Blood in the Forest — What I Know of Fairy Tales
When I was a kid, my parents used to ship me off to my grandparents for the summer. We didn’t have a lot of money—or a lot of space—so I was allowed to bring two books. Books were bad. If I brought books I would spend my time reading and no time interacting with the really boring old people I was staying with. (Some grandparents can be fun and exciting and do things like take their grandchildren camping and horseback riding and shopping. Some of them can be like these grandparents who played solitaire in the backyard for fun.)
So I took two books—I took giant anthologies of children’s stories and fairy tales, and I read the holy crap out of those two giant books.
One summer I brought The Blue Fairy Book and a collection of Norwegian fairy tales, and, again, read the holy crap out of those two giant books. And I came to believe—like, in my bones believe—the following things:
- It was not just because I was nine years old and being parented in the 70’s. The world really was that random.
- Authority was capricious at best and cruel at the worst. It was totally cool to be a treasonous peon if you ended up with a bad prince or a psychotic queen.
- It was not just my imagination—the cats, the horses, and even the damned plants all knew more than I did.
- Punishment for being a total douche was just and brutal and could not be escaped.
- Giants (including giant corporations and giant governments) really don’t have their hearts in their bodies.
- Sex is everywhere, but it’s never spoken.
- Women could be brave, resourceful, and vengeful. (It was only Disney who said they had to be rescued by a man.)
- Men could raise children. They weren’t great at the girl stuff, but their hearts were in the right place.
- Siblings were both a great trial and a great blessing.
- If your husband/wife was a complete and total psychopath, it was totally cool to kill him/her and get the hell out of dodge with the scullery maid/stable boy.
- There were three elements of all magic: touch, blood, and song.
- Love the ugly and unattractive, because they could give you some kickass wedding gifts when the time came, or completely fuck you up if you messed with them.
- Stepmothers and fairy godparents were a total crapshoot. Yeah, sometimes the stepmothers could be evil… but there was always that one in the obscure story in the middle who was on your side. And the reverse goes with fairy godparents—remember, Maleficent was Aurora Dawn’s least favorite aunt.
- Just because you got dumped into a pit with spiders and asps did not mean you were dead. Suck it up and keep going.
And, my favorite…
- Ones own children were always the prettiest.
So, there you go. All of that beautiful passion, drilled into my head at a young impressionable age. It was like… the key to the universe right there. Everything I wanted to know about the world, in a couple of jam-packed books!
“Ah,” but you’re thinking, “children grow up and then they learn that fairy tales aren’t for grownups at all!”
Uhm, no, actually. Then I grew up and took a boatload of classes in literature and storytelling and how the history of the language evolved and the history of the stories we tell reflects the deeper currents of the world. And I learned some pretty good shit.
So, did you know that…
In 1066, before the Norman invasion of England, the population of Great Britain was largely Celtic, Gaelic, or Saxon—and all of these cultures have some deeply pagan roots. In 1066, the country was taken over by the Normans, who did what conquerors do and made all of the conquer-ees into their lower classes. So suddenly the women and men who had owned a great deal of property and had been born into prosperous families saw their property gifted to the Norman nobles (who didn’t stay around to rule and left unscrupulous men in charge) and saw their own families reduced to herding swine and tending the rich peoples’ children.
They were… disgruntled, to say the least.
And they had their stories, their legends of the old gods, the forest gods who both gave life and destroyed it, the great and terrible gods who meted out justice and hid in the smallest of natural things—the egg of a duck, three drops of blood, or a flower.
And the women, in particular, cut off from their families, forbidden by propriety to so much as speak out, were often put in the position of entertaining bored or fractious children. So they told their old stories, the ones with the fearsome gods and the brutal justice. But they didn’t want to frighten the children—that would be cruel—so the stories twisted, became subversive and coded. Sex was cloaked in flowers blooming under a bed, or a kiss between a prince and a sleeping princess. Treason was disguised as the stories of heroes overthrowing a wicked king with the help of a magic instrument that knew right from wrong. Sedition seeped out in stories of greedy giants who had no hearts, or in stolen harps that would give a kingdom back its glory.
The children just knew good stories when they heard them.
It’s almost like a good horror movie, isn’t it? The kind with the creepy innocent children’s voices, singing songs that are steeped in blood? Those are the fairy tales I read as a child. Those are the voices that sing in my head when I think of the secret fairy tales, the ones that nobody has ever heard of, like Felicia and the Pot of Pinks, The Little Goose-Girl and The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body.
And as for the other fairy tales, the ones with slightly different origins? Oh, I see them in the same subverted, innocently bloody way.
Beauty and the Beast came out from Disney? That’s great—which version, I’d read four of them by the time it debuted. The one where Belle’s spoiled sisters try to kill their father in revenge for their poverty is my favorite.
The Little Mermaid? That’s awesome—but I bet it didn’t have the real ending, the Hans Christian Anderson ending, where the mermaid gave up her voice and her family and her home for a man who did not love her, but she could have it all back if she killed the prince and threw his heart into the ocean.
Hey, kids, do you want to hear the story of Gawain and the Green Knight—the one where the people of King Arthur’s court are kicking the Green Knight’s head like a soccer ball after it gets cut off at a Christmas feast? Do you want to know where he came from? About the real green man who devoured human offerings to bring the world back from the dead, year after year?
Let’s sing in ethereal voices about Bluebeard and his murdered wives, or the little white cat who got her head cut off to become a princess. How much sweet-toned blood was spilled when they nailed the head of the Goose-Girl’s horse to the archway above the king’s garden? What happened to the women, grasping above their station, who got caught reaching above those with good and pure and heart? How grisly was their demise?
Oh yes—I grew up on fairy tales, and they affected me deeply. I don’t write about rainbows and flowers, giggles and daisies, paths strewn with rose petals and happy endings within the hero’s grasp.
I grew up on fairy tales—be prepared to fight for that lover, against forces you don’t understand. Be prepared to sacrifice and to bleed, and to have random acts of magic and the brutal justice of the gods meted out before you are ready for the battle. Know that the magic weapon is drawn, the sacrifice wines have been spilled, and the tree of life is barbed and will as soon slice your throat as give you sustenance.
I grew up on fairy tales. I dream of bloody trees and sex under the cover of darkness and the death knell of innocence in a child’s laugh.
These are the stories I devoured with pointed teeth in the cave of my room as a child. Just imagine the rare and dripping stories I can serve as an adult, who has learned what great and terrible magics are locked away in our own hearts.
Are you ready to grow up and read fairy tales?
Blurb: When Teyth was but a child, a cruel prince took over his village, building a great granite tower to rule over the folk. Greedy and capricious, the man will be the bane of Teyth’s existence as an adult, but as a boy, Teyth is too busy escaping his stepfather to worry about his ruler.
Sold into apprenticeship to the local blacksmith, Teyth finds that what was meant as a punishment is actually his salvation. Cairsten, the smith, and Diarmuid, his adopted son, are kind, and the smithy is the prosperous heart of a thriving village. As Teyth grows in the craft of metalwork, he also grows in love for Diarmuid, the gentle, clever young man who introduces him to smithing.
Their prince wants Diarmuid too. As the tyrant inflicts loss upon loss on Teyth and Diarmuid, Teyth’s passion for his craft twists into obsession. By the time Teyth resurfaces from his quest to create immortality, he’s nearly lost the love that makes being human worth the pain. Teyth was born to sculpt his emotion into metal, and Diarmuid was born to lead. Together, can they keep their village safe and sustain the love that will make them immortal?
About the Author: I am creative, distracted, and terribly weird. I love my children to distraction, and I love my hobbies even when they piss me off. I come from a double line of extremely creative, intelligent people who hated authority so much they dodged higher education, and I married a wonderful man who is quiet, conservative, devestatingly funny, and perfect. Our children are constant reminders that God and Goddess have a profound sense of humor, and that all of the things you dislike most about yourself but pretend don’t exist really do come back on the karmic wheel to kick your ass when you least expect it. My family keeps me young and humble and I try every day to make them proud. I’ve written a LOT of books–I can’t even count anymore, most of them for Dreamspinner Press and Riptide Press, but some of them published on my own. I write to placate the voices in my head, profanity is the element I swim in, and knitting socks at stoplights has become my twitch.