry-eyed about this when you have another source of income.)

But, that said, you owe it to any genre that you respect enough to write in—and, if to no one else, to your poor long-suffering editor who deals with enough crap already—to make sure that you know enough about what you’re writing to know what cliches not to commit. And as there may not be handy lists floating around, you need to read around the genre so that you learn that it’s never lupus and the butler didn’t do it.

I don’t think night-gaunts are done to death yet. I have not heard any rumors that they are. But if I don’t at least glance over some books in the genre, I run the risk of creating what-I-as-outsider-think-is-brilliant crap on a stick. And nobody wants that.

An Idiot Abroad

Hey, Internet, I need advice!

For her 60th birthday, I’m taking my mom on a trip, and she picked the Loire Valley in France. Great! Awesome! She is armed with many guidebooks and we have more or less figured to use Chinon as a base of operations, spend a few days checking out castles (woohoo, research trip!) and old leper colonies and whatnot. There’s a few other places we want to hit if possible, like Chartres.

This is not the problem. Please, please do not suggest more places in France that we HAVE to see, because as far as I can tell, you cannot swing a dead chat in France without hitting something historic or nifty, and we have had a hard time just narrowing it down to these!

But now that we have a vague idea what we’d like to see, what do I do to make this happen?

Do people still use travel agents?

If so, how do I find a travel agent that isn’t awful?

Should I just book flights and hotels on-line and pray?

I’ve never done a long vacation in a foreign country before, and I’m not sure how I go about it. If any of you know a really good on-line travel agent, I would be delighted to hear it, if, on the other hand, we now all just use Travelocity and pray a lot, I would love to hear that, too.

(We’re shooting for some time in September…which reminds me, I have to deal with my passport thing this week…)

Anyway, advice on how to set this up welcome!

Annotated Fairy Tale: Hog Bridegroom

Well, gang, it’s the middle of the night, I’ve got insomnia, and that can only mean that it’s time for another Annotated Fairytale!

There’s a whole class of stories about hog and hedgehog bridegrooms, some of which are weirder and grimmer than others. The hedgehog ones tend to be variations on a theme, and rather cute—the hedgehog demands that a rooster be taken to the blacksmith and shod, and then rides him around playing the bagpipes, which is possibly the greatest thing ever—and the pig ones tend to be pretty standard transformed-fiancee fare, except that they usually kill a couple of wives before they find the one who isn’t put off by their appearance.  (In a few versions, they’re all from the same family, and you have to assume that the parents are being held at swordpoint by the time sister number three gets her turn in the bridal bed.)

This particular version is Romanian, and is pretty obviously a version of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, but with some peculiar twists along the way.


The Story of the Pig

Once upon a time there was an old man who had an old wife; the old man was 100 and his wife 90. Both these old people had snow-white hair, and both were as gloomy as a rainy day and all because they had no children. They kept on wishing they had even one child, for all day and night they were as lonely as lonely, and their ears tingled with boredom.

While I do not recommend children as a cure for boredom, this is still a great description.

And as well as all that, they were as poor as church mice. Their cottage was an old ramshackle place, covered with ragged tarpaulin. Their beds were some boards covered with a blanket. And that was all. For some time past, life had become even more unbearable, for not a living soul ever came near them, as if they were ill of the plague, poor things!

Constant complaints about their backaches from sleeping on the boards eventually proved too much for the neighbors.

One day, the old woman gave a loud sigh and said to the old man, “Dear me, old man, dear me! Just think! In all our life no one has ever said to us, ‘father’ or ‘mother.’ There’s no sense in going on living in this world, for I believe God will not bless a house where there are no children.”

“Well, old woman, what are we to do if it is God’s will?”

“That’s all very well, old man, but do you know what I was thinking last night?”

“I will know if you’ll tell me, old woman.”

As a side note, if I live to a great old age, and my Significant Other starts calling me “old woman,” I’m gonna bury his dentures in the cat’s litterbox and pretend it was an accident.

“Tomorrow morning, as soon as it is daylight, get up and go out; just follow your nose; and the very first thing which crosses your path — whether it is a person, or a snake or an animal at all — you must pick it up, put it in your knapsack, and bring it home. We will bring it up as best we can, and that will be our child.”

This was in the days before animal rescue had been invented.

The old man, sick of loneliness and longing for children, got up early next morning, took his sack and his stick and did as the old woman told him. He set out and followed some ravines until he came to a swamp. And what should he see there but a sow and twelve little pigs wallowing in the mud and basking in the sun. As soon as the sow saw the old man, she began to grunt and took to her heels, followed by the little pigs — all except one who stuck in the mud — being scraggy, skinny, and sickly, and unable to follow the others.

The old man seized it, thrust it in his bag, mud and all, and set off home.

“Thank goodness,” he said, “that I have found something to console my old woman! I am just wondering whether it was God or the Devil who put that thought in her head last night.”

“Just wondering. Don’t intend to do anything about it either way. Pig demons will at least be a nice change from boredom.”

And on arriving home he said, “Look, my old dear, what a treasure I brought you! Good luck to him! A boy with beautiful eyes and long lashes and as pretty as a picture! He’s the very image of you!”

Somebody’s sleeping on the board in the living room tonight.

“… Now, get him bathed and take care of him as only you know how to take care of little boys, for, as you see, he’s rather dirty, poor little mite!”

“Old man, old man!” said the old woman, “you mustn’t joke about him; for isn’t he one of God’s creatures, just like ourselves, and perhaps even more innocent, poor thing!”

Then, sprightly as a child, she got some soap and water and prepared to bath him, and because she knew all about newborn pigs—

…this might be normal peasant knowledge, I grant you, but given how many people in fairy tales are as dumb as posts, I sort of wonder if this is the fairy tale plot equivalent of the bubbly co-ed who happens to know Morse Code and was also a candy-striper and thus can perform brain surgery.

—she bathed him, rubbed him gently all over with oil, twigged his nose and cast a spell on him, so as to frighten away the evil eye from her treasure!

“Sure, I can do magic. But only on newborn pigs. It’s a specialty.”

Then she combed him and looked after him so well, that, at the end of a few days, he became quite strong; and with bran and peelings, he began to recover and to grow so that it was a joy to look at him. And the old woman was beside herself with the joy of having such a fine boy, so comical, and podgy, and round as a melon. For everyone who said he was ugly or cheeky, she always had the answer — that her boy was quite different form all others! Only one thing still troubled the old woman: that he couldn’t say “mother” and “father.”

One day the old man wanted to go to town to buy a few odds and ends.

“Old man, don’t forget to bring some delicacy for the boy, for he must be longing for something, the darling!”

“Very well, old woman.” But to himself, he thought, “Deuce take him, for I’ve had enough of your nagging about him. We haven’t enough bread and salt for ourselves, let along stuff him up with good things. If I did everything my old woman tells me, I should go mad!”

Sweety, you’re letting her dress up a pig and claim it’s her son. You are having this internal conversation waaaaay too late. The barn door is not only open, the cows are in Vegas with your life savings.

At last the old man went to the town, bought what he had to buy and when he came home, the old woman asked him, as she always did, “Well, old man, what did you hear in the town?”

“What did I hear, old woman? Not very good news: The emperor wants to get his daughter married.”

“And you call that bad news, old man?”

“Now, be patient for a little, my dear, for that isn’t all, and when I heard the rest, my hair stood on end. When I tell you the whole story, I believe your flesh will creep.”

“But why, old man? Dear me!”

“Then this is why, old woman. Now listen: The emperor has sent his heralds through the whole world to proclaim that the man who can build a golden bridge from his own house to the royal palace — a bridge paved with precious stones and planted on both sides with all kinds of trees with different kinds of birds singing in the branches, which are not to be found anywhere else in the world — may have the hand of his daughter, and even more — half of his kingdom. Whoever dares to come and ask for the hand of the princess, without having succeeded in making the bridge as I described it to you, will have his head cut off on the spot. Till now, a crowd of kings’ and emperors’ sons — dear know where they all come from! — have arrived and not one has succeeded. And every single one has been mercilessly beheaded by the emperor without any exception, till the people are weeping for pity. Now, old woman, what have you to say? Is that good news? And what is more, the emperor has fallen ill with worry.”

Standard fairy tale impossible task. What I love is that nobody ever says “Hey, have you noticed he’s off his rocker? How ’bout a bloody serf uprising, maybe?” No, they all just feel bad that the emperor is worried. All that beheading must be getting him down, the poor wee darling. Horrors! Woe! The executioners are coming down with carpal tunnel!

“Woe, woe, old man, the emperor’s ill health is our health! What you have told me about the emperors’ sons breaks my heart when I think of the sorrow and sadness of the bereaved mothers! What a good thing our child can’t speak, and that he won’t be tempted by such extravagance.”

“A good thing, old woman, but what a good thing it would be to have a boy who could build a bridge and win the emperor’s daughter, for I know it would be the end of all our wants, and what a blessing that would be!”

We could afford a finished board! Without splinters!

While the old couple were talking, the pig sat in his bed in a corner by the fire, his snout in the air, his eyes fixed on them, listening to everything they said and only puffing from time to time.

And as the old people chatted together, they suddenly heard a voice from the fireplace: “Father and mother, I will do it.”

The old woman fainted with joy; the old man, however, thinking it was the Devil, took fright and, in great bewilderment stared into every corner of the hut to see where the voice could have come from, but seeing no one, came to his senses.

I hate it when the Devil starts doing ventriloquism in the house.

But the young pig cried again, “Father, don’t be afraid! It is I! Wake mother up and go and tell the emperor that I will build the bridge.”

Then the old man said hesitatingly, “But, will you be able to do it, my darling?”

Sure, now you like the pig.

“Don’t worry about that father, as long as you are with me. Just go and tell the emperor the news!”

Then the old woman, recovering, kissed the boy and said to him, “Mother’s darling, don’t run your head into danger. And you are going to leave us alone again, sad at heart and without any support!”

Next time, I’m adopting a potato. Or a rock.

“Don’t worry at all, mummy, for you will see who I am.”

Then the old man, finding nothing else to say, combed his beard nicely, took his stick, left the house, and set out for the emperor’s palace.

Sure, I’m about to go claim that my son’s a talking pig who can build magic bridges, but hey, at least my beard is nice. Wouldn’t want people to think I was a wild-bearded crazy man or something.

A sentry, seeing him hanging about, asked, “What do you want, old man?”

“I have to see the emperor about something. My son bets he can make the bridge.”

The sentry, knowing the command of the emperor, wasted no time in further talk, but led the old man into the presence of the emperor.

On seeing the old man, the emperor asked, “What do you want, old man?”

“May you live long, illustrious and all-powerful emperor! My son, on hearing that you have a daughter to be married, has sent me, on his behalf, to inform your majesty that he can build the bridge.”

“If he can build it, let him do so, old man; then my daughter and half my kingdom will be his. But if he does not succeed, then … perhaps he has heard what has happened to others, more highly bred than he?”

I’ll have you know my son is a pure-bred Gloucestershire Old Spot!

Actually, that reminds me of an incident at the farm where we get our meat from. We went out for a picnic a few months ago, and there was this mother pig with a litter of the weirdest looking piglets. “What breed is this?” we asked, baffled, since the farmer is big into heirloom breeds and keeps an Old Spot boar.

“Half pot-bellied pig, half Old Spot,” he said.

We examined this answer from all angles and finally I—you know I’m the one asking these sorts of questions—said “Tucker, why would you breed him to a pot-bellied pig?”

“I didn’t!” he said, exasperated. “He did it himself. Through an electric fence.”

We all looked at the boar. The boar looked smug as only six hundred pounds of testosterone with his very own mud wallow can look.

“Worse,” said Tucker gloomily, “this is the second time he’s done it. And I reinforced the fence after the first time.”

Several men present removed their hats.

Anyway, what were we talking about?

“If you undertake this, then go and bring your son to me. If not, then begone and get rid of any foolish nonsense in your head.”

Right, crazy emperor, beheading, magic bridge, unfinished sleeping board.

The old man, on hearing these words right from the emperor’s lips, bowed down to the ground, then left and set off towards his hut to bring his son. When he arrived home, he told his son what the emperor had said.

Then the pig, bursting with happiness, began to skip about the cottage, dived under the bed, upset several pieces of crockery with his snout and said, “Come on, daddy, let us go to the emperor.”

I love the detail of upsetting the crockery with his snout.

Then the old woman began to weep and said, “It seems I am not to have any luck in this world! Till now I have struggled to bring him up and provide him with all his needs and now … it seems as if I am to be deprived of him!” And still weeping, she fell into a swoon with worry.

But the old man kept his word; put on his fur hat, pushed it down over his ears, and took his stick in his hand, and went out, saying, “Come on with your father, boy, let us go and buy your mother a daughter-in-law.”

Maybe she’ll be a chicken! Or a cow!

Then the pig, out of sheer joy, took one more dive under the bed, then followed the old man, and until they arrived, he trotted behind grunting and snuffing on the ground, as a pig should do. They had hardly arrived at the gates of the imperial palace, when the guards, catching sight of them, began to look at each other and burst out laughing.

“What does this mean, old man?” said one of them.

“Well, this is my son, who reckons he can build the bridge for the emperor.”

“Good gracious, old man, you still have a lot to learn; it’s easy to see you are doting,” said an old guardsman.

“Well! Every man’s fate is written on his forehead, and everyone must die once.”

“It seems to us that you, old man, are looking for trouble with a candle in broad daylight,” said the sentries.

And let’s take a minute and point out some really fabulous dialog here. A lot of fairy tales don’t even both with dialog as such, but this is really nice. “Every man’s fate is written on his forehead.” “Looking for trouble with a candle in broad daylight.” This is wonderful.

“That has nothing to do with you. Be careful, mind what you say, and go and tell the emperor that we have arrived,” replied the old man.

The sentries looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.

Then one of them went and told the emperor of the arrival of the new candidates: the old man and his pig! The emperor commanded them to present themselves. The old man, on entering, bowed low and remained humbly standing at the door. But the pig, grunting, trotted ahead up the carpet, and began to sniff through the room.

Then the emperor, seeing such frightful impertinence, wanted on one hand to laugh, but on the other, he was very angry and said, “Well, old man! When you came last time, it seemed to me you had all your wits about you, but now what are you thinking of? Wandering about followed by a pig! And who, may I ask, gave you the idea of making fun of me?”

“Heaven forbid, your majesty, that I, an old man, should ever think of such a thing! I crave your forgiveness, your imperial majesty, and this is my son who sent me to you before, if your majesty remembers?”

“And it is he who will build the bridge for me!”

“It is our hope, your majesty, that he will be the one to do it.”

“Now! Take your pig and get out.”

As a stand-alone line, this one is not quite on par with “I have no particular predilection for tortoises,” but it’s right up there.

“If the bridge is not built by tomorrow morning, old man, your head will be where your feet are now. Do you understand?”

“God is merciful, your majesty. If, however, the desire of your majesty should be fulfilled, then with your majesty’s permission, we should like the princess sent home to us.”

So saying, he left, and taking the pig, set off home, followed by some soldiers, who had been ordered by the emperor to keep an eye on him until next day, to see what it all meant. What a lot of chatter, what roars of laughter, and what speculation this joke caused in the palace and all over the country!

No one in the kingdom had ever seen “Babe.”

Towards evening, when the old man and the pig arrived home, the old woman was overcome by fear and trembling and began to weep, saying, “Oh me! Old man, what are you up to now? What do I want with soldiers?”

“You dare to ask that! It’s your doing! I allowed myself to be carried away by your foolish head, and to be coaxed to bring you an adopted child, so to speak.

So to speak, indeed.

And now you see what a pickle we’re in! I didn’t bring any soldiers. They brought me! And my head is only to stay on my shoulders until tomorrow morning!”

The pig, meantime, was wandering about the cottage, sniffing around for food, and was not at all concerned about the trouble he had caused. The old couple quarreled and squabbled for a while, but worried and all as they were about the events of the day, they at last fell asleep.

Then the pig jumped lightly on the bed, broke a window, and the breath from his nostrils shot out like two tongues of fire and reached from the old man’s cottage — which was now no longer a cottage — to the emperor’s palace.

Some monsters breathe fire. The pig breathes bridges. Like you do.

And the bridge with everything commanded by the emperor, was now complete. The old man’s cottage was now a palace — much grander than that of the emperor.

The board is inlaid with gold! The splinters have been replaced with Swarovski crystals!

And suddenly the old couple were clad in imperial purple, and their palace was full of all the good things in the world.

Proof that I am not the author of these fairy tales, as I believe that many things are good, like blue whales and Tasmanian devils, which would nevertheless be somewhat awkward to have in the palace. I can just about believe that they have a wing for Obscure Rainforest Beetles, Birds Of Paradise, And Small Brightly Colored Frogs Of Excessive Toxicity, but the blue whales stretch credibility.

And the pig romped about and frisked all over the fine carpets.

Meanwhile, extraordinary rumors were spreading all over the kingdom, and even the emperor and his counselors were overawed when they beheld this great miracle. And the emperor, fearing lest some misfortune should befall him, took counsel and was advised to hand over his daughter to the old man; so he sent for her immediately. Because the emperor, however powerful, was overcome by fear owing to the great wonder which had just happened.

The pig breathes bridges, man! You better watch it, he’ll come up to the palace and hyperventilate and we’ll be ass-deep in girders! We’re off the map now, man!

Okay, in my head, that’s what the counselors said. In my head, they also have a bong, and, unaccountably, a great deal of hemp jewelry. I did mention it was late, didn’t I?

The wedding did not take place. Well, how could it, when there was no one to marry!

There’s a pig right there. I don’t know what you’re complaining about. It talks and everything.

When the princess arrived at the bridegroom’s house, she was very pleased with it and liked her mother- and father-in-law, but when she caught sight of the bridegroom, she was very astonished. But, after a few moments, she shrugged her shoulders, saying to herself, “If this is what God and my parents wished for me, let it be so.” And she at once set about her housekeeping.

Seriously, given the way the emperor’s been acting, I was kind of expecting to marry a volcano or a doormat or a jeweled lobster or something. At least the pig’s a mammal.

The pig snuffed about the house during the daytime as was his custom, but each night when it was time to go to bed, his pig’s skin dropped off, and out stepped a handsome prince! And before long, his wife grew quite accustomed to him, for he was no longer ugly as he had been at the beginning.

This is all very casual. I can only imagine how the first night went down. “And you’re a pig. And you’re not a pig. And…okay, time out, gonna need a minute here. I’m not complaining about the lack of hot pig lovin’—although I hear they can do it through an electric fence—but this is all happening a little fast. Do your parents know about this? I mean, I love your mother, but I had her pegged as “insane woman projecting childlessness onto convenient target” and your father as an enabler of her delusions, and now I’m having to reassess this whole family dynamic. Does having your skin fall off hurt?”

After a week or two, the young princess, very homesick, set out to visit her parents, leaving her husband at home, for she was ashamed to be seen with him.

No matter how good he is in bed, at the end of the day, you’re still not-quite-married to a pig. Probably a moral lesson there somewhere.

When her parents saw her, they were overjoyed and asked her all about her new home and her husband. She told them all she knew.

Then the emperor began to advise her saying, “My darling! You mustn’t be led into doing him any harm, in case misfortune should overtake you; for, as far as I can see, the man, or whatever he is, has great magic powers. There must be something strange about him, since he has done something which is beyond human strength.”

Also, y’know, he’s a freakin’ were-pig.

Then the empress and her daughter went out to stroll in the garden, and the mother gave her daughter quite different advice: “My dear! What kind of life will you lead, if you can’t appear in society with your husband?”

When your father went mad and became obsessed with bridges and beheadings, I could hardly show my face at Bingo Night.

“I give you this advice: See to it that there is always a good fire in the stove, and when your husband falls asleep, take that pigskin and put it in the fire and let it burn, and then you will be rid of it.”

“What a good idea, mother! Such a thought never entered my head….”

And when the young princess returned home, she ordered a good fire to be lit in the stove. When her husband was fast asleep, she took the pigskin from the place where he had put it, and threw it on the fire. Then the hairs on it began to singe and the skin began to sizzle, turning into burnt rind and ashes. Such a frightful odor spread through the house that it woke her husband, who jumped up terrified and looked sorrowfully towards the stove.

And when he saw this great misfortune, he burst into tears saying, “Alas! Stupid woman! What have you done? If someone told you to do that, you were ill advised; but if you did it on your own initiative, it was a great mistake.”

Then the young wife noticed that she was girt round the waist with a belt of iron, while her husband said, “You have listened to the advice of others and brought misfortune to the old couple and to us as well. If ever you need me, remember my name is Prince Charming, and I will be found at the Incense Monastery.”

All those times we said that Prince Charming was a pig, and here we are.

Just as he finished speaking, a sudden gust of wind blew, and a terrifying whirlwind whisked the emperor’s son-in-law off his feet and carried him out of sight. Then the wonderful bridge immediately began to crack and crumbled to the ground, so that it was impossible to say what had become of it; and the palace where the old couple and their daughter-in-law lived with all its riches and all its magnificence, turned once more into the miserable little cottage which the old couple had inhabited. When they saw this great misfortune and their daughter-in-law in such misery, they began to scold her with tears in their eyes and ordered her sharply to go back home as they had no means of supporting her.

And if you think you’re sleeping on the guest board, you’re sadly mistaken, young lady!

Finding herself so forlorn and deserted, she wondered what was to be done; where to go. Should she go home? She was afraid of her father’s severity and the dangerous gossip of the people. Should she stay there? But she had none of the things she needed and was tired of the remorse of her parents-in-law.

At last she decided to go and search throughout the whole world for her husband. And having taken this decision, she said, “Please help me, God?” and set out, just wandering where her fancy led her. She went on straight ahead, through the wilderness for a whole year until she came to a desolate place she had never seen before. And here, seeing a little hidden house, the roof moss-covered (which showed how old it was), she knocked on the door.

Then she head the voice of an old woman inside saying, “Who’s there?”

“It is I. A lost traveler.”

“If you are a good person, come into my little den; but if you are a wicked person, get away out of this, for I have a fierce dog with teeth of steel, and if I let him out he will make short work of you.”

I often use this on Jehovah’s Witnesses, myself.

“I am a good person, good woman.”

Then the old woman opened the door, and the traveler entered.

“But what chance brought you here, and how did you ever find your way through this desolate land where no magic bird ever penetrates, let alone a human being?”

I like the specificity of this one. Magic birds can’t even get here. Such an eloquent unit of measurement! “Well, we had a moderately enchanted parakeet make it most of the way once, but he got exhausted and had to walk home…”

Then the traveler heaved a deep sigh and said, “My sins have brought me here, good woman. I am looking for the Incense Monastery and don’t know in which part of the world to find it.”

“Evidently you still have some luck if you have chanced to find me. I am Saint Wednesday. Perhaps you may have heard of me?”

“Your name is familiar, good woman, but it never entered my head that I should find you here.”

“You see!”

Okay, it’s the Catholic in me, but I love this. In various other version of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, she meets with the Four Winds and various other things, but in this one you get these marvelous saints-of-the-week. I have never heard of Saint Wednesday in any other context, and I don’t know if she was common in Romanian fairy tales, or invented just for this job.

Then Saint Wednesday gave a loud shout and immediately all the creatures in her domain assembled. She asked them about the Incense Monastery, and all replied at once that they had never heard of it. Saint Wednesday, hearing this, was very disappointed, but, being unable to help, she gave the traveler a piece of holy bread and a small glass of wine to have something to eat on the way, and she also gave her a golden distaff which could spin alone and said kindly, “Take care of it, for it will come in useful when you are in need.”

Then she directed her to the house of her eldest sister, Saint Friday.

The princess set out and wandered for another whole year, still through wild, unfamiliar places, until, with great difficulty, she arrived at the house of Saint Friday. And here the same thing happened as at the house of Saint Wednesday, except that Saint Friday gave her a piece of holy bread, a little glass of wine, and a golden reeling machine, which could wind alone; and she, too, directed her, with great kindness and gentleness to the house of her eldest sister, Saint Sunday.

The princess set out again from there the very same day and wandered for another whole year through places which were even more desolate than those through which she had already traveled. And being weary with three years of wandering, it was with difficulty that she arrived at the house of Saint Sunday. And Saint Sunday received her with the same ceremony and just as warmly as her sisters had done. And taking pity on the wretched weary girl, Saint Sunday shouted out once with all her might, and immediately, all living things in her domain assembled: from the waters, from the land, from the air. And then she asked them whether any of them had ever heard of the Incense Monastery. They all replied, with one voice, that they had never even heard the name mentioned. Then Saint Sunday gave a deep sigh from the depths of her heart, looked sadly at the unfortunate princess and said, “It looks as if God is angry with you or something, because you cannot find what you are looking for, my daughter! For this is the end of a world which even I don’t know, and however much you or anyone else should wish to go further, it is quite impossible.”

“The end of a world which even I don’t know.” Really, this one has some lovely phrases.

And at that moment a lame lark was seen limping along as best he could. And warbling, warbling, warbling, he stopped before Saint Sunday. Then she asked him too, “Lark, do you by any chance know where the Monastery of Incense is?”

“Of course I know, mistress. My heart’s desire took me there, and there I broke my leg.”

My heart’s desire was competitive ice dancing. It’s hard when you’re a lark.

“If you do, then go there at once and take this woman with you, as you know the way, and give her the best advice you can.”

Then the lark, sighing, replied humbly, “With all my heart, I obey your command, O mistress, although it is very difficult to get there.”

Then Saint Sunday too, gave the traveler a piece of holy bread and a little wine to have something to eat on the way to the Monastery of Incense; and she also gave her a large gold clucking hen and chickens also made of gold in case of need on the way. Then she entrusted her to the care of the lark, who set off at once, warbling as he went.

Sometimes the lark went on foot; sometimes the princess flew through the air; sometimes she went on foot; sometimes he flew. And when the poor princess could no longer go either way, the lark at once took her on his back and flew along with her. Going on like this for another whole year, with great difficulty and hardship, they flew over innumerable countries and seas, over terrifying forests and deserts, where dragons crept along, poisonous asps, basilisks with the evil eye, otters, each with twenty-four heads, and thousands of other dreadful monsters who lay with open mouths, just ready to gobble them up; it would be quite impossible for any human tongue to describe the greed, the cunning, and the wickedness of these animals.

I would comment on the peculiar flying princess and the apparently enormous lark, but I am completely stuck on the otters with twenty-four heads. Dude. There’s this split second where you’re reading along going “Okay, okay, dragons, asps, basilisks, fine–wait, otters? Why are otters on this list?” and then you keep reading and WHAM! Twenty-four headed otters. Are they tiny heads? Does it have a really big body? Or is it just insanely top-heavy and constantly trying to swim in different directions at once? Do they have to eat travelers because the fish can get away, or are the fish so paralyzed with shock—“SWEET JESUS, BOB DO YOU SEE THAT THING OR AM I HAVING A FLASHBACK?”—that they just sit there staring and the otter sort of flumphs up to it like an elephant seal covered in otter eyeballs and eats it?

In the end, after so much trouble and so much danger, they succeeded in arriving at the entrance to a cave. Here the princess mounted once more onto the lark’s wings which were now scarcely able to flutter, and he alighted into another world which was more beautiful than Paradise.

Yes, yes, I’m sure it’s lovely. How many heads do the otters have here?

“Here we are at the Monastery of Incense,” said the lark. “Prince Charming, whom you have sought through so many difficulties, lives here. Is there not something familiar here?”

Then, although her eyes were dazzled by so much splendor, she looked more closely and at once recognized the wonderful bridge from the other world and the palace where she and Prince Charming had lived for such a short time, and her eyes filled with tears of joy.

“Wait a moment! Don’t be in such a hurry to rejoice, for you are still a stranger in these parts, and you are not yet out of danger,” said the lark.

He then showed her a well where she must go three days in succession; he told her who she would meet and what she should say; he advised her what to do in turn with the distaff, with the reeling machine, and the golden clucking-hen and chickens, given to her by the three sisters, Saint Wednesday, Saint Friday, and Saint Sunday.

Then, saying good-bye to the princess entrusted to his care, he turned back suddenly, flying without stopping, afraid lest someone should break his other leg too.

They hate larks in Paradise. It’s kind of a problem. There are Lark Anti-Defamation Leagues and everything, but you get into the small towns, and…well.

And the unhappy princess watched him as he flew, her eyes full of tears. Then she went towards the well which he had pointed out.

And when she reached the well, she took out first of all the spindle from the place where she had carried it, and then sat down to rest.

Shortly afterward, a servant came to draw water, and seeing an unknown woman and the miraculous distaff, spinning golden thread by itself (thread which was thousands of times finer than the hair of your head), fled to her mistress to tell her the news.

The hair on my head is pretty fine. This kinda sucks in some regards, as it will frizz out given a single drop of moisture anywhere in the atmosphere. But regardless of this, even if I had hair like electrical wire, thousands of times finer is a LOT. This thread cannot possibly be visible to the naked eye. The servant is apparently coming to the well to draw water with an electron microscope in her back pocket.

The mistress of this servant was the old witch who turned the Devil’s hair gray,

Oh god, the phrases keep coming!

the housekeeper of Prince Charming’s palace, a marvelous sorceress, who could make water curdle, and knew all the Devil’s mischief in the world. But there was only one thing the old hag didn’t know: man’s thoughts.

The Shadow’s got her totally beat there.

The old witch, on hearing about this wonder, sent the servant at once to ask this strange woman to come to the palace. And when she arrived, the witch asked, “I have heard that you have a golden distaff which can spin alone. Would you sell it to me, woman, and how much do you want for it?”

“Will you allow me to spend one night in the room where Prince Charming sleeps?”

“Of course. Give me the distaff and stay here until the evening when the prince returns from the hunt.”

Doesn’t bat an eyelash. “Sure, I regularly sell tickets to watch the prince sleep. It’s a thing. We call it the Twilight Special.”

Then the princess gave up the distaff and remained. The hunchbacked, toothless old woman, knowing that the prince was accustomed to drink a cup of sweet milk every evening, now prepared one for him to make him sleep right through till the next morning. And as soon as he returned from the hunt and lay down on his bed, the old hag sent him the milk; and as soon as he had drunk it, he fell fast asleep. Then the old woman called the unknown traveler into the room of the prince, as had been arranged, and left her there, whispering softly, “Sit here until the morning. I will come and fetch you then.”

The old woman whispered and went on tiptoe so that the prince should not hear, and she took good care that a faithful servant who accompanied him to the hunt every day and who was sleeping in the same room, should not hear either.

And as soon as the old woman had left the room, the unhappy princess knelt down by her husband’s bed and began to week bitterly, saying, “Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Put your right arm round my waist so that the spell may be broken.”

Oddly this does not seem to be a euphemism.

And poor thing, she persevered like this until the morning, but in vain, for the prince seemed to have gone to the next world. At daybreak, the witch came along and sulkily told her to leave the courtyard and go away. The unfortunate princess came out without having succeeded in making her husband hear, and very unhappy, went once more to the well and this time took out her reeling machine. Again the servant came to fetch water and seeing this second wonderful object, rushed off to her mistress and said that the woman had now a golden reel, which could wind alone and which was even more wonderful than the distaff she had given her. Then the old witch sent the servant to summon her and took possession of the reeling machine with the same craftiness, and the next morning took her out of the prince’s room and chased her out of the palace.

That night, however, the prince’s faithful servant sensed what was happening and taking pity on the poor stranger, set out to discover the old woman’s trick. And when the prince rose and was setting off to hunt, his faithful servant told him in detail what had happened in his room on the two previous nights. And the prince, on hearing this, gave a sudden start, as if the sky had fallen. Then he cast down his eyes and began to weep. And while tears were streaming from his eyes, at the well, his spell-bound and tormented wife now took out her golden hen and chickens — her last hope. And while she stood by the well, the servant came along once more to fetch water.

Magic distaff, meh. Magic reeling machine—I know this is about weaving, but I keep seeing a fishing rod—whatever. Lot of versions, it’s a set of three dresses.

But the golden hen and chickens? Now I’m intrigued.

And when she saw still another wonder, she didn’t even wait to draw water, but rushed to her mistress, saying, “Good gracious, mistress! Imagine what I have seen! That woman now has a golden hen with chickens also of gold — so beautiful they are that they could steal your eyesight.”

Do not look directly into the chickens. Use a smoked lens or make a pinhole chicken camera. Staring at the chickens can cause damage and irritation to the retina.

When the old woman heard that, she sent for her at once, saying to herself, “She won’t get what she’s looking for.”

And when the princess came in, the old witch took possession of the golden hen and chickens by the same sly means.

But the prince, when he returned that evening from the hunt and when his milk was brought in, said to himself, “I won’t drink any more of this milk.”

So he threw it away and lay down, pretending to fall sound asleep.

When the old woman thought he was asleep, and was confident that he was now under the spell of the magic milk, she once more brought the princess into the room, just as she had done on the preceding nights; and leaving her there, she went off. The, the troubled girl, falling on her knees by her husband’s bedside, dissolved in a flood of tears, again saying these words, “Prince Charming! Prince Charming! Have pity on an innocent soul who has been tortured for four years with the most cruel suffering, and put you right arm round my waist so that the spell may break, for I cannot bear this any longer.”

I think it’s been at least six years, but hey, who’s keeping track?

And when she had finished speaking, Prince Charming stretched out his hand, as if in sleep, and when he touched her waist — bang! The belt burst open, and the spell was broken. Then the princess told her husband how much she had suffered since he had disappeared.

“…and the lark kept talking about ice dancing and there were these twenty-four headed otters and I’ve been sleeping on things that would make a board look comfortable and did I mention the otters had twenty-four freakin’ heads? Seriously, I’m not gonna get over that in a hurry. Also, you used to be a pig. I think I’m holding up very well, all things considered. By the way, I met a couple of saints. They say hi.”

Then Prince Charming rose, and, although it was the middle of the night, awoke the whole court and ordered the old witch to be brought to him, together with all the treasures taken so slyly from the princess. Then he ordered a wild mare be brought to him and a sack of nuts.

…I cannot even begin to figure out where he is going with this.

And he ordered the old witch and the sack of nuts to be tied to the mare’s tail and to set the mare galloping. And this was done. And when the mare began to gallop, each time a nut dropped from the bag, a little bit of the witch dropped too; and when the sack fell, the witch’s head dropped off.

This is the weirdest use of sympathetic magic I have ever heard of. Seriously, you already tied her to a mare’s tail, the nut thing may just be gilding the lily.

The old witch was the sow with the pigs from the swamp — one of which had been brought home by the old man, Prince Charming’s foster father. By her wicked tricks she had turned her master, Prince Charming, into the miserable, mangy little pig, so that later on she could make him marry one of her eleven daughters who followed her from the swamp.

I like to think they went on to lead various fulfilling lives, perhaps as saints. Or otter trainers.

That is why Prince Charming punished her so severely. The faithful servant was handsomely rewarded with gifts by the prince and princess who keep him in their service as long as he lived.

And very soon a son was born to the prince and princes.

Now remember, good people, that Prince Charming had no wedding ceremony when he was married. But now he celebrated both a wedding and a christening, a thing which never happened before and which I’m sure will never happen again.

Oh honey. How long ago was this written? You’d be amazed what we get up to in the future.

Prince Charming took a wish, and immediately the parents of the princess arrived and his foster parents, the old man and the old woman — once more dressed in imperial purple.

The board was padded this time. The old man assumed that the Devil was involved.

And he seated them at the head of the table. And millions of people assembled for that large and sumptuous wedding reception, and the gaiety went on for three days and three nights, and unless it has ended, it must still be going on.

And with that, dear readers, I am going to bed. Perchance to dream of…err….hogs. (Oh, who are we kidding? It’s otter heads all the way down.)

Everybody’s a Murderer!

I enjoy Sarah Rayne’s books. I want to say that right now. They are frequently a bit cheesy and they’re thrillers and there are Horrible Dark Goings-On and the right people always live through the book, and all this makes me very happy. (I have had one or two complaints about individual plot points, which I may have muttered about on the blog in the past, but I keep buying them and enjoying them.) This is not a complaint.

I am realizing, however, having almost finished my way through her back catalog, that there’s a particular quirk to her writing.

In most books of this sort, somebody’s a murderer.

In these books, everybody’s a murder.

The last one I read had a little old lady murdering people to cover up the other murder which was a cover-up for her mother murdering someone. Meanwhile, one of the murder victims has left a journal where (surprise!) he murders people.

This is not like a mystery where you wonder whodunnit. You know whodunnit, and that they have dun bad, bad things. Often in quite extraordinary quantity.

Much as I enjoy these, I am occasionally bemused by the body count. You can’t help but think somebody would notice all this going on. I’m halfway through this book, and already we’ve had a murderer murdered in the act of murdering somebody else, another murderer’s sister who turned out to have murdered her parents, a definite suspicion that more murder will be going on in the Very Near Future, and by now, incidentally, I have typed “murder” so many times that it no longer has any meaning and I am not sure how it is actually spelled.

Sometimes there is a broad thread that attempts to explain how all these people merrily murdering each other has come together in this particular place and time, which, across several books, has so far been Nazis, conjoined twins, and syphilis. (Syphilis I totally bought. Everybody in the family had it, so of course they were all nuts and killing people. Perfectly valid! Less sure about the conjoined twins. “Because Nazis” is, of course, always a valid literary excuse. Hmm, I may start using “Because syphilis!” as an explanation myself.)

I still have one more to go before I’m through the back catalog, and can only imagine what combinations of murderers, murderers, and more murderers will get put together, like a complicated Jenga set with alibis.

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