Tag Archives: Persephone

Looking at Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz

Peter Pan, Wendy, fairytales, myth, Neverland, children's fiction, fantasy

Pete Pan as J.M. Barrie envisaged him, and had this statue mounted in Kensington Gardens. Wikicommons: Sebjarod

Somehow, in a childhood rife with reading, and a family of readers, I missed Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz. I saw the movies, but never read the originals. A few years ago, when I was on my way to Kansas for a writing workshop, I decided to read the Wizard of Oz, partly because a story idea had popped into my head and I needed to know what the original tale was really about.

The first two things I learned was that the original title was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and that Dorothy’s shoes had not been ruby red. They turned that color when MGM made the film because they needed something that drew the eye better and of course, it was those magical shoes that transported Dorothy home. It was a cyclone that took her away but she returned on her own two feet (more or less). From that discovery, my story “Shoes” was born and explored what happened to Dorothy after she had returned from Oz to the mundane farmlands of Kansas.

So, reading Oz as an adult perhaps gave me more depth than it would have otherwise. There were definitely political statements within Baum’s story, as well as aspects of self and what happens when you go from doubt to believing in yourself. In fact, it is Dorothy’s belief that she can return home which helps transport her there. Dorothy’s adventures take place in a world that is strangely different from a Kansas farm community. Indeed, this is a common tool in children’s stories, and some adult ones as well. While J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books use this, she has it that the world exists in the same place alongside the regular world but it is hidden from muggle eyes. Oz was elsewhere.

Now I’m reading Peter Pan because I’m trying to come up with a green man story. And Peter Pan‘s original title is Peter and Wendy, or Peter Pan: the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. J.M. Barrie wrote it first as a play in 1904 and the Wizard of Oz came out in 1900. Peter Pan has a lot to do with the green man. He lives in a wild land, dresses in green or in skeleton leaves and plays pan pipes. And yes, Peter Pan’s land is Neverland. It is the stuff of dreams and the sugar thread fantasies of children. But whereas Oz seems a fantasy from which Dorothy awakes, Wendy, Michael and John, and the other Lost Boys who return, did in fact leave to another land and their parents missed them.

These two stories are part of our modern fairytales. Along with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and

Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, ruby slippers, silver slipers,

Dorothy’s ruby slippers were originally silver and she took them off the dead witch’s feet. MGM

The Secret Garden, they do not have the generational mythos of fairytales handed down over centuries. Yet they are enduring and endearing and each deals with a child going to a place that is other. What is even more interesting with Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz is that while these stories were written a little over a century ago, they both have major female protagonists. Since I’m not doing a full essay here I’m curious if there were many tales of quests or journeys that took place before Alice in Wonderland. Of course, such journeys go back to the early myths of Gilgamesh and Herakles and Odysseus, so travels to mythical lands is not a new concept. But when did the children take over?

Dorothy is swept along on her travails, and while she observes and experiences growth through her trials, she makes very few decisions on her own until later in the book. Yet her main adversary is the Wicked Witch, a strong if megalomaniacal female figure, and of course there is Glinda as well. Wendy is the first one wooed by Peter’s pan pipes and while she goes with her brothers, she wishes for nothing but romance and to be a mother, and in fact plays mother to all the lost boys of Neverland. The boys kill and get in skirmishes because “children are gay and innocent and heartless,”  and Wendy keeps them in order. She is also the damsel taken captive. Tinker Bell and the redskin Tiger Lily vie for Peter’s attention but he is oblivious to all. Like many age-old myths of gods Peter is the eternal youth and Wendy is the mother/love figure that is part of the tale of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris.  For stories that are a century old I think it’s interesting that the male writers gave the females fairly major roles, even if they were still carried along on the action of the males.

Persephone, underworld, neverland, faery, fantasy, myth

When Persephone eats the food of the underworld, like those who eat the food of Faery, she is bound and can never fully return to the lands of humans. Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Peter Pan actually hearkens back to a far older myth. It is the tale of the grain goddess Demeter, loved by all of humanity, and her daughter the Kore. The Kore is seduced by a narcissus planted in the field. When she plucks it Hades, lord of the underworld, abducts her to his realm. Demeter blights the earth until Kore, now Persephone, is returned, but Persephone’s eaten the fruit of the underworld (the pomegranate). She is only allowed to return for part of the year because she only ate a partial meal in the underworld, and hence we have the seasons. When Peter guides Wendy and the lost boys home, he asks if she’ll come every year for spring cleaning, and her mother (who is loved by all) grants this, though Peter in his eternal youth, forgets some years to come by. It’s a simplified Greek myth but the seeds are still there, as they are in the fairytale Beauty and the Beast.

Both the Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan involve many adventures with different characters, just as Hercules/Herakles had twelve labors or Odysseus encountered sirens and cyclops. The language of Peter Pan is beautiful and evocative, yet compared with the sterilized Disnefication of tales today or even the movie versions of these stories, the children are savage and thoughtless. There is an inherent violence, which like nature, is part of a pattern and lacking morals. It just is.

I could go on but if you have not read these more modern fairy tales, consider that they are of a natural evolution that began with gods long ago, metamorphosed into magical beings and objects, took a trip to the land of Faery and never quite left.

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Writing: Publishing News

I finally received my copy of Shroud #7, with my story “A Kind Hand.” However, though I just received it, it did come out last fall. Sometimes there are time lags and sometimes there is miscommunication. I’ve been paid for stories that were never published. I’ve had articles published for which I was never paid. I’ve signed contracts after the story came out and I’ve been paid and informed of a publication after  it happened as well. None of these things have been frequent but none are optimum.

Publishers and writers sign contracts, which are agreements as to publication, for how long, for which rights and for how much. The contract indicates a definitive agreement and set of rules by which both parties agree. The right order is to accept the piece, send and sign the contract, publish the story and/or send payment (some publishers pay first and publish later, and some publish first and pay later, but not too much later; usually on publication). The publisher should give the author a copy of the contract as well. To sign a contract after publication could very much screw up the publication should the author not agree to the terms. This leaves the publisher open to embarrassing circumstances at least and legal action at most.

Thus far, I have been paid for all of my stories though the order was sometimes a bit mixed up.

I have also just been paid for “A Taste for Treasure” coming out (on the shelves now) in Alison’s Wonderland. I’ve also just signed the contract for the poem “Of the Corn: Kore’s Innocence” in Witches and Pagans #21, which will be out soon.

“A Kind Hand” took me about eight years to write and is based on a tale about the Germanic hearth goddess Berchta. I had the idea and the plot, but for some reason I just moved it along very slowly. “A Taste for Treasure, based off of one of the many Grimm’s fairy tales (tales that they collected and wrote down) was written specifically for the anthology. The poem “Of the Corn” was part of a Greek revisioning series of poems. Some of the other poems are are about Athena, Persephone, Leda, Psyche. I don’t think I’m done with that series yet, which looks at the untold feelings of these mythic figures. The Persephone/Kore poems are a set of three and now two have seen publication.

And slowly slowly I’m working on my Mary Magdalene story. The scenes are now plotted and half of them are written. It’s taken a fair amount of research to place a story in ancient times during the time of Christ. That alone has slowed me down as I’ve read various gospels, the Dead Sea scrolls, books on Mary Magdalene and on Christ in my attempt to get a sense of the climate (both geographical and political, the flora and fauna, clothing, food and daily life of the characters. This is only a short story but the amount of research for certain historical times can be phenomenal. And of course about 70% of what I research doesn’t go into the story but helps me flesh out the characters and places.

I’ll need to finish it by August so I can get going on it. So it’s time to knuckle down again and see what I can get done in the next few weeks.

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Writing Update March

I’m way behind this year on submissions. Normally I do a blitz in January. But this year I was working on a large editing project for a client. I just seemed to busy to hunker down. Right now I’m trying to get a story rewritten for one anthology and write a new story for another anthology, as well as work on my novel. And I’ve been trying to get my taxes done. So I don’t think I’ve submitted anything new yet this year.

I’ve received some rejections for stories sent out from last fall, but yesterday saw some reward. I arrived home to find a letter from Barton College saying my poem “Finding Dionysus” was awarded second prize and will be published in Crucible. As well, there was an email from Shroud magazine saying they had accepted my story “A Kind Hand” for publication in issue #6.

Yesterday I said that perseverance is a large part of writing and becoming published. I’ve also talked about revisionist poems. Although “Finding Dionysus” is from Persephone’s point of view it’s not as revisionist as some of my others but is part of a series I’ve done on Greek gods. The poem was written about six years ago but as is often the case with submissions, an editor’s preference can be for a particular type or style of writing. As well, magazines may have themes or just published a piece with a similar theme. I was once told by one magazine that they had just published a torso story and they couldn’t take another or they would be seen as a fetish magazine.

“A Kind Hand” is a tale of perseverance in the writing. I started the story probably ten years ago, wrote a bit and let it sit. I liked the idea but for a while wasn’t sure where to go with it. I was basing it off of a Germanic folktale about Berchta (a hearth goddess) so I had the plot but I wanted to give it a more human aspect. Some stories flow out easily and all at once. Others come out in fits and spurts and seem to be a jumble. “A Kind Hand” was somewhere in between and when I wrote on it, it came out fairly smoothly. However, taking so many years to write the story meant that I had to keep rereading it to figure out where I was going. Also, one’s style can change from story to story and year to year. I had to try and continue in the style in which I had started, which I really liked.

Once it was done I sent it out but also sent it to a friend to read. He made some good comments so I brought out the threat aspect a bit more and once it was rejected, sent the story out again. I think I had only submitted this one a few times before Shroud.

Looking at start to finish on the poem was probably seven years. The story was ten or more years in the process. I have ideas like this, that I start because I had an image in my mind, but perhaps no plot, or no ending. They sit and sometimes I do finish them. There are those stories that I complete but am not satisfied with so I maybe send them out once and then they wait for a rewrite so that I can figure out how to make them better. Rarely does a story or poem flow out quickly, all in one piece, with minimal rewriting. And rarely does it go from creation to publication quickly. My quickest was probably “The Fishwife,” which flowed out in no more than three days, needed a minimal rewrite and sold to the first or second place I sent it. Still, with the time taken for submitting and the selection process of the magazine, it was about a year.

This doesn’t even include the time from acceptance to publication. The tardiest rejection I ever received was seven years. Some pieces that have been accepted may be  a year (or more) from acceptance to actually being published.

And last, as fantasy editor of Aberrant Dreams, I have released all stories but one back to the authors. The magazine is going through some structural changes and it was becoming far too long in holding stories. I hate giving up good stories but it wasn’t fair to hang on indefinitely. I have two letters to send out, releasing one more and letting one author choose if he wants his accepted story to sit in the to be published pile or if he’d like to withdraw it. Then we wait for the restructure.

Time is not linear in the world of writing and submitting, nor on the publishing end of a magazine. Patience and perseverance really help.

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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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