(CLASSIC: from Fairy Tales)
When books or movies are described as ‘dark fairytales’ I always shudder, for should there really be any other, lighter kind? Like the Bible’s most messed-up parables, the best fairytales incorporate the random, the cruel, and the moral indiscriminately; or rather, though they certainly seek to awaken a compass of sorts in their readers (or listeners, in the case of the very young), that compass needn’t be rigidly tuned to the letter of any law. Instead they rip through gray areas, skip comeuppances, and flip straight to endings that can’t always be storybook ones.
Rereading my childhood favorite, “The Snow Queen,” I was shocked at the fragmentation of this “tale in seven stories”. Fearlessly it leaps from its industrial-era setting though golden carriages and a doorless Finnish hut to a miles-wide castle made of driving snow and cutting wind. On the way, our young heroine encounters a kindly childless witch, cryptic flowers dealing in flash-fiction, a clever princess who has read all the newspapers in the world, and even a self-important reindeer nightly taunted by a young robber girl’s long knife. In short, it’s both everything and nothing like you remember, and the icy allure of adult-onset cynicism has probably never been better described.
(MODERN: from Asymptote, April 2012)
There’s a short story that has haunted me ever since I read it years ago, It’s about a valley village under threat of a summer storm; I’d say it was by Stefan Zweig, but I haven’t been able to trace it back to him, and anyway, the author of that story doesn’t matter here. I mention it because Emily Lundin’s story shares its oppressive atmosphere, one so potent that you’re tempted to brush the prickly sweat off your forehead just a few paragraphs in. Like all good stories, it starts with something or someone going missing, in this case a cat, but Lundin uses this McGuffin with sly skill, exploring gender relations and racial politics without pointedly ‘exploring’ them. You could call it brutally honest, but that would assume the existence of a different kind of honesty that I’m not sure actually exists. No love story, then, this is a story of marriage and all the delicate power imbalances that age-old institution implies.
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