The handsome and talented Mr. Vinny just notified me that comments are broken on the site. My apologies!
I’ve just upgraded my version of WordPress, so hopefully that will fix the issue.
The handsome and talented Mr. Vinny just notified me that comments are broken on the site. My apologies!
I’ve just upgraded my version of WordPress, so hopefully that will fix the issue.
With Halloween right around the corner, it seems only right that today’s fairy tale should feature Baba Yaga, monsters, violent deaths, and unnatural resurrections. For bonus points, there is also a warlike princess whose future husband falls in love with her over the bodies of the 1,000 soldiers she’s just slain. (Russian ladies are fierce!)
Without further ado, I present you with this thrilling tale from Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book:
The Death of Koshchei the Deathless
IN a certain kingdom there lived a Prince Ivan. He had three sisters. The first was the Princess Marya, the second the Princess Olga, the third the Princess Anna. When their father and mother lay at the point of death, they had thus enjoined their son: “Give your sisters in marriage to the very first suitors who come to woo them. Don’t go keeping them by you!”
They died, and the Prince buried them, and then, to solace his grief, he went with his sisters into the garden green to stroll. Suddenly the sky was covered by a black cloud; a terrible storm arose.
“Let us go home, sisters!” he cried.
Hardly had they got into the palace, when the thunder pealed, the ceiling split open, and into the room where they were came flying a falcon bright. The Falcon smote upon the ground, became a brave youth, and said:
“Hail, Prince Ivan! Before I came as a guest, but now I have come as a wooer!” I wish to propose for your sister, the Princess Marya.”
“If you find favour in the eyes of my sister, I will not interfere with her wishes. Let her marry you, in God’s name!”
The Princess Marya gave her consent; the Falcon married her and bore her away into his own realm.
Days follow days, hours chase hours; a whole year goes by. One day Prince Ivan and his two sisters went out to stroll in the garden green. Again there arose a storm-cloud, with whirlwind and lightning.
“Let us go home, sisters!” cries the Prince. Scarcely had they entered the palace when the thunder crashed, the roof burst into a blaze, the ceiling split in twain, and in flew an eagle. The Eagle smote upon the ground and became a brave youth.
“Hail, Prince Ivan! I Before I came as a guest, but now I have come as a wooer!”
And he asked for the hand of the Princess Olga. Prince Ivan replied:
“If you find favour in the eyes of the Princess Olga, then let her marry you. I will not interfere with her liberty of choice.”
The Princess Olga gave her consent and married the Eagle. The Eagle took her and carried her off to his own kingdom.
Another year went by. Prince Ivan said to his youngest sister:
“Let us go out and stroll in the garden green!”
They strolled about for a time. Again there arose a storm-cloud, with whirlwind and lightning.
“Let us return home, sister!” said he.
They returned home, but they hadn’t had time to sit down when the thunder crashed, the ceiling split open, and in flew a raven. The Raven smote upon the floor and became a brave youth. The former youths had been handsome, but this one was handsomer still.
“Well, Prince Ivan! Before I came as a guest, but now I have come as a wooer! Give me the Princess Anna to wife.”
“I won’t interfere with my sister’s freedom. If you gain her affections, let her marry you.”
So the Princess Anna married the Raven, and he bore her away into his own realm. Prince Ivan was left alone. A whole year he lived without his sisters; then he grew weary, and said:
“I will set out in search of my sisters.”
He got ready for the journey, he rode and rode, and one day he saw a whole army lying dead on the plain. He cried aloud, “If there be a living man there, let him make answer! Who has slain this mighty host?”
There replied unto him a living man:
“All this mighty host has been slain by the fair Princess Marya Morevna.”
Fairy tales are full of magical animals that turn into princes(ses), give sage advice, cough up enchanted items, and otherwise save the day. Who hasn’t yearned for an encounter with a magical animal, just once?
Sculptor Peter Gronquist gives us that chance, in his own, twisted way. His latest show, The Evolution Will Be Fabulous, reminds me of the villain in my favorite FTF student story, a cruel king who’s killed one of every animal in the forest and mounted their heads on the wall. Only this time the king was hunting magical animals, and those animals were deliciously dark and weird and dangerous.
You can see these macabre beauties for yourself in Los Angeles, CA, at the Gallery 1988 in Venice through November 4. And you can take one home for as little as $5,000, if that’s your thing.
Thanks to the ever-amazing Super Punch for bringing this bit of wonder to my attention.
Barbara Sher changed my life. I mean, I changed my life, really. But Barbara Sher helped me figure out how. I was between jobs, lost and aimless, and making lists of business ideas, story ideas, project ideas, ideas ideas ideas. I felt crappy about having so many ideas. Why couldn’t I pick a single project? Why couldn’t I focus? No wonder I was unemployed. Again. Clearly, I was a loser who would never fulfill her potential because she couldn’t pick something and stick with it from beginning to end.
So there I was, moping around my local bookstore feeling like a total loser, when I glanced at one of the shelves and felt my heart give a hopeful little thrill. There facing out at me was Babara Sher’s amazing handbook for the omni-directionally interested: Refuse to Choose. I read the first two chapters standing up in the store, then took it home and devoured it in a night. I even did every exercise. Which is how the Fairy Tale Factory was born while I simultaneously completed a photo-essay, renovated my garden, and found the best day job I ever had.
If you’ll pardon my French, Barbara Sher is the shit. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself:
Happy Friday, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I have had a long, hard week and I am so glad the weekend is here.
To celebrate, I present you with a tale from Andrew Lang’s Blue Fairy Book, a fascinating variation of “Cinderella” in which Cinderella is a MAN. That’s right – CinderFella.
ONCE upon a time there was a man who had a meadow which lay on the side of a mountain, and in the meadow there was a barn in which he stored hay. But there had not been much hay in the barn for the last two years, for every St. John’s eve, when the grass was in the height of its vigor, it was all eaten clean up, just as if a whole flock of sheep had gnawed it down to the ground during the night. This happened once, and it happened twice, but then the man got tired of losing his crop, and said to his sons–he had three of them, and the third was called Cinderlad–that one of them must go and sleep in the barn on St. John’s night, for it was absurd to let the grass be eaten up again, blade and stalk, as it had been the last two years, and the one who went to watch must keep a sharp look-out, the man said.
The eldest was quite willing to go to the meadow; he would watch the grass, he said, and he would do it so well that neither man, nor beast, nor even the devil himself should have any of it. So when evening came he went to the barn, and lay down to sleep, but when night was drawing near there was such a rumbling and such an earthquake that the walls and roof shook again, and the lad jumped up and took to his heels as fast as he could, and never even looked back, and the barn remained empty that year just as it had been for the last two.
Next St. John’s eve the man again said that he could not go on in this way, losing all the grass in the outlying field year after year, and that one of his sons must just go there and watch it, and watch well too. So the next oldest son was willing to show what he could do. He went to the barn and lay down to sleep, as his brother had done; but when night was drawing near there was a great rumbling, and then an earthquake, which was even worse than that on the former St. John’s night, and when the youth heard it he was terrified, and went off, running as if for a wager.
The year after, it was Cinderlad’s turn, but when he made ready to go the others laughed at him, and mocked him. “Well, you are just the right one to watch the hay, you who have never learned anything but how to sit among the ashes and bake yourself!” said they. Cinderlad, however, did not trouble himself about what they said, but when evening drew near rambled away to the outlying field. When he got there he went into the barn and lay down, but in about an hour’s time the rumbling and creaking began, and it was frightful to hear it. “Well, if it gets no worse than that, I can manage to stand it,” thought Cinderlad. In a little time the creaking began again, and the earth quaked so that all the hay flew about the boy. “Oh! if it gets no worse than that I can manage to stand it,” thought Cinderlad. But then came a third rumbling, and a third earthquake, so violent that the boy thought the walls and roof had fallen down, but when that was over everything suddenly grew as still as death around him. “I am pretty sure that it will come again,” thought Cinderlad; but no, it did not. Everything was quiet, and everything stayed quiet, and when he had lain still a short time he heard something that sounded as if a horse were standing chewing just outside the barn door. He stole away to the door, which was ajar, to see what was there, and a horse was standing eating. It was so big, and fat, and fine a horse that Cinderlad had never seen one like it before, and a saddle and bridle lay upon it, and a complete suit of armor for a knight, and everything was of copper, and so bright that it shone again. “Ha, ha! it is thou who eatest up our hay then,” thought the boy; “but I will stop that.” So he made haste, and took out his steel for striking fire, and threw it over the horse, and then it had no power to stir from the spot, and became so tame that the boy could do what he liked with it. So he mounted it and rode away to a place which no one knew of but himself, and there he tied it up. When he went home again his brothers laughed and asked how he had got on.
“You didn’t lie long in the barn, if even you have been so far as the field!” said they.
“I lay in the barn till the sun rose, but I saw nothing and heard nothing, not I,” said the boy. “God knows what there was to make you two so frightened.”
“Well, we shall soon see whether you have watched the meadow or not,” answered the brothers, but when they got there the grass was all standing just as long and as thick as it had been the night before.
The next St. John’s eve it was the same thing, once again: neither of the two brothers dared to go to the outlying field to watch the crop, but Cinderlad went, and everything happened exactly the same as on the previous St. John’s eve: first there was a rumbling and an earthquake, and then there was another, and then a third: but all three earthquakes were much, very much more violent than they had been the year before. Then everything became still as death again, and the boy heard something chewing outside the barn door, so he stole as softly as he could to the door, which was slightly ajar, and again there was a horse standing close by the wall of the house, eating and chewing, and it was far larger and fatter than the first horse, and it had a saddle on its back, and a bridle was on it too, and a full suit of armor for a knight, all of bright silver, and as beautiful as anyone could wish to see. “Ho, ho!” thought the boy, “is it thou who eatest up our hay in the night? but I will put a stop to that.” So he took out his steel for striking fire, and threw it over the horse’s mane, and the beast stood there as quiet as a lamb. Then the boy rode this horse, too, away to the place where he kept the other, and then went home again.
“I suppose you will tell us that you have watched well again this time,” said the brothers.
“Well, so I have,” said Cinderlad. So they went there again. and there the grass was, standing as high and as thick as it had been before, but that did not make them any kinder to Cinderlad.
When the third St. John’s night came neither of the two elder brothers dared to lie in the outlying barn to watch the grass, for they had been so heartily frightened the night that they had slept there that they could not get over it, but Cinderlad dared to go, and everything happened just the same as on the two former nights. There were three earthquakes, each worse than the other, and the last flung the boy from one wall of the barn to the other, but then everything suddenly became still as death. When he had lain quietly a short time, he heard something chewing outside the barn door; then he once more stole to the door, which was slightly ajar, and behold, a horse was standing just outside it, which was much larger and fatter than the two others he had caught. “Ho, ho! it is thou, then, who art eating up our hay this time,” thought the boy; “but I will put a stop to that.” So he pulled out his steel for striking fire, and threw it over the horse, and it stood as still as if it had been nailed to the field, and the boy could do just what he liked with it. Then he mounted it and rode away to the place where he had the two others, and then he went home again. Then the two brothers mocked him just as they had done before, and told him that they could see that he must have watched the grass very carefully that night, for he looked just as if he were walking in his sleep; but Cinderlad did not trouble himself about that, but just bade them go to the field and see. They did go, and this time too the grass was standing, looking as fine and as thick as ever.
The King of the country in which Cinderlad’s father dwelt had a daughter whom he would give to no one who could not ride up to the top of the glass hill, for there was a high, high hill of glass, slippery as ice, and it was close to the King’s palace. Upon the very top of this the King’s daughter was to sit with three gold apples in her lap, and the man who could ride up and take the three golden apples should marry her, and have half the kingdom. The King had this proclaimed in every church in the whole kingdom, and in many other kingdoms too. The Princess was very beautiful, and all who saw her fell violently in love with her, even in spite of themselves. So it is need- less to say that all the princes and knights were eager to win her, and half the kingdom besides, and that for this cause they came riding thither from the very end of the world, dressed so splendidly that their raiments gleamed in the sunshine, and riding on horses which seemed to dance as they went, and there was not one of these princes who did not think that he was sure to win the Princess. …
Link courtesy of Laura Gibbs’ wonderful site.
I’m just a few short weeks away from sending the first collection of illustrated student stories to the printer, so it seems like a good time to introduce the illustrator, Diana Sudyka.
I met Diana at Flatstock in Seattle two or three years ago, and was immediately taken with her work. To be totally honest, I thought she was out of my league, but I got her business card and chatted her up anyway, just for the fun of imagining I could one day hire a fancy-pants illustrator like her. Then I found out she’s married to Jay Ryan, on whom I have a total art crush, and I was so smitten I could hardly even look at her.
But the world is a very small place, and in the course of chatting, I discovered that these two super talented humans are friends with a friend of mine from back home, and suddenly we were laughing and sending him rude texts and telling embarrassing stories about him, and generally having a pretty good time. And then it didn’t seem so crazy or far-fetched that I might get Diana Sudyka to illustrate my little collection of stories, after all.
So there you have it. The rest is history. A year or two later I called her up, sent her my illustration requests, and BANG. Seven gorgeous illustrations that I’m proud to print. You can see the rest of Diana’s portfolio at her site, or you can visit the Decoder Ring to treat yourself to a limited edition print.
I can’t wait to show you the FTF illustrations!
You know the hardest part about doing creative work for a living? You guessed it: making good work even when your heart protests that it’s all dried up and wrung out, and your mind feels like an empty warehouse with a few bits of trash blowing through it. It’s a terrible feeling, and if you give it too much attention, you can sideline yourself for days, weeks, even years.
The poison usually lies in our expectations. “Oh, no! I have to do good work now. I can’t do good work. This sucks. Everything I write sucks. My best work is behind me and there’s nothing left but a long, demoralizing limp into the sunset, blahblahblah etc.” This is especially true for me when someone is paying me for my so-called sucky output. It’s bad enough that I don’t feel clever. Now I’m potentially a rip-off artist and a fraud, and the house of cards is about to come down. My parents will be so disappointed.
However, I have discovered a secret cure-all for this paralyzing anxiety: just do the work anyway. Or, as my sainted father likes to say, “Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.” Our minds are much like children. All it takes is a simple redirect into honest, no-expectations work and it’s shocking how quickly that nervous whining and fussing disappears. Just focus on the assignment (if you don’t have a formal assignment, give yourself one – write 500 words, write about something blue, whatever) and start doing the work. You are a rotten judge of whether your output is any good while you’re in the middle of writing, so stop worrying about it and concentrate instead on writing every silly thing that’s in your head about the color blue (or whatever).
This can be hard when people are watching you. One of my most uncomfortable client experiences was a brainstorming session with the principal of an agency who rolled his eyes, sighed in disappointment, and checked his email through the whole session. (He was a data guy, not a creative!) I wanted to run to the bathroom and cry, or quit the gig on the spot, but I didn’t. I took a deep breath (several deep breaths) and kept on brain dumping, even though this guy almost had me convinced that I was dumb as a sack of rocks and should just go home.
I’d like to say the story ended with hugs and congratulations all around. What really happened is that I delivered a site’s worth of solid, compelling copy to not much fanfare, collected my fee, and politely referred him to another writer for updates and future copy needs. I was ashamed to look at their site for months after it went live because I was sure my work was stinky. But the other day curiosity got the best of me, and I read through their entire (huge) site. And you know what? My copy rocks! I did really good work for that agency.
One of my favorite writing assignments to give is to tell my students to write the worst stories they can imagine. “Go home and write crap! Write the most cliched, garbage-y, terrible fairy tales you can imagine. Then bring your God forsaken, lumpen, monstrously dull creations to class next week and we’ll do something fun with them.”
Inevitably, they come back with hilarious, refreshing, totally wild stories. By the end of class, they’re energized, inspired, and fearless because they faced their worst fears and found that they were, like Rilke’s dragon, really princesses only waiting to see them once beautiful and brave.
The moral of the story: Just write. Stop worrying so much and write. Put one word after the other, trust in your native faculty for language and story, and write. You can judge it later, I promise.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Of all the recurring motifs in fairy tales, of all the many plot devices fairy tale tellers employ, my absolute favorite has got to be the bad bargain. People are forever accepting the help of magical creatures and promising things that somehow turn out to be much more than they’d ever intended to give. (Stupid people, don’t you know better than to give away the first thing that runs out to meet you when you get home?)
It’s a storytelling device that’s as ancient as it is effective, FTF alum Uncle Vinny even found a version of it in the Bible:
On behalf of Israel as a whole, and in reliance on the might of God the Judge, Jephthah challenges the Ammonites. Jephthah swears an oath:
“Whatever/whoever emerges and comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be God’s, and I shall sacrifice him/her/it as a holocaust.” (Judges 11:31 – a holocaust is a burnt offering).
Who does that? Who thinks that’s a good idea? But you know what? Without this plot device, some of the world’s best fairy tales would never have been written.
And so, in celebration of the Bad Bargain, today’s fairy tale is “The Nixie of the Mill-Pond,” in which a desperate man makes a terrible bargain with a watery tart, then has to live with the consequences.
There was once upon a time a miller who lived with his wife in great contentment. They had money and land, and their prosperity increased year by year more and more. But ill luck comes like a thief in the night. As their wealth had increased so did it again decrease, year by year, and at last the miller could hardly call the mill in which he lived, his own. He was in great distress, and when he lay down after his day’s work, found no
rest, but tossed about in his bed, sorely troubled.
One morning he rose before daybreak and went out into the open air, thinking that perhaps there his heart might become lighter. As he was stepping over the mill-dam the first sunbeam was just breaking forth, and he heard a rippling sound in the pond. He turned round and perceived a beautiful woman, rising slowly out of the water. Her long hair, which she was holding off her shoulders with her soft hands, fell down on both sides, and covered her white body. He soon saw that she was the nixie of the mill-pond, and in his fright did not know whether he should run away or stay where he was. But the nixie made her sweet voice heard, called him by his name, and asked him why he was so sad.
The miller was at first struck dumb, but when he heard her speak so kindly, he took heart, and told her how he had formerly lived in wealth and happiness, but that now he was so poor that he did not know what to do.
Be easy, answered the nixie, I will make you richer and happier than you have ever been before, only you must promise to give me the young thing which has just been born in your house.
What else can that be, thought the miller, but a puppy or a kitten, and he promised her what she desired.
The nixie descended into the water again, and he hurried back to his mill, consoled and in good spirits. He had not yet reached it, when the maid-servant came out of the house and cried to him to rejoice, for his wife had given birth to a little boy. The miller stood as if struck by lightning. He saw very well that the cunning nixie had been aware of it, and had cheated him.
Hanging his head, he went up to his wife’s bedside and when she said, why do you not rejoice over the fine boy, he told her what had befallen him, and what kind of a promise he had given to the nixie…
Read the rest of the story. [Caveat: The original site is an academic site with tiny font, and no spaces between paragraphs. BUT. It is not the story’s fault that it’s poorly formatted. It’s still a good story, and worth reading through to the end.]
It’s no secret that I am a big fan of poster art. I think the most vibrant, compelling, beautiful art being made today is coming out of the illustration and gig poster community. So it pleases me to tell you about Dan Grzeca’s gorgeous prints.
Dan does gig posters for indie darlings like Okkervil River, the Black Keys, and Iron + Wine, and his work features loosey-goosey lines that feel more like sketches than finished drawings. He uses organic motifs, animals, plants, freshly-ploughed fields, but my absolute favorites are the recurring images of RVs, houses, and house-animal hybrids on tall, mechanical legs with all sorts of crazy business coming out the windows. When I think of modern fairy tale art, Dan’s work comes immediately to mind. Maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll agree to illustrate the next Fairy Tale Factory collection!
The best part about these prints, for me, is that they’re priced between $30 and $60. Check them out.