Something Rich and Strange: Tales from the Sea

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Aug 042015

SB1.2Annoucing the release of Scheherezade’s Bequest Volume 1, Issue 2 — Something Rich and Strange: Tales from the Sea. For this issue we called authors to draw from folktales, personal experience, and the vast ocean of the imagination to reveal selkies, mermaids, sea nymphs, the great flood, and more in this wonderful collection of short stories and poems, each one a siren song luring us into the waves. Something Rich and Strange: Tales from the Sea continues our tradition of offering original fairy tales and retellings of the old stories that leave us with a sense of wonder, a sense that something rich and strange is always just around the corner.

The kind folks over at Fairy Tale News have given this issue a glowing review, complete with excerpts and a glimpse at the pages.

Available on Amazon and other online sellers.
128 pages, Color Paperback
Papaveria Press (August 4, 2015)
ISBN: 978-1-907881-46-6


“In the Beginning: The Mermaid’s Song” by Donna Quattrone
“Salt” by Sara Cleto
“Sisters” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
“Tears of Tir na Nog” by S.A. Ulrich
“The Mare of the Tides” by Steve Toase
“Found Percussion” by Amy Parker
“The Sea Witch’s Get” by Shannon Connor Winward
“Mother Shell” by Maria Hummer
“Mermaid’s Purse” by Lynn Hardaker
“The Sea Does Not Need Me” by Brittany Warman
“Lady Of The Deep” by Samantha Boyette
“The Water Dress” by Christina Ruth Johnson
“Sea Changes” by Joanna Michal Hoyt
“Shower Muse” by Valya Dudycz Lupescu
“Sea Dreams” by Mari Ness
“Lake of San Ezequiel” by Jamie Killen
“Deep” by Nina Bellio

 Posted by at 8:24 am

Scheherezade’s Bequest Vol. 1 Issue 1

 Fresh Apples, Our Grim(m)oire, Scheherezades Bequest  Comments Off on Scheherezade’s Bequest Vol. 1 Issue 1
May 302013

“As you wish…”

SB1.1May2013We here at Cabinet des Fées are extremely pleased to announce the release of As You Wish: The Loathly Lady, being issue 1 of the first volume of Scheherezade’s Bequest in print (and digital editions). As You Wish gathers together fiction, poetry, and non-fiction in an exploration of what it is women (and men) truly want. We chose the theme of the Loathly Lady for this issue in order to challenge modern perceptions of beauty and to explore the notion of sovereignty. Authors responded to our call for submissions with a diverse array of stories, poems, and academic insights into the Loathly Lady trope. Their answers to our questions may surprise you. Edited by Donna Quattrone and Virginia M. Mohlere, this issue includes interior artwork by acclaimed photographer Brooke Shaden and Kirsty Greenwood, and cover art by Rima Staines. 128 pages of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction await you inside.

Co-editor Donna Quattrone writes in her introduction,

It is not surprising that fairy tales and folktales are also referred to as “wonder” tales.

If you think about the things that inspire us to exclaim, “that is wonderful,” they often entail something that we discover randomly or unexpectedly, something that turns out to be a beautiful surprise or a memorable “wow” moment. We wonder about things because they captivate our senses or ignite our imagination. Wonder is the spark that jolts us out of complacency; it prompts an awareness of something “other,” something more, it hints at myriad possibilities. Wonder, then, has the remarkable capacity to encourage a different way of viewing the world; it tosses us outside the box of normal perception, it leads us above and beyond the mundane and into the marvelous. It can, if we let it, foster transformation. And it is exactly this kind of exploratory dance of wonder that is paramount in the tale of the Loathly Lady.

Throughout oral and written history, the Loathly Lady has had multiple incarnations. It’s likely that many of you know her from Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” which is framed around the question of “What is it that women really want?” The narrative challenges societal expectations of beauty and also addresses notions of equality, autonomy, perception and love. As all of these issues are equally relevant today, it is no wonder that the Loathly Lady’s tale endures…

The title of this volume was gleaned from a modern source: In The Princess Bride, Dread Pirate Roberts’ oft-repeated words to his dear Buttercup perfectly embody the idea of sovereignty. The themes in the Loathly Lady’s tale are indeed timeless, and it has been a great pleasure to revisit them here. I believe our authors have done a brilliant job of taking them to new and exciting places, places where prescribed ideals regarding image are re-imagined, where individuality is revered, and where happily-ever-after is as unique as the souls that are brave enough to seek it out. I suspect the famous old crone would approve, and it is in the spirit of The Loathly Lady that I present these tales of transformation to you. I hope you find them as wonderful as I do!

Would you kiss the loathly lady? We did and this is what we found. Read more about this issue here.

As You Wish can be ordered directly from the publisher at Studio Circle Six in print and digital editions. Digital editions can also be ordered from Papaveria Press. Also available on

Review copies available upon request.

As You Wish: The Loathly Lady Issue
Scheherezade’s Bequest Vol. 1 Issue 1
A Cabinet des Fées Production
Eds. Donna Quattrone & Virginia M. Mohlere
Published by Papaveria Press
ISBN 978 1 907881 34 3 (Paperback)
ISBN 978 1 907881 36 7 (Digital)
128 pages, full colour.

 Posted by at 9:44 am
May 202013

SB1.1The much-anticpated first print issue of Scheherezade’s Bequest, As You Wish: The Loathly Lady Issue, is now available for pre-order. The official release date is 30 May — we pushed it back because of a last minute surprise. The table of contents has been updated to include a special contribution from renowned photographer Brooke Shaden, whose website you can visit here. Read more about this issue and see the updated table of contents here.

If you pre-order your print copy now, you’ll receive the digital editions free (and immediately!). The digital package includes the EPUB, MOBI, and PDF for those of you who do not have an e-reader. This offer is only good through May 30, and is only available directly from the publisher, Papaveria Press.

To pre-order your copy, please visit Studio Circle Six.

Thank you for your wonderful comments and for your support of Cabinet des Fées!

 Posted by at 2:32 pm
Apr 262013

SB1.1Please allow us to introduce you to the Loathly Lady, the first print issue of Scheherezade’s Bequest.

As You Wish gathers together fiction, poetry, and non-fiction in an exploration of what it is women (and men) truly want. We chose the theme of the Loathly Lady for this issue in order to challenge modern perceptions of beauty and to explore the notion of sovereignty. Authors responded to our call for submissions with a diverse arrays of stories, poems, and academic insights into the Loathly Lady trope. Their answers to our questions may surprise you.

The cover art for this issue is “Telling Stories to the Trees” by Rima Staines, who uses paint, wood, word, music, animation, clock-making, puppetry and story to attempt to build a gate through the hedge between the worlds. Some of Rima’s recent work can be found on an album cover for The Dark Mountain Project, and in the latest issue of Land Magazine. Prints of Rima’s work are available in The Hermitage Etsy Shop. Inside, the issue opens and closes with interior art by Kirsty Greenwood, who was featured on Cabinet des Fées in 2011.


Introduction by Donna Quattrone
Sovereignty, Agency and Perceptions of the Grotesque in Two Medieval Interpretations of the Loathly Lady by Anita Harris Satkunananthan, PhD
Eveligna of the Wilderness by Alexandra Fresch
Cut by Martin Rose
Wallen: A Self-portrait by Brooke Shaden
The Lady of St. Mark’s Place by Brittany Warman
The Woman at the Fair With No Face by Jason Lea
Tree Bark Magic by Alexandra Seidel
Seed Pearls by Jennifer Adam
Truth Powder by Monika John
Old and Cursed by Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario
The Dispossessed by Wendy Howe
Skin Like Carapace by Steve Toase
Sovereignty: A Prologue by Sara Cleto
Old Oak and the Maiden by A.L. Loveday
Fat Is Not A Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen
The Loathly Lady as Mystagogue by John Patrick Pazdziora
Special Thanks to the Artists

This issue is scheduled for an early May release.

 Posted by at 3:31 pm

Clockwork Phoenix 4 – review

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Apr 232013

Clockwork Phoenix 4
Ed. Mike Allen
Mythic Delirium Books, July 2013
Reviewed by Michelle Anjirbag

Clockwork Phoenix 4This is the book that Kickstarter built, to paraphrase Mike Allen, now-four-time editor of the fantasy and science fiction anthology, Clockwork Phoenix. What makes this fourth edition so special is that it belongs to an impassioned community of writers and readers who went above and beyond to make it happen. Allen, as editor, put together a collection of stories from new and established writers that honors and reflects just that.

I am a huge fan of anthologies, and for me, the mark of a good anthology is that every piece should not please every reader. This sounds counter intuitive, but especially when courting the genres of science fiction and fantasy, this method shows that the editor understands that each of these genres have many facets, and each facet has its own set of fans. A good anthology should give all readers a taste of what they love, and an introduction to something new, in terms of styles, subgenre, and authors. When the editor meets these requirements and still presents to the reader good writing in each story selected, that is even better. Of course, this is just my humble opinion.

But that is enough of my anthological philosophy; here a few of my favorite pieces:

• “Trap-Weed,” by Gemma Files — an interesting take on Selkie myths, transforming the well-done trope of transformers trapped on land and stolen brides and bridegrooms, into one of high-seas adventure and unlikely friendships.

• “Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl,” by Richard Parks — The last thing I expected to find in this was such a beautifully written, simple piece that caused me to just pause for a moment. We often think of folklore as something old, reinvented. To find something completely new was refreshing.

• “A Little of the Night,” by Tanith Lee — Tanith Lee is one of the authors who first pulled me in to loving fantasy and science fiction many years ago, and becoming a bibliophile. This is the first new piece by her I have read in a while, and it did not disappoint. Lee gives us a new kind of monster, a vampiric presence re-teaches us the basic principles of living.

• “Happy Hour at the Tooth and Claw,” by Shira Lipkin — a new kind of love story, in part inspired by a challenge by the editor himself. What makes a heart whole?

These are only four of the eighteen tales in this collection. All eighteen have the power to pull the reader out of his own reality and transport or transform them entirely. As I said before, this is the book that Kickstarter built, resurrecting the collection for a fourth edition. And I am so very glad it rose again.

 Posted by at 10:39 am

Silver Hands – press release

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Apr 152013

Silver Hands by Elizabeth Hopkinson
Publication Date: April 2013

Silver Hands

A mysterious pendant. A sinister suitor. And an epic chase to the Edge of the Map… 1706. The rival Dutch and English East India Companies sail the world’s oceans, bringing back exotic treasures and tales of fantastical lands. In coastal Hollyport, Margaret faces a terrible choice: to abandon herself to a marriage that could erase her very soul, or to risk all aboard a ship bound for dangerous waters. With her betrothed husband, the sinister Mr Van Guelder in pursuit, Margaret embarks on a journey like no other: where pirates, flying islands and secret empires await; along with unexpected friendship from troubled young nobleman Taro, whose estate holds surprises and sorrows of its own. But Van Guelder is never far behind, nor is the power of the mysterious lodestone round his neck, and Margaret will have to learn the true nature of suffering before she can ever be free.

Elizabeth Hopkinson has a passion for history, fairy tale and Japan. She has lived all her life in Bradford, West Yorkshire (UK). She has had over 30 short stories published and won prizes in three writing competitions. Silver Hands is her first novel.

Tophat Books
978-1-78099-872-5 Paperback (300PP)
$18.95 | £10.99 April 2013

 Posted by at 11:24 am
Mar 252013

The Twelfth Stone
by Jana Laiz
Crow Flies Press, 2011
Reviewed by Michelle Anjirbag

The Twelfth StoneThe purpose of fairy tales, it can be argued, was to teach lessons to children and communities in order to help them to understand the world and assimilate to a society. Whether or not we agree with the lessons taught by older fairy tales and their interpretations is often up for debate. But it is truly something to read a fairy tale that teaches lessons appropriate for citizens of this century, while still allowing readers to delve into a world far beyond their own. In The Twelfth Stone, Jana Laiz does just that, bringing readers into Faerie only to have them emerge with a renewed love for the human realm.

Tam Lin adaptations are a rarity compared to the many reinterpretations of better-known tales such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella”. While I love the tale, I haven’t been truly enthralled by a retelling since picking up An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughton close to a decade ago. Laiz updates the Celtic tale, pairing the traditional romance with an important environmental subtext for younger readers, as well as the lesson that everyone can do their part to save the world that we live in. Additionally, by having the tale span not only Scotland and Faerie, but the U.S. also, Laiz creates a mythic connection to this continent that we as readers of fairy tales have been trained to associate most with Ireland and Scotland.

The true beauty of Laiz’s prose is that her message is not heavy-handed, but subtly woven through a captivating tale of family, love, friendship, and, of course, magic. Her main characters, fairy or human, are well-developed. Any reader can both sympathize with them and willingly step into their shoes for a while. But, for me, even better are Laiz’s monsters. We expect to find pieces of ourselves in our heroes and the supporting characters. We rarely look for ourselves in their foes. By giving each antagonist a—dare I say—human moment where we as readers can identify with their motivations for actions, Laiz makes her tale more than one of just good and evil. We see, and younger readers will see, that good and bad lies within each of us. It’s the choices we make that make the difference in the end.

 Posted by at 9:35 am

The Gray Fox Epistles: Wild Tales By Mail

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Feb 182013

Imagine a woman walking down a country road, wearing a felted cape with its pockets full of tales. Her toes are in the dust and she is walking toward your town. A gray fox trots beside her, catching Jerusalem crickets and berries in his teeth. He leaves paw prints that are the stories of the wild. Together they are up to their teeth and fur in old fairytales and myths–tales from the mole tunnels, the alder roots and the spiderwebs, tales from the trunks of abandoned cars, tales from the water-towers, the tents and teapots of our own hearts. This woman and her gray fox are the spirit of the Gray Fox Epistles, a new story-letter project recently launched by Sylvia Linsteadt, writer of magical tales, animal tracker and student of the wild.

Gray Fox

Drawing by Bendix Carabetta, 2013

Subscribers to the Gray Fox Epistles will receive one of Sylvia’s original tales every month on the new moon, in their physical mailbox, printed, packaged and wax sealed beautifully and with scraps of woodland leaf or feather included. All stories will be at least 2,000 words in length, and previously unpublished.

All tales are retellings of myths and fairytales, the kinds that have passed on through centuries, through many different landscapes. These retellings will be set in the wilds that Sylvia knows and loves–redwood forest, tule marsh, northern coastal scrub, where mountain lions hunt and coho salmon spawn. The Gray Fox Epistles is a small attempt at re-wilding and re-rooting both the old stories and ourselves.

Details and Logistics:
Subscriptions are $9.00/month for U.S. residents and $11.00/month for international subscribers. Discounts will be offered in the future for subscriptions of 3, 6 and 9 months. Subscribers will have access to a Blogger site where each month’s tale will be discussed and original versions posted.

Please come learn more about the project and Sylvia’s work at the Indigo Vat, and if you are so inclined, visit the sign up button on the top left just below the title banner.

Questions and queries? Contact Sylvia V. Linsteadt at


Photograph by Sylvia Linsteadt

 Posted by at 10:00 am

Welcome (back) to CdF

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Feb 112013

even the website needs a fairy godmotherAs we mentioned here, Cabinet des Fées was taken offline for maintenance during the weekend ending 10 February, 2013. This morning, we’re back with a fresh, new look and several long-overdue updates. We are also fundraising: find out how you can help CdF thrive here.

We’d like to take this opportunity to welcome Michelle Anjirbag to our review staff. Her first review is of Marina Warner’s Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights. Michelle is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, an avid reader and writer, and self-proclaimed literature nerd who thinks in recursive appositives. Her full bio can be found in our About page. In addition, Belle DiMonté has reviewed The Fairy Bible: A Definitive Guide to the World of Fairies.

In our Fairies and Fairy Tales department, Sterling Ulrich has written on the value of fantasy in The Old King and the Claws. Colleen Szabo offers a Jungian analysis of the Finnish folktale The Girl Who Sought Her Nine Brothers in Men of Mother’s and of Mine: Redeeming the Inner Masculine in a Finnish Folktale. And finally, Kevin Tseng shares a fairy tale of his own with Cabinet des Fées in Onyx and Opal Boil the Sea.

We’d also like to bring your attention to two conferences of folk belief & the supernatural being held in Shetland in 2014.

We hope you like our new site design and will stay with us as we prepare to announce the table of contents of Scheherezade’s Bequest, Issue 1, and bring you more from the wide world of fairy tales.

Thank you!

Erzebet & the good fairies of CdF

 Posted by at 8:50 am

Men of Mother’s and of Mine: Redeeming the Inner Masculine in a Finnish Folktale

 Fairies and Fairy Tales  Comments Off on Men of Mother’s and of Mine: Redeeming the Inner Masculine in a Finnish Folktale
Feb 112013

Men of Mother’s and of Mine: Redeeming the Inner Masculine in a Finnish Folktale
A Jungian Analysis of the Finnish tale by Colleen Szabo

Tales from a Finnish Tupa(Once upon a time there was an old man and an old woman who had nine sons, but no daughters… This interpretation of the wonderful Finnish folktale The Girl Who Sought Her Nine Brothers is based on the copyrighted version found in Tales from a Finnish Tupa, by James Cloyd Bowman and Margery Bianco, first published in 1936 and now published by the University of Minnesota Press. A very similar version can currently be found for free online at D. L. Ashliman’s online folktale collection under the category “The Brothers Who Were Turned Into Birds” as The Little Sister: The Story of Suyettar and the Nine Brothers.)

Only when we confront the darkness with honesty and humility can we hope to transform it. — Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul

Only full, overhead sun
Diminishes your shadow…
— From Enough Words, Rumi

This story of feminine redemption stands out for me because of the somewhat unusual constellation of characters. Using the Jungian perspective that such stories depict an inner relationship which may also be manifest in our relationships with others, we see that here nine inner brothers “carry the torch”–the woman’s desire to develop intimacy between her inner masculine (the brothers) and her younger feminine aspect (the daughter). This inner masculine aspect which desires intimacy is usually depicted in European fairy tale by the lover. I also like that the story is really about an old mother–like me, I suppose–despite the fact that the featured character is a maiden, a young unmarried woman. The protagonist maiden Vieno represents the mother’s inner maiden. It seems that as a maiden the mother lost a certain kind of connection with her masculine self, with powers such as self-protection and self-assertion, and now she must pick up where she left off all those years before.

The tale’s about someone who’s already got grown sons with mature masculine powers, sons who can go live by themselves, who can make important requests, and who can threaten to leave if not fulfilled. The fact that the woman has a baby (Vieno) in a few weeks–brought by ethereal spirits, by fairies–points to the fact that she’s not really having a baby. She’s birthing, perhaps more accurately rebirthing or reacquainting herself with, a heretofore strange aspect of self. This strange aspect of Vieno, and the ogress who appears along with her, are going to reconnect the mother with the undeveloped masculine aspects–aspects held in her daily life by the ten men in her world: her “old man” husband and her nine sons. (Ten is an archetypal number of completion, signaling endings and thus new beginnings.)

Both the fun and the confusion of a symbolic approach to story is that we hold the possibility that the characters are completely unknown in waking life to the protagonist, or they could be physically represented in our lives by those around us, by our own behaviors, and by literal sons and husbands, mothers, and brothers. Interpretations must take this range between inner and outer experience into consideration, and straddle the fence between the two. This can be difficult, but there is one fast rule: the characters are surely within, even if they are not manifest without. Of course this fairy tale woman’s outer immersion in the masculine, this life encompassed by men, is quite common for women in a patriarchal culture. I went along for a long time in this fashion myself. I was playing a man’s game, since that was the only one I knew, and it served me fairly well–until it didn’t. As a young woman, if there were any men about, I saw myself through their eyes; I considered what they approved of, what they wanted, first. I valued what they valued. I often acted out the feminine side to their masculine powers, and thus had no reason to claim and express much of my inner masculine potential.

This role was easy for me, because I was like Vieno, whose name means “gentle, mild”. This is the sort of woman that most men, and maybe women, in my culture prefer, for intimate relationship as well as daughter or sibling relationship. Why not? Such people are like comfy couches, rarely showing their teeth; they don’t contest boundaries, they ask little or nothing from relationships. They generally make life easier for us, and thus hold an important role. Jungians would call this mild woman a sort of “anima woman”, someone who instinctively acts out men’s ideal of the perfect woman to fall in love with. Combine this gentleness with some beauty, and men can be quite enthralled. But if we are lucky, there comes a day when this vieno female is no longer sustainable. The inner pressure to holism and personal development, to bringing to waking consciousness the unbalanced truth of our relationship with our inner shadow aspects, can become too much. Such moments of crisis and opportunity are often depicted in fairy tales.

So the young woman Vieno is an inner psychic aspect of the “old woman” mother–some aspect of her own young womanhood, the time when she left behind the ability to protect herself, to say “no”, to follow her individual true choices whether others will approve or not, or to manifest or bring forth some creative gift. To help break her of outdated old habits, the mother is delivered an ultimatum by the eldest son. If she does not decide to get going on her new version of consciousness, her new identity, he and his brothers will disappear. Her youthful masculine energies, deserted in those days of youth, will depart; they cannot wait forever to manifest. Menopause, with its lessening of estrogen influence, usually signals increased embodiment and expression of masculine energies. Women, especially those who have been dedicated mothers or caretakers, will then often move toward balancing out their youthful, feminine, constant concern with human relationships. They will begin to shift toward the more masculine ability to be concerned with their own creative life, with their own personal development and personal goals, for example. The mother can make no promises to her sons; she has never done this, it could be a once-in-a-lifetime effort she will initiate. Will she manage to do something different this time, or will she do what she has already done nine times out of ten?

The mix up with the ogress is the clue both to Vieno’s tasks, and to the origin of the mother’s situation from the time of her own birth, and her own youth. The spindle is a feminine tool, representing feminine powers of spinning separate threads together into a strong whole, the skill women (and men) use in creating strong relationships with family, friends, and ideally the natural world and the unseen worlds. The axe, in contrast, is a masculine tool, all cutting tools being symbolic of the masculine ability to do the opposite of spinning. Swords and knives and axes represent the ability to cut, to discriminate, to discern “this, not that”, to make unattached decisions about what works best for us, to pull away from emotion and see how we might be manipulated by others, and to entertain different perspectives on our life-denying entanglements. It is notable that the mother is indecisive in the beginning; she just smiles when the sons ask her for a sister, probably her habitual response to requests. She may be having trouble making a choice, trouble clearly seeing her current situation and the ways in which it is no longer sustainable. She doesn’t have a blade to cut the ties with her old ways of identifying as the nice mother and wife.

Somewhere in the mother’s youth, there was a powerful experience which caused a separation between her masculine (brothers) and feminine (mother and Vieno) selves–the separation that is actually the norm for our socialization process. The ogress, who personifies with her switching of spindle for axe this separating aspect for the story line, “works” for the masculine. Later in the story she will, quite literally, do this work, but in the beginning she shows her masculine nature by her ability to change the feminine spindle into the masculine axe handle. I might cast the ogress’s origin in the mother’s psyche as the negative judgment–fear and anger which a malecentric society projects onto the authoritative, assertive, or aggressive female. Suppressed but powerful, this ability to aggression, assertion, and authority lurks in many women’s psychic shadows, sometimes lurching into view as PMS, which is then labeled “hormones”, the supposed chemical origin of our monstrous monthly transformation. Many women fear this inner ogress, whom we condition ourselves to try and forget, and imagine ourselves as always (or at least almost always) compliant, assuming the aggressive one we’ve been deconditioned to has no toehold in our psyches. It’s just hormones.

Many of us imagine we are perennial “good girls” despite some rather pushy behaviors, while some of us actually are as compliant as Vieno’s mother. Since “good girl” is socially sanctioned, we may cast ourselves in that role, identify ourselves thus–even despite actual behaviors. We put on that face to the public, for example, though we may be disrespectful and even cruel to self, to lovers, friends, and to family. Being aggressive, insistent, forceful, angry, pushing your will onto others—these are archetypally masculine behaviors. They are the axe of the boundary-setting gender, whether it is a man or a woman committing them. Therefore, in many cultures this behavior is considered especially ugly and monstrous (like the ogress) in a woman, though taken too far it won’t win friends no matter what your gender. Notice that the mother’s position in the tale is one of submitting silently to her masculine sons’ demands. She is eminently passive; she doesn’t even talk, just as Vieno will be muted later in the tale. This extreme behavior is the story’s descriptive code, explaining to the audience that Mother has to learn about her suppressed, aggressive inner ogress.

The spindle is also an ancient feminine symbol of the Fates, Norns, and Wyrrd sisters, a symbol used in fairy tales like The Sleeping Beauty. So the spindle could be an indicator to the sons that their mother was moving forward in her spinning of a life of destiny, towards further personal development. The axe is, rather strangely, morphed into an axe handle, not an axe, when the ogress sets it by the door. Could this refer to the fact that the old way, the way of always producing sons, of submitting smilingly and silently to their requests, is something our protagonist already “has a handle on”? Or does it indicate she still lacks the masculine ability to assertion and self-protection, since the blade is missing?

Vieno’s birth is then a return to a road not travelled, a picking up of dropped stitches, the road which Vieno and the ogress will soon enough traverse, for just as the baby was born in a few weeks, we are not expected to take literally the years of Vieno’s life. The point to her impossible maturation is that Vieno represents the threshold of womanhood. She is adolescent, and thus we are here referring to the mother’s life experience at that time, to that developmental stage. I love the important role here of grief, of tears, since I have focused on them as crucial on my own journey of self-reclamation. Though women’s crying has generally been denigrated to sheer feminine weakness in my patriarchal, Euro-Western society, it hasn’t always been so, as this tale informs us. Tears were once respected for their magical cleansing and transformative powers, for example, in the days when women’s purgative grieving was considered an essential part of death rites and memorial ceremonies.

This focus on emotions begins early in the tale, a way of portraying the most common emotional gender split. The sons, as representative of the masculine aspect, get angry with the mother very early on. Anger is as important as grieving here, because anger is the emotion most obviously associated with aggression and, therefore, self-protection and boundary-setting. In my society, women do generally get to cry, which is appropriate to the watery emotions as part of the feminine archetype, while men get to be angry–masculine emotional element is fire. Vieno’s feminine tears of grief and loss for herself and her mother are the start of something big. It’s initiated when a truth is revealed, the story of the switch, of the division between the masculine and feminine crucially experienced in adolescence, when men must often leave behind much of their feminine aspect, and women their masculine. It is a great loss, the loss of the inner brother or son aspect in the case of our protagonist(s). The woman/women cry because they have connected deeply with the truth that something has been lost. The sons realized this loss, too, the cause for the expression anger towards the mother. The wisdom of this is that the same unwanted event or condition is capable of eliciting either feminine grief, or masculine anger.

The objective for our holistic personal development is the balanced place where the twain meet–where we can experience, admit to, and express both fire and water, with some wisdom and consciousness. It doesn’t count if you have to get drunk to do it, or you do it and then beat yourself up about it, or you do it and then blame it on someone else, etc.–“it” being the emotional expression you do not habitually express, the one which seems monstrous to you and maybe to others. A real-life mother such as the one portrayed in the story could very well be a pushy, angry woman, in fact, but if she does not know that, if she thinks it is her children’s fault for being such terrible sons, or her ogress mother-in-law’s fault for being controlling, for example, she is still rejecting that aggressive aspect of herself. She is projecting her anger onto others, and still needs the self-revelation which this story describes.

The mother does a wise and wonderful thing; she creates a round tear-loaf to guide her daughter. Just so, a woman’s tears of grief for what has been lost have the power to lead her to the truth of her situation regarding her own inner development. Tears and grief help us to reconnect with that which has been lost along the way. We have inevitably left behind parts of ourselves for reasons of survival and conditioning and harmonious (or inharmonious!) relationships, relegating these things to shadow. The loaf is sacred mother-bread; it implies the ability to, and the support for, discovering that which is needed for nurturance, for healthy growth and development on all levels of experience. The circle is the symbol of holism, of feminine all-inclusiveness and of the soul; the discovery of our inner and outer sources of nurturance and support is a huge part of our journey to wholeness within a patriarchal society. The mother collects the tears in a feminine container, a jar made of earth–what a beautiful metaphor for the correlation between a woman’s tears and the elemental, purifying grief-and-water-wisdom which flows over the very Earth itself! Every woman shares this grieving with the Earth as an embodied carrier of Earth’s feminine soul. Men with developed feminine sides can partake of this nurturing grief-bread, of course.

This rolling bread also reminds us of the great grain goddesses, representatives of the annual vegetative circle-cycle of birth-growth-maturity-death-rebirth, a prominent aspect of earth wisdom for agricultural peoples. Ancient Greek grain goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone come instantly to mind. After Demeter’s daughter Persephone descended to the realm of Hades to become his wife, a sort of joining with the masculine side such as this tale depicts, Demeter spent months wandering the earth, grieving for her lost daughter, just as Vieno grieves and searches for a lost and transforming aspect of self. Vieno also undergoes a sort of Persephone-like descent into the dark when she is transformed into the ogress and loses the power of speech. Traditional Finnish rye bread is actually shaped like this bread Vieno follows. This disc-shaped rye bread was (is?) baked rarely, and stored just beneath the ceiling, strung like huge beads on wooden poles.

Pilkka, Vieno’s dog, is also named for his origin; he is “mockery, ridicule, scorn”. It seems a strange name for a beloved companion, but ridicule is a common socialization technique, and that is what Pilkka’s job is–to protect his mistress from feeling the grief of rejection, of belittlement and scorn, which she would have encountered if she had acted “like a boy” as a child, and “like a man” as a woman. Perhaps the memory of having been belittled is part of the grief that Mother/Vieno is now in touch with. Pilkka is spotted black and white to indicate, for one thing, that he represents a separated condition within gender-oppositional experience and behaviors; a grey dog would indicate a melding of the feminine and masculine opposites.

The frequent use of charms (Roll, roll, round bread roll…) in folk/fairy tales indicates the sacred nature of the soul work being storied about, in a form which contemporary America would describe as magic. This magic is a big part of what we experience as the shapeshifting space created by such stories, spindle to axe handle, maiden to ogress, dog to dust. The wheel-shaped, charmed tear-bread works quickly to bring in the ogress. She has been there waiting in the tears all along, though just as Vieno doesn’t know the ogress when they meet, the mother-daughter character is still unable to own these qualities embodied by the ogress. Again, rejected parts can be felt as sadness (Vieno’s tears) as well as the ogress’s irritation and anger.

As is the case with all such fairy tales, this shadow character, the ogress, may seem malicious, and the dog victimized, but that view is the old view. What Pilkka is really trying to avoid, to guard against, is Mother’s/ Vieno’s discovery that this ogress, though perhaps rejected in daily life, is powerful and useful to the mother’s psyche and to her life. The dog’s guarding of his mistress was useful once, allowing her to fit in, to survive, to get along, but those old ways are not appropriate now. The fairy tale’s transformed energies, such as Pilkka’s protection services, will usually disappear from the story somehow by the end, but their death or disappearance is really a metaphor for the transformation and assimilation of their energies. Pilkka’s disappearance is a metaphor for making these once unconscious dynamics conscious. Energies which were once repressed or projected onto others have now been claimed, and thus will not be experienced in the previous form.

This story cleverly insinuates the association between Vieno, whom we might imagine as the “mild”, kind, and polite aspect of the mother, and the ogress, by having the ogress speak oh-so-politely and patiently to Vieno, in a motherly, considerate way. Thus we are introduced to the possibility that all is not as it seems, and a nice Momma can be hiding an inner ogress. Mother/Vieno’s mild manner could in fact be the same thing as the ogress’s switching of the spindle: a way of manipulating others. We all begin our lives learning how to manipulate the world, and politeness and gentleness and passive tears, as well as aggression and anger, can be used to this end. The story begins with the sons figuring out how to manipulate their mother, reminding us of this basic endemic aspect of human relatedness. Though it may seem that the mild woman is always compliant, her very compliance is paradoxically a way to get what she wants from others; to be treated with kindness, to be esteemed, to retreat from confrontation, etc.

In fact, Vieno herself cannot see through the ogress’s bogus, manipulative politeness and concern. She doesn’t understand this purpose to which her characteristic mildness may be currently used, since it’s essential to identifying as the female goody-goody that we believe we are unselfish, that we care nothing for our own wants and needs. Her dog, who represents a more instinctual aspect of Vieno, is the one who gives warning that something dangerous lurks beneath the façade, something having to do with survival. Instinctual survival response is part of what forms our early behaviors and personalities, our defenses and fears, and the original response which became habitual was originally instinctual, a way to get from the world what we needed.

However, the story is correct in informing us that mature transformation, whether late adolescent or even late adulthood, requires going beyond the boundaries of our early instinctual response, at least those which are meant to protect us from social castigation, which is Pilkka’s job. The protagonist must get past this guardian of the original response, however important he might have once been. The theme of water comes in again soon enough, with its restful, purifying, and healing properties. The sparkling water Vieno, Pilkka, and the ogress come upon refers to water of the spirit, of purifying inner light–a pool, because of its stillness, is symbolic of self-reflection. The dog may be trying to protect Vieno from self examination, but three’s the charm, though the truth will have its sting. As in the myth of Narcissus, the pool acts as a sometimes emotionally charged mirror of the soul. In such a pool, the truth of who we are beneath our survival behaviors is revealed.

The pool of revelation is approached three times because fairy tales always indicate the sacred nature of inner transformational work by three tries. The protective dog, with whom we all sympathize, has to go before Vieno/Mother can begin to experience her inner ogress. The ogress is as compelled by the tear bread as is Vieno; she follows it, too. They are one, maiden-mother-crone. As the unsocialized, more assertive aspect, the ogress knows what developmental change is needed. Her anger at the dog mounts, until it literally disappears the dog. The dog’s role as protector from the mother’s inner experience of anger and aggression means that the ability to connect with and express anger will spell its death. From the perspective of Vieno’s/Mother’s inner growth, the dog is indeed Paholainen, the Devil, the father of lies, just as the ogress claims. We lie to ourselves when we imagine we do not experience anger, we claim that it is not useful, that we are only that which our society has conditioned us to imagine we are. For a woman who has kept her anger under wraps for years, the anger itself, the ogress, may now become the teacher. The ogress’s statement, “Now we shall see”, can be taken quite literally; without the old feminine way of avoiding anger, Vieno/Mother will see things she never saw before, such as the nine brothers who have disappeared in anger, those whom Vieno has literally never seen.

The new way of seeing is also symbolized by the character and body switch, the ogress’s baptismal magic which allows Vieno to witness life from the assertive side of the fence she had always imagined herself oppositional to. Vieno now literally experiences this ogress aspect, a previously rejected aspect of self: voiceless, dumb, as it always was, anyway. The ogress within Mother/Vieno wasn’t welcomed into daily life, and therefore did not develop the capacity for expressive language. It was unconscious, brutish, and undeveloped, playing what seemed to be subversive tricks on the woman as shadow aspects will, like kicking dogs and switching omens of good fortune. So now the ogress has taken the role of beautiful Miss Goody-Goody, while Vieno is forced to explore the old, ugly, unwanted aspect she once spurned, here in the land of men, where anger and other forms of aggression are acceptable as part of the natural landscape. The men aren’t exactly welcoming of the ugly old woman-sister, this unknown who cannot speak for herself; they ask “from what far country do you come”, indicating their unfamiliarity with her. However, they do accept that the mute old woman is useful; she has a place in the psyche, in this land of the masculine. That the brothers live in a garden indicates that we are in the inner terrain of the abundant, growing, creative soul, which uses its innate wisdom of growth and development, and its connection with the divine, to contain and drive our inner work.

While the former ogress keeps house with the brothers, the mute ogress/Vieno will now do men’s work, herding cattle. She will try to feel her way into some masculine aspects of herself which were previously unknown to her. Cattle have long symbolized a sort of wealth, an internal state of abundance and security in psychological terms. When symbolized by the cows, this state is often considered to be the provenance of the masculine, at least in a society in which most material wealth is owned by men. This is the realm of the enlightenment god Apollo. Herding is masculine in the sense of being a job of protection–the patriarchal protective father aspect. Herding also entails watching (seeing) and counting, two archetypically masculine activities.

Vieno/Mother will have to endure some travail before she can birth this new synergized way of being into a world where there is room for both masculine and feminine ways of being. She must spend some time in an unprotected place, enduring whatever comes her way, without reverting to her socially conditioned behaviors—behaviors from which she now, through the role switch, has some distance. While alone and out of doors, she is literally connecting with the healing powers of the earth–doing ecotherapy by putting her tears in an earthen jar, if you will, and learning how to connect with her natural self, away from the socialization in human relationships, as vision questers will. Wind is mental activity, rain is watery feminine emotion, and the noonday sun is the full-on power of the fiery masculine, which includes the protective emotion of anger. She is learning balance from all four elements, in the traditional wisdom way.

Often a woman who acts very feminine and has no ability with anger, is unable to be alone, without the protection of a man. They feel too exposed, as does Vieno in the meadows. In society, a beautiful young woman should generally not be alone long herding cattle; she would not only be a poor guard for such property, due to a lack of fighting skills, but she would be exposed to being forcibly taken herself. Such obvious dynamics which are found in the animal kingdom are part of what creates our human behaviors and personalities, which are then reinforced by society. However, Vieno is at this time an ugly old woman, so she is relieved of some of the fear which might accompany being vulnerably female and alone and attractive in the world of masculine power.

In Greek myth, Apollo’s cattle and his noonday sun represent the embodied experience of radiant masculine holy abundance. Watching cows implies mindfulness, a wise skill. Just so, when we are doing inner work with anger and other emotions, we must be watchful, so that the heat of emotion does not take us over in some stampede of uncontrolled, animalistic behavior. We must learn to “keep it together”, to feel secure and grounded in the moment and with what we have, with who we really are as humans and as spirit and soul, despite the vagaries of the weather and the seasons of our lives and the criticisms and expectations of those around us. Cattle embody the dichotomy between the bull’s powerful masculine aggressive fire and the feminine, more placid watery element of the cow’s temperament. Perhaps Vieno can cultivate and recognize anger from this natural, elemental perspective, and then she will not have to fear it. She will discover its necessity and its usefulness, and how it fits existentially into the embodied animal-human experience.

A lack of alone time can be problematic for women’s development, particularly in developing a wise elderhood or croneage, as can a lack of time in nature. The ogress Vieno is given time for healing and contemplation here, some ecotherapy if you will. The beauty of telling one’s own story is also here, encapsulated within the larger fairy tale story. Vieno, as cattle herd, is free to express herself alone, outside of relational obligations and household duties. She sings her story to herself and to the soul of the fields, to the cattle and to the skies. Women naturally cotton to the expressive healing arts, and talk therapy is based entirely on the opportunities for holism within the storytelling experience. In this storying, Vieno is working with the burrs in her shoes, the things which create discomfort in her way of walking the Earth. She’s working with the bread-stones of remembrance, the heavy memories of ridicule and belittlement which were a part of her socialization, and which she was forced to eat growing up.

These bread-stones can keep her from experiencing proper relationship with the inner mother, and can keep her from truly mothering herself, since bread is significant of the great grain goddesses, feminine counterpart to the gods of the cattle. After decades of mothering others, concerning themselves with others’ wants and needs, women must often make this shift towards mothering themselves, discerning that which feeds them on all levels, including the level of soul and spirit, of creative expression. These old memories were what she once gave the ogress to hold. She had pushed them away from consciousness, so she would not feel angry about them, since anger was not considered appropriate and did not help to make life any easier. Giving those angry burrs and stones to the inner ogress, and staying sweet and nice in her behaviors, has reached the tipping point; she can no longer hide the inner distress. Like many folks who come to this tipping point, she is what we call now in our society depressed; she is “more sorrowful than she has ever been.”

Vieno’s work in the meadows, her inner watching and storytelling and enduring and feeling, bears fruit one day; the brothers hear. She has opened a new line of communication between her feminine and masculine aspects; she has crossed the river which once caused her to remain stupid about her own anger and grief. The chant (sadly not included in the online version) she sings is a song to the masculine, to a very Apollonic aspect, in fact: bright day. Trees are here, too; the Finns, like some other northern peoples, are tree-folk. Trees, like other natural beings, represent sacred aspects of human and non-human experience on Earth. Of course the specifics vary–my main source for interpretation is Celtic, which seems to be a fairly accurate one when applied to Finnish lore. Fir, mentioned in Vieno’s song-story-charm-prayer, is a representative of elation, of fear and trembling, and of experiencing divine energies which are always holistic. This interpretation would be useful here; the straight sky-high firs are like lightning rods, bringing down ethereal energies needed for her to rectify the dualistic split between her masculine and feminine sides. Birch is universally a tree of purification and new beginnings. It is associated with water, and with maidenhood in the case of the white birch. Vieno’s singing, her days spent in the outdoors, and her weeping are all ways of purification, of “out with the old, in with the new”.

Vieno’s humble experience as old and ugly is often portrayed in fairy tales for women. It’s an experience of humility which drops us below the ego’s radar, and allows us to move into the realms of soul and of spirit where the world’s appearance ratings don’t exist. Women are particularly judged according to looks, another archetypal association as the object of desire. In contrast to Vieno’s humble condition, the ogress is now “head of the house”, and has “everything she could wish”. Does the ogress act more self-assertively than Vieno’s mother once did, since self-assertion is assumedly needed to act with authority as “head of the house”? Does she actually bully the nine brothers into giving her what she wants? Or did the mother always get everything she wished before, with her mild manner of manipulating? I suppose it’s moot, since the ogress and the servant Vieno are one and the same. Her Vieno aspect is now involved in a very different experience in which she has little or no control over her situation, as humble servant to the nine brothers and to her alter ego, the ogress. She now knows what it’s like to be the suppressed one.

Most interestingly, Vieno, who is working with the emotion of anger, asks in her prayer that she be carried home “harmless”. Many women, including myself, who witnessed as a child or later on the death-dealing destructive potential of anger, whether expressed by men or women, reject it utterly. This makes sense, until you discover that its rejection subjects you to an unbalanced life of suppression and fear, a life of too much dependence on others for your security. Many women associate men’s emotional makeup with war and the angry, insensitive, masculine rape of the Earth–or of women, and that is good reason to reject it utterly when you don’t really understand its deeper nature or the harm and retardation caused by its suppression. Vieno is concerned that, if she allows herself to feel anger, she might become destructive or might harm others, as all emotions can be used in more or less egotistical ways. Vieno asks the sacred masculine “bright day” to help her come home to her authentic self, and cause no harm in the process. Notice she does not ask to be unharmed; she asks not to harm. She has moved beyond her self-protective modus operandus in regards to the masculine, to a more holistic, crone-like concern for how her way of being in the world might affect all, human and non-human. This is the crowning attitude of healing/“wholing” expressed in the Hippocratic oath, “First, do no harm.” For what is the purpose of healing, if not to move out of harm’s way, to stop hurting ourselves and others?

Vieno’s complaints about the ogress’s burrs and rocks have here been addressed; the dulling of the knife remains. Knives, as referred to in reference to the axe above, are masculine tools, symbolic of a skill women must develop in order to do productive inner work–the skill of discrimination, of being able to separate things into their constituent parts in order to understand them. The ogress in the kitchen, whom we could say is now representing the mother before the coming triune transformation of crone/mother/daughter, doesn’t want to use this discrimination, this masculine ability to cut through the sea of experience and memory and emotion the feminine principle swims in. So she keeps dulling the knife, rejecting the idea that the masculine ways of being could help. She’s both representing the former knife-dull state in need of transformation, and presenting the tests to be met by the transforming Vieno with her stones and filth and muting.

This cutting skill, when combined with some emotional energy, really gets things rolling, as Vieno puts it symbolically in her bread chant. The knife of discrimination can reveal emotion’s parts, its justifications and origins, and what it tells us about ourselves and our world, or our conditioning. Most mothers, even the ordinarily meek, know the fearless bear-like protective anger which comes up when family is threatened. Beneath our gentle demeanor, appropriate with young children, lurks the anger we might have been attributing to men, yet we also know this thing in a slightly different context in a culture that insists we sheath our claws. This mother-anger can be used to protect ourselves, too, to help set boundaries so that we have authority over our hours and our behaviors and our personal space. Perhaps we with dull knives habitually gave others what they wanted even if it meant devaluing ourselves; we let them steal our cows, our valuation, and turned our eyes in the other direction.

In the ritual at noonday, the masculine sun’s power is used to work the charm of bringing light to these previously dark or ignored aspects of the woman’s psyche in balance with the element which the ogress used to switch roles initially, the watery feminine element. Balance between the masculine and feminine, between anger and tears, is now possible. Noonday is the height of sun power, the highest possible illumination of Earth. Vieno’s “exorcism” in the kitchen is pretty interesting; we are reminded of the ogress’s prediction, “We shall see.” Vieno enters the kitchen with her masculine allies behind her, in a state of self-imposed blindness, saying that her eyes “pain her”.

Her old way of seeing, whether through the ogress’s viewpoint or the old mild Vieno, caused and presently causes some sort of suffering, the suffering of the disassociation of inner masculine and feminine. The suffering was originally expressed in the story specifically as grief over the loss of her brothers. The reverse baptism ritual in the kitchen will dramatize what is usually, for most of us, not quite so dramatic, as it usually takes a series of small realizations rather than one big event to change one’s inner landscape. Yet, for some, there will be healing moments such as this. The very famous song, Amazing Grace, speaks of this moment Vieno is about to undergo. The line “I once was blind, but now I see”, sings of these countless, daily, human revelations. They are part of our heritage as spiritual beings.

The first baptism ritual in the pool–the purification of the eyes–is reenacted, and it reverses Vieno’s ugliness once embodied by the ogress. “Send her away”, says the brother, though it is only the old viewpoint of the ogress that is sent away (in the online version, she is burned in the sauna, burning being a fairy tale option for the disposal of unwanted aspects using the purifying element of fire). The ogress, as an important aspect of Vieno/Mother’s holistic self, shapeshifts away from the old way–the ugly, rejected way–into the new, light-blessed way of understanding and accepting the inner masculine. Now that Vieno understands the ogress as a thing of natural beauty, the old, ugly form cannot return. They all move into the new birch-tree beginnings; the tenth time was a charm, and the round bread Wheel of Fortune has turned favorably for the woman’s inner family.

Though we tend to cringe internally at the emergence of such inner ogress aspects for fear we will become the ugly one, in fact the ogress’s emergence only presages a balance between opposites. In this case balance likely enhances the mother’s ability to speak her own mind and pursue her own path, less dependent on old habits and on old ways of seeing herself. She may be more comfortable and secure when alone; she may experience her life as more abundant and actually have less need to manipulate others. She may be able to cultivate a different sort of life, one which allows room for her own anger, self-nurturance, abundance, creativity, agency, and inner authority.

Colleen Szabo is a writer and artist currently living in Michigan. Her writing includes poetry and nonfiction: essays, articles, and reviews. Her formal education is in psychology: a Bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico, and a Master’s in Transpersonal Psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, in Palo Alto, CA. Find more of her writing, including essays and symbolic film reviews, at

 Posted by at 8:38 am
Feb 112013

On Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights
by Marina Warner
Belknap Press, January 30, 2012
Reviewed by Michelle Anjirbag

Stranger MagicI remember learning about the Enlightenment era many times in school. Whether discussed as the ‘siecle des Lumieres’ or simply the 18th-century, never once was mentioned the crossover between Christianity and Islam, Europe and the greater expanses of the Near East, or how these exchanges arguably made the expansion of literature and innovative thought possible.

In Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights,” Marina Warner dissects the interweaving of European culture and the stories now known as the Thousand and One Nights. Tracing the motifs of Arabic and Oriental storytelling, Warner facilitates the reader’s introduction to the Arabian Nights as known today as a cross-cultural literary phenomenon, augmented through imperfect translation and satirical embellishment.

The writing is smart and effective–no academicese found here. Wrapping tales within tales within explanations, Warner stylistically imitates her subject while also making it possible for the reader to draw his own connections between these storytelling patterns and other Western literature. Slowly, the literary Berlin-wall between Eastern/Oriental literature and all that came from the west is deconstructed.

Myth and history merge, as do cultures thought of as separate even now. Warner connects established tropes to seminal works of English literature, postulating on the migration or the tropes across cultures and geographies.

Challenging common ideas regarding the root of Western magical thinking, Warner’s research constantly reminds one that the 18th-century obsession with Orientalism marked a profound shift from not only Western rationality, but also the strict Christianity-based paradox between good and evil, and the place of magic on that scale. Another cross-cultural phenomenon is marked: the borrowing of justifications of the good or evil of magic by scholars of the Koran, to create a cultural space for magic in the west.

I can write for days explicating the lessons in literature, history, myth, folklore, and religious and cultural studies outlined in this book. But what all of my writing would amount to would be to say: read this book. As we age and fairy tales become relegated to the shadows of childhood, it is easy to forget that these tales of magic and mystery were intended for all ages, and often, not at all for children. It is easy to forget that there is more to learn about ourselves through how we read and retell fairy tales, how we borrow tales from other cultures and then retell them. Beyond being ‘charmed,’ there is a vast historical, political and cultural dialogue to be discovered in tales of magic and enchantment. Warner’s Stranger Magic is a phenomenal introduction into the other side of reading fairy tales.

I wholeheartedly recommend Marina Warner’s Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights. Though a longer, slower read, the book is a brilliant reintroduction to a tome of underappreciated tales that have done much to shape many cultures. Whether serious academics, or those just looking to learn a little bit more, this book has a little for everyone. Fairy tales are a portal into different worlds. So often now adapted for children and teens, I was delighted to find a work that, though written to educate instead of enchant, captivated my mind as well as any of my old favorites.

 Posted by at 8:15 am

Onyx and Opal Boil the Sea by Kevin Tseng

 Fairies and Fairy Tales  Comments Off on Onyx and Opal Boil the Sea by Kevin Tseng
Feb 102013
Kevin Tseng

Kevin Tseng

[Editor’s note: We constantly receive email from people who have found much to love here at Cabinet des Fées. Last year we were contacted by Kevin Tseng, who suggested we share one of his own fairy tales on the site. Normally, we keep all of our fiction confined to our two magazines (Scheherezade’s Bequest and Demeter’s Spicebox), but when Kevin told us why fairy tales mean so much to him, we decided to make an exception. The fairy tale that follows Kevin’s own story has been copied, with his permission, word for word from his website. We recommend paying him a visit when you’re done here.)

Kevin Austin Tseng used to weigh 220 pounds in the 6th grade. This may sound crazy, but he lost that weight because of a fairy tale, one his father told to him at night. Now, he believes that fairy tales can change lives.

His father told the adventures of a hero named Mudboy who was stuck in a mountain. And Mudboy would try to escape only to be transported back into the mountain someway or another at the end of the night. After three years of telling of Mudboy’s failures, the series ended. Mudboy never escaped. But Kevin did.

Onyx and Opal Boil the Sea
by Kevin Tseng

Once upon a time, all the humans of the world lived submerged in the ocean, and all alone a little man lived even deeper down, in the area beneath the ocean floor, in a vast, vast cavern. There was no one else living there but him. His name was Onyx, and the dark world beneath the lithosphere lay in his hands to explore. If any of us were to see Onyx, we’d probably take note of his wide, calloused feet which he used for 18 years to walk around, or maybe his pointy ears used for listening to the drip-drop of the ocean’s moisture seeping downwards, but most conspicuously, we’d notice his big, black, dilated eyes which have not seen light but only darkness for his entire life.

One day, a young diver made her way finally to the bottom of the ocean and found a hidden door which she entered quickly and then closed, before the water came in. In that place, she could see nothing, so she found some small plants, those of the hardiest and bristly sort that could grow without light, and set a fire for the first time in this cavernous space beneath the ocean. Gleams of light touched the walls and ground for the first time since the earth was made, and in this vast space, the diver named Opal now stood gasping at the infinity, but more so surprised at a little dot in the distance — a little boy with pointy ears and large eyes covering his face and yelling, ‘Turn off the light! Turn off the light!”

“You’ll get used to it with time,” replied the girl. She walked up to him. In a few minutes time, Onyx opened his eyes and saw a little glowing fire, like a rip in the dimension exposing a brighter world beyond the black, and then it fainted. Having seen the light, Onyx’s eyes thirsted to see more, so he and the girl began to gather up all the little plants they could find until they amassed a rather large bonfire and lit it. Onyx and Opal fell in love in that dark place with a little bit of light (the situation in which I think most of us fall in love). However, within a day, the fire was gone.

In the world above water, people found that the water around them felt a bit warmer than usual. Back under the ocean, Opal told Onyx about a celebration called marriage in which two souls become one forever, and suggested that they have one, but it had to be special, and under much light. But the small weeds sparsely strewn could only glow for so long. They needed more fire, more light, and more firewood. Opal once heard a story that in a world of dry land that existed long ago, the rocks of the earth were broken into trillions of pieces that it looked like little brown bits of dust, and that in this soil, as the storybooks said, the plants for firewood could grow. So with rocks in hand, Onyx and Opal, smashed and toiled and broke all the rocks beneath them into a trillion pieces and made soil. Then they replanted the small weeds and created wonderfully planted fields that spanned the underground world. Then they waited.

They waited for years until they grew old. They waited while the sea dripped purified down through the rocks and watered their garden underneath the sea. And then they stood up and walked around in the fruits of their labor, their home now grown with the hardiest of plants, now larger and fuller. They sat together on a hill, and Onyx, having fashioned a ring of stone and diamond, put it on Opal’s ring finger as she set that world beneath the sea on fire. In a world of light, Onyx and Opal lived happily ever after for fifteen years, and when the darkness came again with that world beautifully destroyed, they passed on side by side, lying on a monument of stone.

Meanwhile, the watery world above boiled away and splotches of land breathed air and saw light for the first time in ages, and on these pieces of land, more boys and girls saw light and married under the perpetual fire that was the sun. And when young divers dug again beneath the ocean once more, they never found the world we saw of plants and fire and soil, but only black and white stones we now call Onyx and Opal.

 Posted by at 2:33 pm

The Old King and the Claws

 Fairies and Fairy Tales  Comments Off on The Old King and the Claws
Feb 102013

The Old King and the Claws
By Sterling Ulrich

“Long, long ago there lived an old king who was rather eccentric. People said he was odd because he had many sorrows, poor old king. His queen and children had died, and he himself said his heart had been torn apart. Who had done that and how it happened, he never told; but it was someone with claws, he said, and since then he imagined everyone had claws on his hands.”

You don’t need to be a fairy tale aficionado to note that Anna Wahlenburg has a gift for capturing the human spirit through fantasy. This paragraph, the introduction for “Linda-Gold and the Old King,” is a story in its own right. It came to my mind again recently as I pondered a question posed by one of my good friends from summer camp.

“What is the value of fantasy?”

Kevin, my friend, couldn’t express his dilemma more plainly than that. Fantasy is indeed a body of “untruth,” as we have been told. What purpose could it ever serve in the education or evolution of man?

Swedish Fairy TalesLet me say first that I don’t consider all fantasy to be valuable–or if valuable, not equally so. There are many books on the shelves of today’s libraries that I would not touch, and others I would only pick up out of slight curiosity. The ones I most enjoy, like Swedish Fairy Tales (Skyhorse Publishing, 2010), are those you typically won’t even see in a library.

But fantasy has value, or I wouldn’t read it. I am vain enough to say that without any compunction. All the same, I had a hard time answering Kevin’s question.

There was talk of heritage, of the philosophical nature of truth, and even of theology (for which I would refer you to Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories”). We crafted a wonderful fantasy of our own that summer–a play for the campers featuring Peter Pan and sundry childhood heroes. Yet by the end of summer, and even long after, I felt we had not arrived at a satisfactory answer.

Then, as I have told you, I recalled “Linda-Gold and the Old King.” You may consider it worth knowing that in the story, a child (whose name you will have guessed) is the only person with the innocent audacity necessary to touch the king. The king is in fact so startled by her touch that he doesn’t order her clapped into irons, but allows her to begin to work her way into his heart, and eventually adopts her as his daughter and heir–upon discovering that she has no claws.

There are wonderful implications concerning the gifts that are children, as well as the nature of grief and recovery; but what I want to talk to you about are the simple words of the first paragraph: the delusion of claws.

The king’s delusion is in fact the only thing that makes this story fantasy. There are no monsters, nor magic, nor mythic civilizations. Linda-Gold is remarkable because she is a child and because she loves the old king; she need be remarkable for no other reason. The king is a king like any other–except that he is haunted by claws.

Why can we not consider this a work of general fiction? Kings and magic often go together, but not always; and when they are obviously divorced (ie., when the events of the story might have really happened), we do not call the piece a work of fantasy.

Mightn’t the story of “Linda-Gold and the Old King” be true? It certainly might. It is entirely conceivable that a certain king of long, long ago was rather eccentric. For all we know, he was totally schizophrenic. He imagined people had claws. Then he met a girl whose unabashed love eventually brought him down the road to recovery. His delusions vanished along with the depression and post-traumatic stress that had nourished them. He became sane and normal, and made the girl a princess.

Of course that could be true. It would be a noteworthy case for the psychological journals of today. But the beauty of “Linda-Gold…”–the fantasy of it–is that the king is not mad.

In any other genre, a man who sees something that isn’t there is a lunatic, a fanatic–a Don Quixote charging windmills. He is laughable and pitiable, and may make an excellent character, but we must always acknowledge him to be mad–to be missing some essential truth about his reality.

Anna Wahlenburg makes no such acknowledgement. The king is missing nothing. He has a firmer grasp on his reality than many of us can ever hope for. His wife and children are dead. His heart has been ripped to smithereens by someone with claws. This is not sentiment. This is not symbolism. For the purposes of the story, this is what really happened.

I hope you understand this. There are clearer ways to express it, but I am not a master of them. What am I suggesting? That fantasy can tell things that aren’t true as though they were? If that is all I have said, you might as well not have read this essay; I am certain you already knew that much.

What I am saying is that the advantage of fantasy is that it can tell the truth in its truest form–as though nothing but the truth were actual, and nothing but the truth could define human events.

Many of us are afraid to love because we are afraid of being hurt. This is something in our hearts and minds; it is not actual. The king sees this truth actualized. He is afraid people might hurt him because they really, easily could. They have claws.

And the old king is not alone!

We love Peter Pan because we would have been his lost boys if what is true were actual. We weep and cheer for Frodo because we all know what the ring feels like, but only he has to wear it. We love, we hate; we suffer, we rise; we grow, we decay–but someone, somewhere on a page did all those things too, and did them better. Someone really, actually did them.

I acknowledge that this is not the entire value of fantasy, but I am completely satisfied to have at least part of an answer: evidence that fantasy accomplishes something utterly impossible by any other genre–and something phenomenally important to human understanding. Fantasy is not, as many have supposed, deliberate ignorance of reality.

Fantasy is reality unmasked.

 Posted by at 12:25 pm

Call for Submissions: Yellow Medicine Review

 Fresh Apples, Our Grim(m)oire  Comments Off on Call for Submissions: Yellow Medicine Review
Feb 062013

YMRFall2012The upcoming issue of Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art, and Thought is devoted to re-imagining the fairy-tale genre in poetry and fiction and they are calling for submissions: “The role of fairy-tales, folk-tales, and myths has always been to explain the unexplainable and to open the door to the treasury of our imagination. They still play that role today. Maybe more so than ever, we need new myths, new tales that help us to recapture the fantastic moment in the routine of everyday life. We welcome creative works that rediscover the magic through the use of fairy-tale and mythical motifs, images, fantastic events and descriptions.”

Guest edited by Natalia Andrievskikh (Binghamton University), the submissions notes are as follows:

“We are not looking for stories and fairy-tales written for children: rather, we would like to see writing that appeals to broader audiences, while playing with fairy-tale motifs and aesthetics and tapping into the oral traditions of indigenous communities. Such works can blend the magic and the real, take a modern twist on a classic tale, or revisit the rich heritage of half-forgotten folk legends. Think Angela Carter, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Italo Calvino, Haruki Murakami, Marina Warner, Kate Bernheimer, and Nail Gaiman, among others. We are especially interested in multi-national submissions across marginalized cultures and ethnicities. Please send your best work. Translations are accepted if you can provide the original and the translation and you hold all rights to the work and its distribution.”

The deadline is March 1, 2013, so if this is a market that interests you, please send your work in now. Questions should be addressed to

 Posted by at 11:48 am
Sep 112012


Rosa and the frozen tears
by Pen Clements

‘What about her? Would she make a good princess?’ said the King, watching his son and a young blonde girl as they ran across the palace lawns.

‘Rosa? Absolutely not. Neither wealthy nor well connected,’ said the Queen.

‘He’s always liked her,’ the King replied. ‘Since they were very small.’

‘He’s only ten now,’ the Queen said. ‘Far too young to know his own mind. We’ll find him a real noble’s daughter.’

They watched the prince grab Rosa’s hand and pull her towards him. The girl strained to get away but Prince Roderick had a strong grip.

‘I don’t think he wants anyone else, ’ the King said. It was Roderick’s seventeenth birthday and he had Rosa trapped in the birthday waltz. ‘You know how determined he is. She’s the one he wants to marry.’

‘Nonsense dear, she’s a passing fancy. He’ll grow out of it,’ said his wife.

They watched as Roderick held the young woman in his arms and twirled her round the floor.

‘She looks like she’s trying to get away,’ said one of the attendants, peering at the glittering aristocracy from behind a velvet curtain.

‘You had better hope she doesn’t,’ said the prince’s nanny. ‘He’d never get over it.’

Much later, when the revellers had hopped into their carriages and rolled home, two figures could be seen in the rose garden. They sat side by side on a carved stone bench, listening to a string quartet playing softly in the background.

‘You planted these for me?’ Rosa said, gesturing towards the shadowy garden.

‘They remind me of you. And now you’ll always be surrounded by roses.’

‘What if I don’t want to be?’ Rosa said, under her breath. Only the silver moonbeams saw the frown that crossed her face.

‘I think we should have four children,’ said Roderick, ‘Two boys and two girls would be nice, but as long as we have some of each I don’t really mind.’

Rosa paused before saying, ‘I would like to travel. Across the Seven Seas in a sailing ship.’

‘I’ve been thinking about names,’ Roderick continued, ‘but I haven’t decided on those yet.’

‘I would like to climb the Mountains of the Sun,’ said Rosa, her voice a little loud, ‘and find the dragons that live there.’

‘I’m looking forward to it,’ said Roderick.

‘So am I,’ Rosa said, tapping her foot.

They fell silent and gazed at the moonlit roses. The musicians hoisted their instruments and tiptoed away.

The prince reached his full height. His hair was a glossy black, his eyes a clear blue. His shoulders were broad and his back as straight as young larch tree. All the women in the palace loved to look at him. On the day he turned twenty-one he rose in buoyant good humour, flinging open his shutters and beaming at the clear, blue morning. He smiled as he walked the castle’s corridors, nodded to everyone he met, hummed a happy tune under his breath. The king watched him at breakfast. Now and then the prince reached his hand into his pocket and fondled something in there. Something small and round, just big enough to fit on a finger.

‘I told you he would marry her,’ said the King, when his son had left the room.

‘So stubborn,’ said the Queen, with a sigh. ‘And I did want a girl with her own title.’

‘He hasn’t asked her yet,’ mumbled the nanny, but nobody listened to her.

Roderick stood in the garden. Rosa was supposed to be there. He’d seen her last night, told her to wait by the rose beds he’d planted for her . She’d looked at him and although she hadn’t said anything, he knew she’d heard. He frowned and shaded his eyes, peering across the herbaceous borders. Her blonde head was always visible out here. It was the way the sun turned her hair to gold.

‘Rosa!’ he called, ‘Are you hiding? Are we playing a game?’ but there was no reply. Roderick walked in circles around the garden. The shadows lengthened. The ring was heavy in his pocket.

‘A noble’s daughter wouldn’t do this,’ said the Queen as she peered out of the conservatory window. ‘A noble’s daughter appreciates a good bloodline.’

‘I think you should tell him,’ said the King.

‘You’re his father,’ said the Queen.

‘And you’re his mother,’ said the King.

‘I’ll do it,’ the nanny said.

The prince took it hard. Very hard. He cried swollen tears that froze as they slid down his cheeks. They looked like icy diamonds.

‘I hope they aren’t cold,’ said the King.

‘Pity they aren’t real,’ said the Queen.

Roderick spent his days in the rose garden. A frosty rime appeared wherever he walked and his trailing fingertips left a rim of glass on the rose petals. Soon the rose garden was a silver wasteland, beautiful, but dead. The petals were sharp as thorns and no-one but the prince would go there. Roderick stopped crying but could not be parted from his frozen tears. After a time he had them fashioned into a necklace that he never removed.

The King and Queen waited for his melancholy to pass. It didn’t. Their prince moped in the rose garden and the only person he talked to was the dog.

‘We’re not getting any younger,’ said the King.

‘Speak for yourself,’ said his wife.

‘We need heirs,’ said the King,’ Grandchildren. Or one of those inbred cousins will take the throne. Roderick must marry.’

‘We could post a reward,’ the Queen said. ‘Let’s give his hand away in marriage to the first woman that can make him laugh. Or cry. Properly I mean. None of that frozen nonsense.’

‘I thought you wanted him to marry a noble? Someone with a good title, bloodlines and all that. And beautiful, of course.’

‘I don’t see what beauty has to do with anything,’ said the Queen, unconsciously stroking her large nose. ‘Besides, I don’t care what she’s like any more. I just want the rose garden back. Oh, and Roderick. ’

A flood of suitable and unsuitable women poured into the castle. Some were far too old to be marrying such a virile, handsome prince and some were far too young. Judging by the pale skin around their wedding fingers, some were married already.

The prince sat on the throne he was to inherit and listened to them all. He wore black or grey nowadays, the necklace of frozen tears shining against the dark cloth. The women sat on a red velvet cushion beside him and did their best to make him laugh or cry. They shared the tragedies, joys and triumphs of the kingdom. They told him everyday tales and histories that spanned generations, they sang, they recited poetry. Roderick gained a unique insight into the fears and dreams of his subjects but he wasn’t moved. He didn’t laugh and he didn’t cry. The most he ever did was to stroke the necklace around his neck with the tip of his little finger. Nobody existed for him but a young woman with golden hair and a laughing spirit of adventure.

The flood of women dried up. Decades went by. Now and then a stranger would appear out of curiosity, having heard rumours of the beautiful black-haired young man who seemed to have stopped time. For Roderick never aged. His faithful dog died, then the nanny, followed by some of the attendants who had been with him since childhood. Roderick didn’t gain a wrinkle.

‘Perhaps we should tell him Rosa is dead,’ said the Queen, in a quavering voice. She was very old now.

‘What’s that?’ said the King, ‘Speak up!’

‘I said, tell him she’s DEAD!’ shouted the Queen.

‘Can’t do that. He’d cry tears of blood and all we’d have is a matching set of jewellery.’

More time passed and a new visitor came to the castle. This one was far too old to be a suitor but she asked to see the prince anyway. Roderick sat on his throne, sighed and looked out of the window. The old woman began.

‘Once there was a lovely young girl and a handsome young man,’ the old woman said. ‘He wanted to marry her, have lots of children–four in fact–and live happily ever after.’

‘Heard it all before,’ said Roderick.

‘She wasn’t ready for that,’ said the old lady. ‘But he never seemed to hear her. She longed to sail the Seven Seas and climb the Mountains of the Sun. She wanted to see the dragons that live there.’

A slight frown crossed Roderick’s unlined face.

‘And did she?’ he asked.

‘Oh yes. She sailed all seven of the seas. And she climbed the Mountains of the Sun and found the golden dragons there. She even rode one of them.’

She had Roderick’s attention now.

‘And then,’ the old lady paused and reached out to Roderick, her touch as soft as a rose petal. ‘Then she found herself far from home in a foreign land. She married a handsome young man from that place and had lots of children and lived very happily with him until the day he died.’

Roderick clutched his necklace of frozen tears.

‘But she always remembered her young prince. She thought he would have forgotten her, married someone else and lived a rich and full life. She thought she’d come back and visit him, to hear his stories, to laugh over their youth and their memories, to share tales of his life after her.’

The old lady held Roderick’s hand.

‘And here you are,’ she said. ‘Frozen in time and far too young for me. You have stayed behind, too far behind for either of us to share anything again.’

Roderick sniffed. His nose was blocked and a wet stain spread across his front where the necklace hung. Only the gold chain was left now. He gulped and then he sobbed. He tried to stand and rubbed his back, puzzled. His knees creaked and his ankles were sore. He pushed his hands through his hair and realised it was no longer smooth and there wasn’t much of it. Rosa looked at her prince and smiled. Roderick looked at her, at his wrinkled hands, and cried again. Tears of sorrow for a life unlived, tears of joy for a lost love found.

‘I told you he’d marry her,’ said the ancient King.

‘He always was stubborn,’ the Queen said, putting her hand in his.

Pen Clements would like to be a botanist, a Shaolin monk or an anthropologist in a galaxy far, far away. She’d also like to have wings, breathe underwater and meet an angel. Unfortunately she hasn’t managed all of that yet, but being a writer lets her pretend.

Pen lives in tropical north Queensland with her husband, two sons and a traditional wooden sailing boat. She loves exploring the islands of the Great Barrier Reef and is inspired by the natural world. Her first novel, Oceanheart, will be released late 2012 and you can find some of her short stories on

 Posted by at 11:07 am