Authors: Tanith Lee
into inestimable Disney Princess merchandise.
And that’s just
fairy tale, not even a story considered among the very best known, most popular, or most beloved.
Fairy tales evolve. This mutability is one of the many reasons fairy tales have endured and continue to both reflect and effect culture.
• 12 •
• Paula Guran •
In the last few years, the idea of fairy tales being more than “kid’s stuff” has found a broader audience. What had been (re)established
among scholars and in genre and mainstream literature for decades
has, through television and film, now truly reached the masses.
Although far from the first fairy-tale-based television series,
debuted on NBC in fall 2011. The premise: dangerous fairy-tale
creatures exist in the “real” world; only a cop descended from a line of
“guardians,” the “Grimms,” can defeat the monsters. ABC introduced
Once Upon a Time
in October 2011. In it, fairy-tale characters have been brought into “our” world by a curse. A spin-off,
Upon a Time in Wonderland
will hit small screens fall 2013. The CW
Beauty and the Beas
t on October 11, 2012—loosely based on the Ron Koslow-created 1987-1990 CBS series—which was, of
course, an updating of the fairy tale.
In 2012 there were two Hollywood versions of Snow White’s
Snow White and the Huntsman
. This year, 2013, has already seen releases of
Jack the Giant Slayer
Great and Powerful,
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
—none of which were spectacular successes. Will that stem the cinematic tide?
Probably not. You can still expect
a Disney-animated film of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” to open late in 2013.
, starring Angelina Jolie as the villainess from Disney’s
is due out 2014, as is a live-action
directed by Kenneth Branagh. Also scheduled for 2014: a film version of
Steven Sondheim’s fairy tale mash-up musical
Into the Woods
. In March 2013, the
estimated the number of fairy-tale slated to be released between 2012 and 2014 at twenty.
Unless intended specifically for children, these twenty-first century revampings often go back to the darker roots of the stories. Heroines are seldom passive victims and inequality in general is often battled along with other evils; some are extremely violent and overtly sexual.
There are probably more theories of why fairy tales are enjoying
their current resurgence as there are fairy tales resurging: it’s merely a public-domain path for the entertainment industry to capitalize
• 13 •
• Introduction: Ever After •
on the post-Harry Potter boom in fantasy; fairy tales offer an escape from our economic doldrums and unsettled times; they aren’t an
escape at all, but horrific confrontations; most movies are reworkings of fairy-tale tropes anyway, so this is really nothing new; pop culture has a tendency to infantilize (as with superheroes), this is another way to do it; fairy tales provide both heroes and heroines, villains and villainesses and provide a focus on a female, but with plenty of room for violence and SFX that appeals to the male demographic; they are
iconic, we have a built-in nostalgia for them, and familiarity breeds easy marketability; when Disney played with and cleverly twisted
its own concept with
, it made Hollywood reconsider the trope (and, yes, there are rumors of an
) . . .
Who knows what makes a trend? After all, for the last four decades
or so there have been myriad academic theories, explanations, and
not always civil debate about fairy tales themselves.
Nowadays fairy tales are assiduously studied, interpreted according
to differing philosophies, mined for inner meaning, psychoanalyzed
through various filters, and hotly debated. Fairy tales can be seen in many—often antithetical—ways. There are those who consider them
morally deficient, others as means to enforce traditional morality.
They are seen as sexist or feminist; timeless or products of a specific time and event; nationalistic or universal; hegemonic or subversive; eternally relevant and totally irrelevant; metaphoric or allegorical; considered as art or dismissed as tawdry entertainment; too scary
and violent or a safe way to deal with primal fears; they appeal to us because they give us hope or they validate what is real . . . ad infinitum.
This anthology, however, has no agenda other than to present
new fairy tales written by some talented authors. I gave the writers no definitions or boundaries. I simply stated that traditional stories often started with the phrase used as the title—“once upon a time”—
but fairy tales have always resonated with the reader’s own time
and place. They have power and meaning for today and tomorrow.
Contributions could be new interpretations of the old or an original story inspired by earlier fairy tales.
• 14 •
• Paula Guran •
I also invited each author to say something about the writing of
their story and/or what fairy tales meant to them. I think you’ll find the comments introducing each story far more illuminating than
what I have provided here.
For the last few months, I’ve been keeping this treasury of wonder,
if not locked up in a tower, at least all to myself. Now it is time to allow you to experience these wonderful new fairy stories and their
marvelously varied ever afters.
Online Sources for Fairy Tales Old and New
Cabinet des Fées
(www.cabinetdesfees.com) celebrates fairy tales in all of their manifestations: in print, in film, in academia, and on the web. Also hosts two fiction zines.
(endicottstudio.typepad.com) is an interdisciplinary organization dedicated to the creation and support of mythic art.
Journal of Mythic Arts
appeared online from 1997 to 2008. Site includes essays, stories, and musings on folklore, modern magical
fiction, and related topics.
SurLaLune Fairy Tales
(www.surlalunefairytales.com) features forty-nine annotated fairy tales, including their histories, similar tales across cultures, modern interpretations and over 1,500 illustrations..
Fairy Tale Review
(digitalcommons.wayne.edu/fairytalereview) is an annual literary journal dedicated to publishing new fairy-tale fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The journal seeks to expand the conversation about fairy tales among practitioners, scholars, and general readers.
• 15 •
This story was originally written in exchange for a donation to
help survivors of Hurricane Katrina. I was broke then, but I
could write, and I found someone who was interested in having a
story written to a prompt of their choosing. At the time I’d never
been to Louisiana, so I instead wrote about a watery setting. I grew up with Korean folktales of the Dragon King Under the Sea, which
I remember more from the illustrations in the children’s books than
the stories themselves, and I have often thought that they are the
closest thing that Korean lore has to Faerie.
Incidentally, the treasures in this story owe something in spirit
to a certain fantastic table owned by my grandmother, which my
cousins and sister and I would often marvel over: a hollowed out
bowl of wood with a glass top, within which were souvenirs gathered
from the many places my grandparents traveled to when they were
Yoon Ha Lee
• 19 •
The Coin of Heart’s Desire
In an empire at the wide sea’s boundaries, where the clouds were
the color of alabaster and mother-of-pearl, and the winds bore
the smells of salt and faraway fruits, the young and old of every
caste gathered for their empress’s funeral. In life she had gone by the name Beryl-Beneath-the-Storm. Now that she was dead, the court
historians were already calling her Weave-the-Storm, for she had
been a fearsome naval commander.
The embalmers had anointed Weave-the-Storm in fragrant oils
and hidden her face, as was proper, with a mask carved from white
jade. In one hand they had placed a small banner sewn with the
empire’s sword-and-anchor emblem in dark blue; in the other, a
sharp, unsheathed knife whose enameled hilt winked white and gold
and blue. She had been dressed in heavy silk robes that had only been worn once before, at the last harvest moon festival. The empire’s people believed in supplying their ruler well for the life in the sea-to-come, so that she would intercede with the dragon spirits for them.
The empress had left behind a single daughter. She was only
thirteen years old, so the old empress’s advisors had named her
Early-Tern-Journeying. Tern had a gravity beyond her years. Even
at the funeral, dressed in the white-and-gray robes of mourning, she was nearly impassive. If her eyes glistened when the priests chanted their blessings for the road-into-sunset, that was only to be expected.
• 21 •
• The Coin of Heart’s Desire •
Before nightfall, the old empress’s bier was placed upon a funeral
boat painted red to guide her sunward. One priest cut the boat loose while the empress’s guard set it ablaze with fire arrows.
Tern’s oldest advisor, a sage who had visited many foreign shrines
in his youth, turned to her and said over the crackling flames and the lapping water, “You must rest well tonight, my liege. Tomorrow you
will hold court before the Twenty-Seven Great Families. They must
see in you your mother’s commanding presence, for all your tender
Tern knew perfectly well, as did he, that no matter how steely her
composure, the Great Families would see her as an easy mark. But
she merely nodded and retired to the meditation chamber.
She did not sleep that night, although no one would have blamed
her if she had. Instead, she thought long and hard about the problem before her. At times, as she inhaled the sweet incense, she wanted
desperately to call her mother back from the funeral ship and ask her advice. But the advice her mother had already passed down to her
during the years of her life would have to suffice.
Two hours before dawn, she rang a silver bell to summon her
servants. “Wake up the chancellor of the exchequer,” she said to
them. “I need his advice.”
The chancellor was not pleased to be roused from his sleep,
and even less pleased when Tern explained her intent. “Buy off the
Families?” he said. “It’s a bad precedent.”
“We’re not buying them off,” Tern said severely. “We are displaying
a bounty they cannot hope to equal. They will ask themselves, if the imperial house can afford to give away such treasures, what greater
might is it concealing?”
The chancellor grumbled and muttered, but accompanied Tern
to the first treasury. The treasury’s walls were hung with silk scrolls painted with exquisite landscapes and piled high with illuminated
books. The shapes of cranes and playful cats were stamped onto
the books’ covers in gold leaf. Tiny ivory figurines no larger than a thumbnail were arrayed like vigilant armies, if not for the curious
• 22 •
• Yoon Ha Lee •
fact that each one had the head of an extinct bird. Swords rested
on polished stands, cabochons of opal and aquamarine gleaming
from their gold-washed scabbards, their pale tassels decorated with
knots sacred to the compass winds. There were crowns of braided
wire cradling fossils inscribed with fractured prophecies, some still tangled with the hair of long-dead sovereigns, and twisted ropes of
pearls perfectly graduated in size and color, from shimmering white
to violet-gray to lustrous black.
“None of these will do,” Tern said. “These are quotidian treasures,
fit for rewarding captains, but not for impressing the Twenty-Seven
The chancellor blanched. “Surely you don’t mean—”
But the young empress had swept past him and was heading
toward the second treasury. She drew out her heaviest key and
opened the doors, which swung with deceptive ease on their hinges.
The guards at the door eyed her nervously.
The smell of salt water and kelp was suddenly strong. A dragon’s
single, heavy-lidded eye opened in the darkness beyond the doors.