Search This Blog

Saturday, April 29, 2023

A To Z Challenge 3023: Myth And Folk Tales in Fiction - Y Is For Jane Yolen

 I see I have already written about Jane Yolen in a previous post, back in 2019, but this one is based on the theme of using fairy tales in modern fiction and she is THE reteller of fairy tales.

Jane Yolen is an American Jewish fantasy writer. I specify the Jewish because there are so many Jewish elements in her writing. 

She is also a writer of a lot of fiction based on fairy tales. 

Her book How To Fracture A Fairy Tale features several of her short stories based on fairy tales, then blurbs explaining what she had in mind when writing them. I have a copy in Apple Books, but you can also get it in Kindle, print and audiobook.

The good news is, there is literally a Jane Yolen book for every day of the year, whether adult, children’s, YA, picture book or poetry - 365 so far and I see there are more coming! 

I haven’t read anywhere near all of them so far and there wouldn’t be space in this post anyway, so I’ll just cover a few.

I’ve said a lot of her fiction has Jewish elements. In How To Fracture A Fairy Tale there is her short story “Granny Rumple” which sets the story of Rumplestiltskin in 19th century Ukraine. It’s not a kingdom, just a small town, and the father’s boast is that his daughter can do amazing tapestries when she can’t. She borrows from a young Jewish moneylender who organises to buy the tapestries and goes easy on her with the loan. She marries the mayor’s son and when she hasn’t repaid the loan, the moneylender’s wife goes to try to get the money. The woman screams that they want her baby and this leads to a pogrom and the death of the moneylender. It’s an interesting take on the fairy tale; the author says that in the fairy tale the only character who does what he promises and isn’t lying is Rumplestiltskin. 

Another story in the book is Holocaust themed, “Slipping Sideways Through Eternity” in which the heroine slips away from a Passover Seder, following the prophet Elijah, who has a task for her that involves time travel and rescue of some concentration camp inmates. Elijah the prophet is a folklore character as part of Passover celebrations. As well as leaving an extra seat for the stranger who might turn up you leave a glass of wine for Elijah. At some stage in the ceremony the children are sent to open the door for him. I remember doing this as a child. My father used to drink the prophet’s wine while I was at the door. 

Her novel Briar Rose is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty set during the Holocaust. You can’t get this one in ebook, but in paperback. 

Mapping The Bones is based on “Hansel And Gretel”, also set during the Holocaust. When you think about “Hansel And Gretel”, the image of an oven pops up. It’s easy to make the connection with the ovens of the Nazi death camps. It’s available in audiobook from both Amazon and Apple Books and in print, but not in ebook.

She doesn’t only write Holocaust themed fiction. The stories in How To Fracture A Fairy Tale vary from a story seen from the viewpoint of the bridge crossed by the Billygoats Gruff to another in which Icarus doesn’t die of his fall, but…

And there is, of course, the verse novel Finding Baba Yaga I mentioned in a previous post.

A children’s book, Merlin And The Dragons is available very cheaply on Apple Books and it’s read by Kevin Kline!

She isn’t the only reteller of folk tales by any means, but is certainly the most prolific!


Friday, April 28, 2023

A To Z Challenge 2023: Myth and Folk Tales In Fiction - X is For EXtras!

 Let’s face it, X is always a difficult letter to come up with a post for - I think I only managed it once, for Greek mythology - X Is For Xanthus and Balius(Achilles’ horses). 

So, this post will cheat a bit and I’m using it for writing about a few books that didn’t quite fit into any of the other posts.

Here they are.

The Time Of The Ghosts by Aussie writer Gillian Polack is set in Canberra, Australia’s capital city. The main characters are three older women, Ann, Lil and Mabel, who enjoy each other’s company and dinner parties. 

One of them is dating the ghost of a bushranger. Another of them is actually mediaeval water fae Melusine, who has allowed herself to age so she doesn’t have to keep moving on. There are flashbacks to her memories of other times and places.

Melusine, in case you don’t know about her, is a folklore character who met Raymond of Poitou and agreed to marry him on condition he never tried to see her on a Saturday. They had ten sons and she built him fabulous castles, but like other men of this kind of fairy tale, he just had to take a peek eventually, didn’t he? He was shocked to see his wife sitting in the bath as a snake from the waist down, so she had to leave him. Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Queen, was supposed to be descended from Raymond and Melusine, which would make her an ancestor of the British royal family. Just saying. 

In the novel, she has also participated in the story of Bisclavret, a story written by Marie De France(if you want a YA novel based on that story, check out my novel Wolfborn, available in ebook, or print on demand.) Oh, and she long ago converted to Judaism. Gillian Polack does a lot of fiction with Jewish characters and themes. 

It’s my favourite of her novels and is available in ebook, both Kindle and Apple Books.

Sophie Masson, who wrote a version of Cinderella, Moonlight And Ashes, mentioned in an earlier post, has also done a novel about Snow White, set in the same universe as Moonlight And Ashes

This novel, Hunter’s Moon, is also set in the 19th century. Her heroine is called Bianca, daughter of the owner of a department store chain, who is known as “the king of elegance”, rather than a regular king. Her stepmother is the beautiful, elegant Belladonna, whom Bianca admires greatly till Belladonna tries to kill her. The Mirror is a newspaper! When it declares Bianca the fairest instead of her stepmother, Belladonna is not impressed… 

If you like fairy tale retellings, this author is worth checking out, as she has done several.

Melissa Marr is the author of the YA Wicked Lovely series of urban fantasies. In this series, punk fairies hang around the city streets and are tattooed as part of their culture. (The author said it was because she liked tattoos, but it works) There is rivalry between the Summer and Winter courts. It has a lot of Celtic folklore elements in it, including Beira the winter queen, who is a part of Scottish myth and legend. Melissa Marr is a PhD in this area and her bibliography includes a number of books I used to research Wolfborn.

I have just started reading Juliet Marillier’s YA novel Wildwood Dancing, which is the Grimm fairy tale  of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” set in Transylvania. The sisters are the daughters of a wealthy merchant. I’m enjoying it so far. Juliet Marillier is a wonderful interpreter of fairy tales and I recommend anything she writes.

I also recommend anything edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, who have done several amazing fairy tale anthologies, which feature well known authors. They are prolific writers themselves, but best known for their editing of fantasy fiction. 

Tomorrow: Y Is For Jane Yolen

Thursday, April 27, 2023

A To Z Challenge 2023: Myth And Folk Tales In Fiction - W Is For The Wee Free Men

Two books for you today. Firstly, The Wee Free Men.

 Terry Pratchett wrote a series of novels set on the Discworld, in a part that was similar to the south of England. The heroine, Tiffany Aching, is nine years old in The Wee Free Men, and grows up in the course of the series, becoming a witch and training with the two witches from the other Discworld novels, Grsnny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. She lives on a farm with sheep and her grandmother was a highly respected shepherd, also probably a witch, though one who never trained in the profession. 

Tiffany is a highly intelligent child who has read the dictionary from cover to cover, and knows a lot of long words. She first  meets the Wee Free Men - the Nac Mac Feegles - while down by the river, where they warn her about the coming of the monster Jenny Greenteeth - “the green heid!” 

She uses her little brother Wentworth as bait and hits the monster with a frying pan, which later comes in useful against the Queen of the Fairies.

The Feegles are six inches high, fierce warriors with Scottish accents who love strong drink and fighting, in no special order, either or both will do. They first appeared in Carpe Jugulum, in which their leader(and mother)the kelda, helped Lancre King Verence escape from the spell of the vampires who have invaded the kingdom. They were thrown out of Fairyland for getting drunk in the afternoon. They believe that they are dead and in heaven because of the amazing opportunities for boozing and fighting. When they do die, it’s assumed they have gone back to the first world.

Terry Pratchett used folklore extensively in his books. There are many folklore references in this one. Jenny Greenteeth is a creature of British folklore, probably designed to scare children to keep them

out of danger. But also the Fairies are not the sweet little things who hang around in flowers. They are dangerous and scary. These are the real fairies of folklore. And their Queen kidnaps Tiffany’s little brother. 

Time to get out the frying pan.

The Feegles might be Pratchett’s, but are also a part of the folklore of Britain. It is said that if you leave sixpence and an unshod horse, your sixpence will be gone next day and so will the horse. This is a joke, of course, based on the saying about Wayland Smith. There is another one about leaving milk out for them, upon which they will break into your house and empty the drinks cabinet. This is a send up of the folk tales in which you leave out milk for the fairies, which help out on the farm. Er, no - the Feegles won’t do that. Not for a saucer of milk, anyway.

The series is available everywhere, in print and ebook and audiobook, read by Stephen Briggs(complete) or Tony Robinson(abridged)

W is also for Whom The Gods Would Destroy by Richard  Powell. It’s my favourite Trojan War novel. The hero, Helios, is a Trojan boy captured by the Greeks on the first day of the war, and brought up with Neoptolemus, son of Achilles. 

During that time his mentor and father-figure is Odysseus, who is shown as the only one of the Greek leaders with a brain. The author has a lot of fun describing the leaders in terms of their pompousness and foolishness. They are very much like they were in the Iliad. Nestor of Pylos, the oldest of them, was described in mythology as wise, but in this novel he just will not shut up and everyone has to sit and listen to him waffle on.

At one point in the novel, the boys find Helen bathing and are very excited because they think this will end the war. No such luck; the leaders don’t want her back! At least not this way. And she knows it all too well.

 It’s really an interpretation of the myth rather than rewriting it. There are original characters, true, including Deira, a granddaughter of Theseus. But it’s a version of the myth I can recognise.

The print book is only available second hand, I wax in my teens when it was published, but you can find it on Kindle.

Happy reading! 


Wednesday, April 26, 2023

A To Z Blogging Challenge 2023: Myth And Folk Tales In Fiction - V Is For Valkyries!

 So, let’s talk about some more Norse(V is for Viking?) stuff. Well, also German, same stories, right? 

Valkyries are the “choosers of the Slain”, who pick up slain warriors who have died bravely from the battlefields and carry them off to Valhalla, the “Hall of the Slain” where they double as waitresses to serve the permanently partying warriors their food and booze. They are found in a fair bit of fiction.

They appear in a couple of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. The first is Soul Music, in which Death’s granddaughter Susan Sto Helit has to take over the round while Death is off somewhere grieving about the deaths of her parents, Mort and Death’s adopted daughter Ysabell. One of Susan’s spots is a battlefield where she sees a loud bunch of Valkyries arrive singing “Hoyotoho!” The head Valkyrie offers her a job, as they are short on sopranos.

The next Is Interesting Times, in which wizard Rincewind meets the “Silver Horde”, a group of elderly heroes, led by Cohen the Barbarian, who have plans to conquer a country that’s the Discworld equivalent of China. They have brought with them a school teacher to help them learn manners and etiquette. He is really with them because of his romantic ideas about being a barbarian. He has hopes that if he gets killed he will go to Valhalla. He does. The Valkyries come to carry him off. Death in the Discworld can be whatever you believe - in another novel, Maskerade, a murder victim who has been working with the chorus at the Ankh-Morpork Opera House asks if there will be choirs in the after life. “Do you want one?” Death asks.

In Magnus Chase And The Sword Of Summer, (see the S post), there is a part-time Valkyrie, Samirah, a daughter of Loki by an Iranian Muslim woman, a doctor who treated him in Emergency. 

Samirah was offered the job by Odin when she bravely saved her schoolmates. She still goes to school and does homework in between missions.

A retelling of German poem The Niebelungenlied  is The Wolf And The Raven by Diana L. Paxson.  It’s the first of a trilogy, Wotan’s Children, set in Germany. The heroine is Brunahild, related to Attila the Hun. She is not a fantastical “Chooser of the Slain.” The Valkyries in this novel are perfectly human priestesses whose job is to point their spears at those chosen to be killed in the battle. And they are under orders, as it’s a political thing. Brunahild gets into trouble when she refuses to go along with it.

You may recognise this as the story of Wagner’s opera The Valkyrie, of course, as that’s where Wagner got his storyline. The story is also in Old Norse as part of the Volsunga Saga. I have a (translated) copy somewhere which I got at a school fete in my teens. Goodness, those characters are vicious! 

The Diana L. Paxson book is available on Amazon in print and Kindle. I see she has also written some non fiction about Odin and runes, which tempt me greatly!

Aussie author Keith Taylor wrote a series of fantasy novels about the adventures of an Irish bard - the series was called … Bard. In one of the novels he has a scene in which he shows a very different version of Valkyries to what we imagine. Far from being beautiful maidens, they are scary creatures worthy of horror fiction. The author reminds us that Odin was a god of the gallows(sacrifices to him were hanged) and that the eight legs of the horse Sleipnir were meant to symbolise the legs of four men who carried a dead person, on a bier or in a coffin. Not much like the dignified version of the Allfather presented in comics and films!

The series was first published in the 1980s, so you would think it would be well and truly out of print, but it seems to be back up and running, so you can get these books in ebook - both Kindle and Apple Books - and print.

Animated feature Thor: Tales Of Asgard is a Marvel story with Valkyries in it. In it, the teenaged Thor is a spoilt prince who is indulged, even by his brother Loki. They go off with the Warriors Three to Jotunheim on a quest for a sword. Sif doesn’t go because, fed up with Thor’s behaviour, she has gone off to join the Valkyries, in the Marvel universe an elite female army. They have their own training place where men are not welcome, but Thor and his friends desperately need to borrow their winged horses. In this story, Sif is the romantic interest(and so she should be! She was his wife in the myths), The role is played by Tara Strong, a well known voice actress whom you may have heard as the voice of Miss Minutes in Season 1 of Loki. She doesn’t have a Southern accent, by the way.

I bought my copy on Apple TV.

Finally, I highly recommend comedian Anna Russell’s twenty minute Ring Cycle, for which she was famous. She actually manages to tell the story of the entire Ring cycle in just over twenty minutes!  You can watch it free on YouTube. It’s very funny, and she has done several other operas. 


Tuesday, April 25, 2023

A To Z Challenge 2023: Myth and Folk Tales in Fiction - U Is For Under The Greenwood Tree(Robin Hood)

 Okay, I’m cheating slightly, but “Under The Greenwood Tree”is from the Shakespeare play As You Like It (In fact, it’s the title I gave my Robin Of Sherwood fanzine), but also from the opening lines of the poem Robin Hood And The Monk. It opens with a pretty description of the spring including how nice it is to hang around “under the greenwood tree”, then goes on to be one of the nastier, more violent of the Robin Hood tales.

So, today, I will be talking about the folk hero Robin Hood and where he fits into fiction. 

Just for the record, Maid Marion didn’t turn up until the May Games of the 15th century, just as Sir Lancelot was late into Arthurian fiction. Nobody seems to worry about it these days. She has become a part of the legend.

There are a number of mediaeval poems about him, some of which   later made their way into books and films. For example, the 1950s TV series The Adventures Of Robin Hood, with Richard Greene, had an episode called “The Knight Who Came To Dinner.” This story is based on the mediaeval poem A Geste Of Robyn Hode. In both poem and TV show, Robin is like King Arthur in deciding he won’t eat a feast until something interesting has happened. So he sends a couple of his Merries out to look. They encounter a knight(played in the TV series by Ian Hunter, who was Richard the Lionheart in the Errol Flynn Robin Hood movie) and take him back to camp. He hasn’t the money to pay the traditional half of his purse towards the meal. When they find out why - he owes money to the church and will lose his lands - the outlaws offer to help him. Which they do. 

Mediaeval Robin is not a fan of the church, though he does devoutly worship Our Lady. The TV series had a pretty left wing attitude to rich lords and abbeys. There was a reason for that: the people who wrote and produced the show were Americans who had fled the McCarthy witch hunts for England . But not so different from the original. As I recall, the Sheriff of Nottingham was involved in trying to prevent the knight, Sir Richard of the Lea, from paying his debt.

There are a number of children’s books which feature Robin Hood. 

Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager is set in the 1940s. A group of children, siblings and cousins, are taken to see the film of Ivanhoe. After it, they go home and play with some toys - a castle with knights and ladies - and decide that the figures are characters from Ivanhoe. That night, with the help of magic, the characters come to life as the characters from Ivanhoe, including Robin Hood and his band. It’s very funny, because the kids fiddle with the castle and knights during the day, which affects what they find when they return to the world of Ivanhoe that night, including Ivanhoe having a flying saucer(an actual saucer). Hilarious stuff!

The whole series is available on Apple Books, including a radio play of Half Magic, a novel about the adventures of these children’s parents.

Another children’s book with Robin Hood in it is Geoffrey Trease’s Bows Against The Barons. This is a story of Robin’s last great adventure, when he is an old man, seen from the viewpoint of a boy who joins his band. It’s a left wing retelling of the tale, in which Robin tells his followers that it shouldn’t be about Saxon against Norman but about poor against rich. He leads a rebellion against the rich. I have an early paperback of the novel and it’s illustrated but missing a picture with a huge crowd of peasants waving their tools, including a cheekily drawn crossed hammer and sickle. This is Trease’s first novel but he wrote a lot of wonderful historical novels for children, including Cue for Treason, set in the Elizabethan era, with a girl disguised as a boy who gets into Shakespeare’s company. (Shakespeare picks up she is a girl, but doesn’t give her away). I have the audiobook of that, read by Clive Mantle(Little John in Robin of Sherwood). Bows Against The Barons is, alas, well and truly out of print, but there are a fair few copies available on ABEBooks. 

 In Lady Of The Forest by Jennifer Roberson, Robin is shown as a sort of Vietnam veteran with PTSD, after the Crusades. I read this years ago, but gave away my copy. It’s out of print, but you can get the audiobook on both Apple Books and Amazon. The Apple Book is cheaper.

Robin McKinley’s Outlaws Of Sherwood is one of the gentler retellings of the legend. There are women in his band, apart from Marion, something I don’t think we saw again until the BBC Robin Hood series, in which the Merries include a Saracen woman  called Djaq. She is a strong, gutsy lady who refuses to do the cooking and ends up having to rescue her team mates in one episode. She eventually marries Will Scarlet and they settle in the Holy Land(she proposes). 

Outlaws Of Sherwood is available in print on Amazon, Kindle and audiobook. In fact, if you buy it in Kindle you can also buy the audiobook cheaply.

Parke Godwin wrote two Robin Hood books, Sherwood and Robin And The King. It’s amazing how this American writer could write such wonderful novels about British heroes.  His Robin lives in the time of William the Conqueror. No reason why not - it was, as I recall, Sir Walter Scott who gave us the version of Robin in the time of Richard the Lionheart. 

Robin, a country gentleman, loses his lands when the Normans invade - which did happen to Saxon landowners. William had a lot of followers who were younger sons or bastards(like William himself); he had to give them lands as rewards for their help, after all. Robin is outlawed when trying to help one of his tenants. However, his lands and tenants are well looked after by, would you believe, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Ralf FitzGerald, who is a decent man in this duology. The two meet in the dungeons of the Earl of Huntingdon, whom Robin refuses to support in his planned rebellion because it will lead to civil war. He now supports King William. Ralf marries Robin’s cousin Judith, who is a lot higher in the aristocracy than Robin. The two men become friends.

Robin And The King, the sequel, is rather too sad for me, but it’s implied that it’s Robin who creates an early version of Magna Carta.

Again, out of print, but you can get it. Amazon has some copies and it’s worth checking the second-hand site ABEBooks.

There are so many Robin Hood books, not possible to talk about them all here, so just one more.

You probably know about the villainous Guy of Gisburne if you are at all familiar with the legend. In the poems he is a mercenary who wears a horse skin coat. 

In Toby Venables’ Hunter Of Sherwood books, he is the good guy and Robin, who used to be his friend when they were serving together as mercenaries, is the villain - and, in fact, responsible for that horse skin coat, having killed Guy’s war horse. Guy worked as a mercenary to pay the bills, having nothing left after King Richard took his lands to raise money for his Crusade. 

When we meet him, Guy is working on some missions for King John, as a sort of cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond, something the author admitted. King John is basically M, while Guy has his own Q, a Welshman, who creates gadgets for him to use. The series is great fun and I’m pleased to say you can buy it in print or ebook. Two of the three books of the trilogy are available as an omnibus in Kindle or Apple Books. 

Put this one on your TBR pile!

Monday, April 24, 2023

A To Z Challenge 2023: Myth And Folk Tales In Fiction - T Is For Tricksters!

 So, what is a trickster? And where do tricksters from myth and legend appear in modern fiction?

A trickster is a person or spirit known for - well, his tricks. Sometimes he does good, others he is nasty. You will probably have heard of quite a few of them, and, of course, they turn up in fairy tales as well, such as “Jack” stories, in which the hero fools a giant or other monster to save his own life and get its treasure. 

In Greek mythology there are characters like the god Hermes, who is rustling Apollo’s cattle almost as soon as he is born, then going back to  his cradle and playing innocent, and Prometheus, the god who loves humans.

There is Odysseus, who is probably the only one of the Greek leaders with a brain. He seems to have the favour of Athena, goddess of wisdom, which does help him.On his way home from Troy, in the Odyssey, he survives because of his trickster abilities. For example, his encounter with the Cyclops Polyphemus, whom he and his men escape by getting the Cyclops drunk and blinding him. Then he tells Polyphemus that his name is Nobody, so that when the Cyclops complains to his brothers, he says that “Nobody” hurt him. 

Odysseus appears as a character in Madeline Miller’s Circe. If you want to see the film Ulysses, with Kirk Douglas, it’s up on YouTube, free. He is a major character in Whom The Gods Would Destroy by Richard Powell, which will be mentioned in more detail in my W post. In the film Troy, the role is played by Sean Bean, for once playing a character who isn’t killed off. 

Jacob is a Biblical trickster. He is the nerd in his family, brother of Esau, the big hulking not-too-bright hunter who is their father’s favourite while Jacob is their mother’s. They are twins, presumably not identical ones! There is a story that when they were being born, Esau came out of the womb first, but Jacob’s hand pulled him back by the heel.

Jacob helps himself first to Esau’s birthright in that famous story about the bowl of pottage, then to their father’s blessing. In the first story, Esau comes home exhausted and hungry and smells something good. It’s thick, yummy soup. He is persuaded to sell his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a bowl.

In the second story, the twins’ father Isaac is old and blind and dying. He asks his favourite child to go hunting and cook his favourite savoury stew, after which Isaac will give Esau his blessing.

Jacob, with his mother’s help, slaughters a goat which she cooks and puts the goatskin on to his arms(Esau is much hairier than Jacob), then puts on Esau’s clothes, which smell of him. 

Guess who gets that blessing? 

It’s sad, really, fooling that old man, though many years later karma strikes when his sons sell his favourite child to some Ishmaelites and tell him Joseph is dead. 

However, Jacob has many years more to play the trickster. He does get tricked himself into marrying his beloved’s sister. He gets his revenge on his father in law, Laban, when he is told he can have the brown and speckled sheep so manages to breed quite a few, much to Laban’s annoyance. The description in the Bible makes it sound like magic, so … is he a sorcerer? No idea! 

Eventually, he and his now huge brood travel homewards and meet Esau, now married and having his own tribe. Luckily for Jacob, Esau is a forgiving man. 

Thomas Mann’s delightful, if thick-as-a-brick, Joseph And His Brothers has an entire volume about Jacob. It’s not available in Apple Books and only the last two volumes are in Kindle, but you can ask your bookshop to get it in. I recently bought the whole quartet in hardcover from my local bookshop and didn’t even have to order it.

In the feminist retelling of the story, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Jacob knows perfectly well who he is with on his wedding night. Rachel has had cold feet about marrying and her sister Leah agrees to marry him instead. 

Prometheus in Greek mythology steals fire from heaven to give it to humanity. He had established the way sacrifices worked, tricking the gods into choosing the fat and bones as their share of the sacrifice while humans got the good stuff, so fire was withdrawn from humanity. His punishment was to be stretched out in chains and have his liver eaten by an eagle every day, then eaten again when it grew back. He appears in Madeline Miller’s novel Circe.

Coyote is a Native American trickster. You will find him everywhere, whether it’s Charles De Lint’s fantasy or even Wile E! You know - the one who thinks of the most elaborate ways to get the Roadrunner?

I have just bought and started reading The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Get a copy if you can - it contains Trickster stories by some impressive and well known writers, including Charles  De Lint, Jane Yolen and Holly Black.

You probably don’t need much reminder of the god of mischief, Loki, who is the smartest god in Asgard, although he ends up paying dearly for a lot of the things he does, even when they save the day.

Probably best to just mention some modern fiction in which he appears. The comics, of course. I have some of the early ones by Lee and Kirby, where he hasn’t been redeemed - and yet… in one story, after he has been defeated and killed(but never permanently, this is Marvel), while everyone else is celebrating, there is a tear in Thor’s eye. The later comics, by different authors and artists, are very different and Agent Of Asgard shows us a cheeky likeable Loki who is carrying out missions for the Allmother in return for having his sins forgiven, and thoroughly enjoying being the good guy for a change.

I’m listening to an audiobook of the children’s novel by Louie Stowell, Loki: A Bad God’s Guide To Being Good. In it, Loki has been punished for cutting off Sif’s hair. He has been sent to Midgard(Earth) as an eleven year old boy and ordered to learn how to behave within a month or it’s the cave and the poisonous snake for him. He has to write in a magic diary which has Odin’s voice and takes points from him for every perceived misdeed. He is not alone; he has a fake family, with Asgard watchman Heimdall and goddess Hirokinn as his parents and Thor, also in child form, as his brother. And the boys have to go to school! Thor is having a good time. Heimdall is researching parenting and trying out the advice. Loki keeps messing up, of course, but does love the Internet. It’s hilarious and the actor reading the role of Loki is a delight.

Anansi the spider god is from Ghana. He is a storyteller. He makes a lot of mischief in his stories.

 Anansi appears(as Mr Nancy) in two books by Neil Gaiman, American Gods and Anansi Boys. In Anansi Boys, he dies early on, in the middle of a song at a karaoke bar, falls off the stage and accidentally grabs a woman’s breasts on his way down. His son Charles “Fat Charlie” Nancy travels to the US for his father’s funeral and learns that he has a brother. His brother Spider has all the god powers, Charlie has none. A very funny story! 

I am lucky enough to own both the book and a BBC radio play with  Lenny Henry as Mr Nancy. I did read that they might be making a live action TV serial. Watch this space! 

Saturday, April 22, 2023

A To Z Challenge 2023: Myth And Folk Tales In Fiction - S Is For… Stories And Authors Starting With S

 There are quite a few stories and storytellers starting with S - and here are a few that have folk tales in their background!

Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper And The Spindle is a stunningly beautiful book illustrated by Chris Riddell, Neil Gaiman’s regular illustrator. It combines two recognisable fairy tales without naming either of them.

A young queen is getting ready for her happily-ever-after wedding when a group of dwarves arrive at her palace to tell her that something alarming is happening where they live - and it’s spreading. A princess is asleep in her castle, where the entire court is also asleep, but the sleep is spreading across the kingdom. 

The queen puts on armour, kisses her prince and departs with the dwarves. She also sends out orders for evacuation. 

What they find when they get to the castle is quite a twist…

Tanith Lee wrote a Snow White retelling - “Red As Blood” - which I read in the original SF magazine in which it appeared but which was reprinted in the author’s fairy tale anthology also called Red As Blood.  In it, Snow White is a born vampire, and the stepmother was trying to help her, not harm her. What sends her into her death sleep is a wafer of the Host.  The Prince who wakes her has nail holes in his hands and feet…

I’m going to be cheeky and mention a Snow White story I wrote, published in an anthology of myths and legends called Mythic Resonance, some years ago.  It’s called “Brothers”,  seen from the viewpoint of the dwarves, who are exiled warriors making a living as smiths in the forest. Here is the link to my post about it.

Alas, it’s well and truly out of print, but you might find it still on Apple Books in ebook.

Thomas Burnett Swann’s novel How Are The Mighty Fallen mixes a Bee people from Crete who have settled in Canaan with a Biblical story, that of David and Jonathan, presented as lovers.

This book may be hard to get, but another of his myth and legend books, Day Of The Minotaur, is available in Kindle, as are some of his others. His last novel, Queens Walk In The Dusk, is about Dido Queen of Carthage and Trojan Aeneas, meeting on his way to found Rome. It’s also in Kindle. Go to the Swann Amazon page and see what other goodies are there.

Jim Hines’ Princesses series features one called The Stepsister Scheme, in which Danielle, known to us as Cinderella, has to rescue her man from her stepsisters, who have kidnapped him for their own evil purposes. She is helped by her friends Talia(Sleeping Beauty, who was raped in her sleep and is now an assassin)and Snow, who uses mirror magic. I do recommend all his books in this series. He plays with the fairy tales - they are not just retellings, but show what happens afterwards. The Mermaid’s Madness, for example, has the Little Mermaid go crazy with grief and kill her prince. She is now the leader of her community and has done something dreadful… The characters from The Stepsister Scheme reappear. 

They are available in ebook and I see some of them are about to become available on Apple Books in the next few days.

The Songkiller Saga is a trilogy by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. The novels are Phantom Banjo, Picking The Ballad’s Bones and Strum Again? The premise is that Hell has decided that humans are too likely to be cheered up by music, especially folk music. Folk music must go! In fact, it only works in the US, where folk musicians lose their memory of the songs they once performed and loved. Hell’s scheme doesn’t even work in Canada, just the US; Canadian fantasy author and folk musician Charles De Lint is mentioned! So, a group of American folk musicians travel to England to get their music back. It’s a lovely journey and I discovered some folk bands I hadn’t heard of. 

I have all three volumes in ebook. 

And finally for this post, we have a novel called Shield Of Three Lions by Pamela Kaufman(followed by Banners Of Gold). It’s a historical romance. The heroine, Alix of Wanthwaite, must escape from her home when her entire family is killed. Disguised as a boy, she heads for the Crusades with a Scottish knight - her future love interest - who meets and helps her. On her return to England, she encounters folk hero Robin Hood, who is really not a nice man. He has been conning Maid Marion for some time; she is actually an aristocrat, he isn’t, but has kept her believing his nonsense about being the Earl of Huntingdon(Alix knows the real Earl, the brother of the Scottish king). He has avoided marriage so far by saying he is waiting for the return of King Richard. When Richard has returned, he has to marry her, but there are no child witnesses at the wedding, something usual in a society where not many people read or write.

I read both novels and thoroughly enjoyed them. You can buy them in ebook.