Tag Archives: Datlow

Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed II

Mitzi Szereto starts off her collection, In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed, with an introduction to the erotic fairy tales. Here she talks about the influence of cultures and how scholars have discovered that many of the tales can be traced to Asia specifically. There is a long lineage and evolution to the fairy tale, and though many may have come from Asia and India, others were created in other areas, growing out of legends such as the Greek myths, or taking on local flavors. Indeed, there are common motifs and tales found through many lands and whether they were one migratory tale travelling a winding path, or many tales born of similar seeds, it’s hard to say. After all, Jung talked about the cosmic consciousness and how the human intellect tended to evolve or develop at the same time. A person in South America would come to the same revelations as someone in Europe, based on our understandings of the world, and a common foundation of reasoning and problem solving. This theory has proven true in the case of  inventors creating the same thing within the same time as another (or even such basics designs as the Greek key showing up in Aztec/Mayan Americas as well as in Greece).

With an erotic book I would expect the stories to be erotic; titillating or sensually stimulating in some way. Now one erotic tale won’t do it for everyone but there will at least be some tales in a collection that will appeal to a person’s imagination and sensual sensitivities. This book is marketed as erotica and the cover actually gives no hint to the fairy tale context. I imagine this is probably because erotica sells better than fairy tales, where adults might still think that those tales are for children or are some Disneyfied, pristine production. So it makes sense. Cleis is primarily a publisher of erotica and everything is packaged under that heading.

With a book of modern fairy tales I would expect either completely new tales but done in a fairy tale style, or known fairy tales that are skewed or deviate from the original in some compelling way. Some of the standard fairy tale formats are cautionary tales (if you stray from the rules, you’re going to end up in hot water), coming of age tales (you must go through these trials to attain your reward), common man tales (by virtue of quick wits you will conquer all obstacles to get your reward), and virtue tales (if you are good and pure, you will overcome the greater evils pitted against you and get your reward). In the last, the reward is often a prince/husband for the girl. There are other types of fairy tales but those are common themes. As well, fairy tales almost always have some type of magic or magical being in them, whether they’re the Arabian Nights or Grimm’s fairy tales.

I confess that I was somewhat biased before picking up this book. I love fairy tales and I’m certainly not averse to erotica. From what I can tell Mitzi Szereto is intelligent and energetic and takes her craft seriously. This collection contains 15 tales  from a wide range of sources. The introduction ends with Szereto mentioning that the tales captured the imaginations of such writers as Dickens, C.S. Lewis and Bernard Shaw, thought not mentioning Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, or Oscar Wilde who sometimes created their own. She states that, “It is in this very same creative spirit that I continue the age-old tale-telling tradition…, choosing to rely not on the unexpurgated  versions of the past, but rather on those considered suitable for all  eyes–including the eyes of children. By working in this way, I can remove myself from all previous erotic influences and make the tales my own.

I found this slightly odd for an erotic fairy tale book, since the expurgated versions certainly are cauterized in many ways.  If she is writing adult erotica, why start with the family version, but I thought, okay, there are erotic undertones to some of the tales so let’s see what happens. Each tale begins with an introduction, talking about its roots, influences and changes through time.

The first tale is “Cinderella,” an extremely well known story. Early variations had such names as “Aschenputtle,” “La Gatta Cenerentola,”  and “Rashin-Coatie.” In Szereto’s introduction to the tale she goes back to its beginnings in China, as well as discussing the original erotic content (or perhaps lack) in this story, which had me wondering how she could remove herself from the erotic influences if she’s read and done all this research before writing her version. The tale unfolds as we know it, with Cinderella taking care of and dressing her ugly stepsisters. When they run off to the ball Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears, which seems to be a hairy fairy in drag. Why this particular character, I’m not sure. He/she eyes the coachmen in buttless pants. Nothing more happens with the godmother and I found it an odd deviation or embellishment that didn’t further the plot.

Cinderella’s ventures veer to her stepsisters having a fondness for parsnips (and not for eating, which the not so sweet Cinderella laces with peppers) and the prince having more of a fondness for the shoe, where he plunges “the bulky protuberance he had released into the right slipper,” than the woman. Her reward is not so rewarding and I was left…let down. I could see the tongue in cheek humor to this piece but there was little of erotic description and odd usages of words (mounds for breasts) to the point of a bevy of euphemisms. But then this was the first tale and perhaps Szereto was trying to capture the flavor of innuendo and tales of old.

So I moved on to the next one, “The Magic Muntr.” I have many fairy tale books; a complete Grimms tales, various ethnic folktales, Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, the modern anthologies by Windling and Datlow, several books on the analysis of tales, several Arabian Nights, etc. However, I have not read all these books. The complete Grimm tales alone is a hefty tome of 279 tales, some only half a page and not too interesting, but extensive nonetheless. So I was intrigued to see this tale and read its history.

Tomorrow, Part III of the review.

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Vanity Searches

I spent a couple of hours this week searching myself out. Why? To fluff up my ego? Hardly likely. A vanity search will often reveal how insignificant we are in terms of the Google universe. At least I’m on the first google page but not so much for my published stories as for this blog. So maybe I’m the second most famous Colleen, on Google, for what it’s worth. Which is not much.

But still, I thought I better find what’s listed about me before it all disappears. Should there come a day for me to prove I published something or to apply for a grant, then in some cases this may be the only published proof, such as my online flash fiction “On Wings of Angels” in Vestal Review7. I found that still up and printed the page since I didn’t have a “published” copy, it being only internet published.

The vanity search also let me find out I had received two honorable mentions for my story “Hold Back the Night,” which had appeared in the Red Deer Press Open Space anthology. I’d known I had received an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best SF, but only a few years later did I find out the story had received the same in Datlow and Windling’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. One story, both SF and fantasy honorable mentions, when there was no SF I know of in it. 🙂 But who’s complaining: not me. Still, the vanity search has shown what few reviews of my work are still out there and though none scream that my work is stellar, most don’t say it sucks either. And I do have the distinction of “Hold Back the Night” being the only story in the anthology to receive two honorable mentions, plus having been shortlisted for the Gaylactic Spectrum award (a gay character in speculative fiction), which I only ever found on the net and otherwise didn’t know about either.

But still, I’m a small pea in a large pod and there are a lot of Colleen Andersons, some 80 google pages in fact. There is a songwriter and poet (Mother Wit) who seems to have the most hits, plus another writer with the same name. There’s a minister, a scientist, a professor, a real estate agent, a tax assessor, a nurse, etc. Of course I’m some of these things too. But I’m certainly not the only Colleen Anderson and perhaps I’m not the real one. I’ve run into a couple others in this city alone.

Still, a vanity search can be enlightening in just how many of your posts or even how your address ends up on the internet. I can’t help but think of my childhood nemesis Laura Morse who lived two doors down from me. We met at the age of 4 and never liked each other, and had the dubious pleasure of spending grades 1-12 together, going to the same schools. Her younger brother and mine were the best of friends. We were barely playmates. She used to say she would only read books that had her name in them.

Searching for Laura Morse today doesn’t turn up her name but then she married and changed her last name. Yet, google might still be useful to her if she has to find books with Laura in them (more by authors though, than characters, though google’s new wish to scan everything would change that). One can only hope her horizons have broadened.

And we, that fill one page in 8o, hope that some day there may be many pages, indicating perhaps a rise in pay for being a writer. Of course, one could always do something notorious and then your name would rise on the google listings. In the meantime, I now have printed copies of any reviews, should I decide to try and get a grant for writing speculative fiction. Hmm, I think I’ll wait a bit longer.

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Writing: Revisionist Poems & Stories

A discussion of revisionist writing came about on another list when I mentioned that I had sold my poem “The First Taste” to Dreams & Nightmares. It is a revisionist poem about Persephone. I was asked what I meant by revisioning. A good question because the term is probably most often used in terms of history and politics. But on the other side are the revisionist myths or fairy tales. Some will come tagged with feminist revisionism but it goes beyond that.

I ran into revisioning somewhere way back, maybe first to do with the retold fairy tales, especially the ones that were in the Datlow/Windling anthologies. But I was also doing a course on children’s literature where we examined fairy tales right back to Perrault and the Grimm brothers. Angela Carter’s tales came up as some early revisionist fairy tales. I’ve also run into it in poetry but don’t remember when anymore. It could have been in the creative writing courses at UBC or in the world of speculative poetry.

I guess the basis for any revisioning poem is that instead of a third person or narrative tale of a hero’s or god’s deeds, the tale is now told in first person, though third person is also used. It might also be in the voice of the lesser being/mortal/bad guy who traditionally was fairly two-dimensional. This is not always the case with stories, which may also be in third person, but all tend to delve into the psyche of the person and how they feel.

This is sort of what happened to SF when it evolved past the embryonic stage of BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) and started to become more realistic; or magic realism, set in today’s world with just a small twist of otherness. (Is this the bastard child of canlit and spec fic?)

Like all genre labels, revisioning is just another fancy word for categorizing what we write. 🙂 In my revisioning poems (which really is just a classic tale, whether fairy tale or heroic myth, from another point of view) I’ve written on Dionysus, Kore/Persephone, Athena, Leda, Psyche, Demeter, Aphrodite (though the last really doesn’t fit the same way as the others). I’ve also written one story on the oracle on Pythos before it/she became the Delphic oracle.

In stories, I’ve taken various fairy tales and rewrote them as well, from the Princess and the Pea, to Snow White, to Dorothy after Oz.I’m sure there are other takes on revisioning but this is pretty much how I see and understand it. One well-known child’s story done in a revisionist mode is the about the three little pigs but from the wolf’s point of view, pointing out how he was framed.

Classical fairy tales are fairly thin and two-dimensional, offering very little depth into the whys and wherefores. Many fairy tales were cautionary tales, and others were, what academics now presume, tales to show/train young women for their eventual separation from their parents, and subsequent marriages. It is the purview of fantasy and speculative fiction to take the regular world and twist the what-if. If we’re looking at old, tried and true  tales, then it’s turning the story on its edge and presenting a new view.

Whether called revisionist, speculative or just plain fantasy, taking the classics and showing a new perspective is part of the evolutionary process. Fairy tales, myths, fables were once passed down, word of mouth from person to person. The oral tradition actually kept the story current to the times as the teller would adapt or change aspects to suit the understanding of the listeners. The constant evolution means many stories have passed over the lips of humanity to be lost in the trails of time. With the newer tradition of taking those now codified tales, whether Sleeping Beauty or the tale of Eros and Psyche and telling a new story, the process continues to bring evolution to the myths and fairy tales of our ancestors.

Here is a lesson plan on revisionist fairy tales for anyone who teaches about writing and reading: http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=992

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