Tag Archives: folktales

Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed III

The second tale “The Magic Muntr,” in Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed interested me more because I’ve read so many versions of Cinderella, from the centuries old through the Disney and Grimm versions to modern and futuristic adaptations and retellings. But “The Magic Muntr” was new to me, a tale from some Persian stories about a man  duped into exchanging his form for a parrot’s.

You could say this is a tale of curiosity killing the cat, and the transformed ruler, because of his inquisitiveness, nearly loses everything to a wicked rakshas posing as a sage. As a bird, he views many things, including women bathing, but details are often lacking where a build-up would benefit an erotic setting. The maharajah is left with a curse of voyeurism.

“The Demon of Adachigahara” is another story of the Far East, this time Japan, and as unfamiliar to me as the one above, which also piqued my interest. This sadistic demon has a penchant for snaring weary pilgrims, especially those  men who bring around (tongue in cheek) religious and inspirational pamphlets. Szereto seems to want to capture a different era, or an anachronistic feeling, and instead of saying covered in black leather she says, “Their muscled flesh had been partially covered with a supple black hide…” But there is a naiveté about each main character that is hard to believe. The male pilgrim, on discovering the chained men “…caressed the bulging arc of flesh held imprisoned by its plaited ring, [and] he found himself being sprayed with the same spumy substance that stained the captive’s costume…”

It starts to become obvious after three stories that Mitzi Szereto isn’t just writing about erotic sex but about different fetishes as we have the shoe fetishist in the first story, then the voyeur, and then sadomasochism. The next story is “Rapunzel,” quite familiar to everyone, and starts with a classic beginning. However, Szereto throws in an anachronistic image against the medieval aspects that grates as opposed to being a good blend. Rapunzel is a rap artist, playing off the name, and though she has a unique way of getting her lover up the tower’s walls, I found the rap aspect so anachronistic that it didn’t make sense nor add anything.

“The Swineherd” is a familiar Grimm’s tale, if not the most well-known, where a nobleman goes in search of a wife, but under disguise as a common man. He falls in love with the scourge-wielding warlord’s daughter and tries to woo her with ingenious, handcrafted tools of the kinky sort. Yet this woman is also ignorant of any man’s genitalia and she sees, in regards to the swineherd’s “scepter” that “For some mysterious reason, the swineherd had stuck a very large purple plum on the end of it…” At least her maids inform her it’s not a plum. The nobleman gets his masochistic dreams fulfilled.

“The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces” is similar to the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” of Grimm’s fame. The twelve princesses (or countesses) always have worn out shoes in the mornign.  This story is more successful but again there is an odd hesitance to actually acknowledge the sexual activities and everything is couched in peculiar terms that are not necessarily those of the time period. In fact, I have a book of medieval bawdy tales and the “naughty words” are the same as ours (ass, cunt, shit). The seasoned soldier who solves the mystery dons a black, rubber cape. A rubber cape, especially in another medieval setting, makes me question why. Either modernize the tale or keep the innovations within the context of the time. The soldier is naive of the women’s activity though perhaps this naiveté is for the audience?

“The Ebony Horse” is from The Arabian Nights (a collection far vaster than the complete Grimm tales, which takes up numerous volumes–I have two volumes of selected tales), collected by Sir Richard Burton. I did go and read the original of this to compare it to Szereto’s version. The tale starts out very similar, but shortened and continues with the adventures of the mechanized and magical ebony horse. The sultan’s son is whisked away and eventually meets a beautiful sultan’s daughter, and proceeds to take her up on the horse, where she discovers she enjoys being exhibited naked before others’ eyes. The sultan’s son is also enraptured with her rose petal and for once the euphemisms actually fit the actions and lend to a sensual and poetic tone.

“Michel Michelkleiner’s Good Luck” is an obscure European story about a simpleton’s adventures, which Szereto has extended past gaining his fortune. I found her version disturbing as it begins with Michel’s rape by a group of brigands. Szereto’s style  does  not make it clear that Michel enjoys this forced sexuality, yet he  views the brigand as doing a most “extraordinary jig–or at least it seemed extraordinary to his unversed prey.” But it seems that Michel does indeed come to enjoy their ministrations and so his adventures continue.

Known as King Thrushbeard and Taming of the Shrew, “Punished Pride” is a tale of putting a woman in her place. It is similar to “The Swineherd” in that a rich/noble man disguises himself to win a spoiled/ill-tempered bride. This time she falls for the lowly gardener and leads a life of poverty and work alongside her husband. But her toils take on a lascivious nature when she must attend one lady. Now this noblewoman married her gardener who is the Czar in disguise so they have consummated their marriage and any woman would know what breasts are, yet here is the description of the lady the woman must attend: “…the lady had been endowed with two very large conical objects that she wore proudly upon her chest,…”

She seems somehow innocent of a woman’s anatomy when “No matter how thoroughly she scrubbed at the wriggly knurl she found and the two furry puffs encasing it, her mistress refused to be satisfied.” Maybe, just maybe a storyteller would tell a tale thus to an audience in the 16th century, but somehow the euphemisms get in the way here, as well as being bizarre. Furry puffs? I found I had to stop a moment and try to visualize this. Still, it’s one of the better stories, with more depth of  love and somewhat believable sexual ministrations that do contain erotic content even though the descriptions become more bizarre. As the woman submits to a flogging she looks between her legs (at herself) and sees “…a fiery red flame extending out form her body….exactly like the vermilion tongue belonging to the furry creature that lurked between her former mistress’s thighs.”

Tomorrow, the final part of the review.

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Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed I

This will be a very long and involved review of Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed, a collection of erotic fairy tales published by Cleis Press. In fact it will be at least three, maybe four parts, so hang on to your hats.

When I received The Sweetest Kiss and In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed for review I decided to do the vampire erotica first (Sweetest Kiss) since it was nearer to Hallowe’en. Plus, I love fairy tales. They’re a good memory of my childhood and I still have (managed to find again actually) some of the volumes I had as a kid. (Those influences can be read in previous blog entries on worlds of what-if.) I took one course in university on children’s lit but specifically fairy tales, which gave me a deeper interest in the form. I’ve read numerous tales from Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm to updated interpretations by Angela Carter, Sarah Moon and the collections edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. I’ve written a few of my own, including poems, and continue to search out and enjoy the varied tales that are there, from the ancient to the new.

Fairy and folktales began a very long time ago. Along with the myths and superstitions that set up the religious structures of culture throughout the world, people were attempting to explain other things or events. And they were entertaining each other. However, not all entertainment had a single purpose. Much was in the way of passing on information: histories, cautionary tales, moral tales, tales of hope and trickery in the little guy/or common person who is rewarded for great deeds/virtue/quick wit, etc. The list is quite extensive.

These tales were told over and over again, passed down through generations and cultures, adapting and evolving with the times. Once Charles Perrault and before him Giambattista Basile, and after, the brothers Grimm, started to set the tales down in writing, gathering them from various sources, the tales began to evolve less and become frozen in time and sentiment of an age. There is evidence that these tales were written down centuries before in various lands, and in different versions but overall I follow the belief that most tales were passed from person to person, tales told by bards and travellers. This is not the view that Mitzi Szereto takes, stating that most tales were gathered from the more noble or richer classes, and there is obvious truth there as written tales would have been for the more educated and therefore wealthy classes. But all these tales started somewhere, being listened to by groups of people. Whichever it may be, there are variations all over.

Just as religions adopted gods from one country to another and similar sun gods, resurrection gods, grain gods and weather gods can be seen in most early religions, so it is that many of these fairy tales are part of the cosmic consciousness that Jung believed in and is quite evident in the evolution and progress of human intellect and thought. Books have been written just on the subject of fairy tales alone, besides the volumes of fairy tales themselves.

The earlier versions are often violent and bloody, and have characters not so redeeming as how they appear in some of Perrault’s and the Grimm brothers’ versions. Indeed, by the time Disney got hold of the fairy tales they were sanitized of any true lessons and every good little princess got her man, as long as she was virtuous, pretty and good, a role model for every submissive female for the 20th century and more.

This brings us to a reclaiming of fairy tales that happened the more adults began to take them seriously again and examine their content. Even though the Grimms edited the tales to suit their views, they were purveyors of folk literature and took their work seriously. Many others have come along to look at the tales and their hidden meanings and mysteries. Some of these scholars of today are A.S. Bayatt, Emma Donohue, and Angela Carter, who did her own rewriting of many a tale. In the Company of Wolves is a great rendition of the Little Red Riding Hood tale and can also be found in a “now” old film of the same name, starring a younger Angela Lansbury. Bruno Bettelheim and Jack Zipes are well-known scholars of fairy tales. Author Sarah Moon did a chilling rendition of the same Little Red Riding Hood as Carter’s but more as a cautionary tale than a coming of age story, with her stark black and white photos of a  young girl in the glare of a car’s headlights and with connotations of a pedophilic stalker, making the tale very modern and terrifying.

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited collections of modern tales that take these fairy tales with leaps in new directions. Jane Yolen, and other authors have also written different rendtions that are darker and deeper than the original tales. Although it is less storytelling, authors are still taking these archetypal tales and bringing them along through the centuries to match our times, with warnings and morals and fears that hit closer to home.

There are many authors, editors and scholars in the realm of fairy tales who are researching, reading and telling new tales. Having written an erotic fairy tale for a Harlequin anthology that I based off of one of the many (and lesser known) Grimm tales, I was excited to see this collection by Mitzi Szereto.

And here I am, at the end of a blog entry and I have yet to actually talk about the book. I’ll start very briefly and say that it had a preface by Tobsha Learner. Though I didn’t know who this was, Tobsha is an Australian author with several books to her credit in which a blend of magic and eroticism are the theme (and some gorgeous covers on top of that). I thought, great, there will be a scholarly bent to the fairy tale aspect and I’ll learn even more about them. This was coupled by Mitzi Szereto’s introduction and an introduction to each story.

I’ll go into the intro and some of the tales tomorrow, but up to this point, I had not yet read any of Szereto’s writing. From what I could tell of reading about her, she’s vivacious, energetic, intelligent and a good writer. I read a couple of excerpts I found of her other pieces which supported that she knows how to write, so I was looking forward to the tales.

Tomorrow, what I found out as I read.

Cleis Press: http://www.cleispress.com/gosearch.php?textfield=in+sleeping+beauty&search_type=TITLE

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