Tell a Fairy Tale Day

Two days ago, February 26th, was National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. I am a long-time lover of fairy tales, and I’ve blogged in honor of this day twice before. Over the years, I’ve collected a good shelf’s worth of fairy tales,* and I’ve been reading a lot of them lately. One of my favorites is World Tales, in which Idries Shah has collected tales that have been told in many different cultures around the world, with striking parallels. Did you know there are over 300 known variations of Cinderella? I think my favorite is the one in this book, “The Algonquin Cinderella.” As in the well-known tale, the heroine, marred by cinders, suffers from the cruelty of two sisters. But the result of her goodness is much greater than simply marrying a charming prince. Because she can perceive wonders, she becomes the bride of the beautiful and powerful Invisible One.

Reading in my own fairy tale collections over the years, I’ve often felt a shiver of recognition while reading a tale, an echo that this tale reverberates in some other land, some other time. One is the story of “Catherine and Her Fate.” Catherine is given a fateful choice by her Destiny in both World Tales and The Pink Fairy Book (edited by Andrew Lang): she can be happy in her youth or in her old age, but she must choose which.

The shiver of recognition became a thrill of pleasure when I realized some of my favorite stories have been told in many places over many centuries. One is “Mastermaid,” which I found both in World Tales and Tatterhood (edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps).  A good-hearted but rather bumbling young prince is saved from his dangerous naïveté by Maj the Mastermaid. When he forgets her wise advice, they both have trials to go through.

Another tale I love goes by many names and the heroine has many faces: “Clever Manka” in Tatterhood, “The Maiden Wiser than a Tsar” in World Tales, and “The Innkeeper’s Wise Daughter” in Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters (edited by Kathleen Ragan). The young woman’s wit and wisdom not only saves her father (sometimes his very life), but restores harmony, love and respect to her marriage.

I was excited to stumble upon a much-loved tale twice in my recent reading. It is known as “The Tsaritsa Harpist” in Fearless Girls, and “The Lute Player” in both Tatterhood and The Violet Fairy Book (edited by Andrew Lang). A brave lady seeks to ransom her beloved husband by becoming a wandering minstrel. I feel I have also encountered this as an ancient ballad. This tale echoed in my mind for so long, it turned into a song which came out in a novel I’ve written, where it takes on the yearning for homecoming after long journeys.

These are excellent collections of fairy tales and I deeply enjoyed reading them. But for some stories I have wanted to write a different ending. Like the kind Fisherman who saves the life of a magical, wish-granting flounder, and whose wife demands ever more grandiose and outrageous things. When the wife orders her long-suffering husband to tell the flounder she wants to be Ruler of the Universe, I dearly want the fisherman to say, “No, Wife – I’m done. You tell him if you dare!” In my mind, when the wife gets her comeuppance (very merciful in the old story, I think), the fisherman returns to the humble life he loves, blessed with abundant catches.

And then there is “Kari Woodengown.” Of all the fairy tales I’ve read and heard, I’ve only encountered this one in Tales from the Red Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang.

Kari endures some of the troubles of Cinderella, with absent or dead parents and unkind stepmother and stepsister. But Kari befriends a great blue bull, and they face and overcome hardships together as they flee her cruel stepfamily. I have a faint memory-impression that I was charmed by this story when I read it decades ago as a kid. No doubt that was partly because of the wise and powerful talking bull. But this time I was not charmed. When I reached the end, I was so indignant, it spurred me to actually write my own retelling. But that’s a tale for another day.

Speaking of retelling…folk tales are closely intertwined with fairy tales, sometimes only lacking outright magic. For a fine retelling of the Stone Soup folktale, have a look at VT Dorchester’s “Horseshoe Nail Stew” in Frontier Tales. I may be a bit biased, but I think there may be some quiet magic worked in the hearts of some of the story’s people by the end.

*In case it’s not always evident, all books pictured are my own well-worn copies.My copy of Tatterhood, is lacking its dust cover so I’m showing the title page.

A Recipe of Memory and Imagination

Three events conspired to instigate this post. First, I read VT Dorchester’s blog about “Cookies from 1890,” actually about two kinds of cookies. It made my mouth water, but I didn’t have the ingredients nor could I easily procure them.

Second, a magazine put out by a museum uncharacteristically included a recipe, for ginger cookies. That made my mouth water, too, but I still didn’t have the ingredients.

Third, while dusting my bookcase I came across a forgotten magazine article about baking from historical recipes – particularly “Mince Piyes My Mother’s Way.” Mince pies have been one of my favorite things since childhood, but I sure didn’t have those ingredients.

All three things happened in one day! With stomach growling, I began plotting my revenge.

Twelfth Night seemed a perfect time to write this and Epiphany a perfect day to post it. So, here is a recipe of memory and imagination, how my mother used to make…

Mincemeat Pie

First, enlist your family’s help.

Take an entire beef rump. Roast it.
Take a beef tongue. Boil and skin it as usual. Prevent your youngest from taking slivers of her favorite meat.
Procure a good quantity of suet.

Cut all three things into handleable pieces. Grind them in a hand-cranked food grinder. If your grinder isn’t the kind with a clamp, get your daughters to help, one to hold down the base with might and main while another of you grinds. Trade off.

Get the very large earthenware crock your family bought for a failed experiment in home-brewing beer; be glad you have it and make sure it’s clean. Get a wooden spoon so large you’ll only use it for this annual task. Mix the ground meat and suet in the crock.

Mix into this:
A full pound of raisins.
A pound of sultanas (golden raisins).
A pound of currants.
Keep mixing. When everyone tires out, have your children scrub from fingernails to elbows and mix by hand.
Add: a container of candied fruit, and another of candied orange and lemon peel.
An entire jar of very good raspberry preserves.
Another one of strawberry jam. Keep mixing.
Add a good mix of spices.
Moisten it all with sherry or cognac.

Procure a good quantity of patience, for this should best age for several months.

Alternatively, procure a reliable time machine. If you go with the latter route, take the crock back to, say, August or September. Place the crock somewhere dark, cool, and quiet, like a basement,  where it won’t be disturbed and where it won’t damage the time-stream.

If you’ve used patience, then it is reasonable to occasionally taste small samples – just to make sure it’s aging well, of course. If you’ve used the time machine, best not to risk the time continuum.

When the mincemeat has aged for several months, sterilize several large Mason jars and fill with mincemeat, to give to friends. Keep a good portion for your family.

When you’re ready to make the most delicious pie your family has ever tasted, cut up some tart apples and add to a good amount of mincemeat.

Make two good pie crusts; line the deepest pie dish you can find with one, fill with mincemeat. Top with second crust and cut decorative designs in the top.

Bake until golden.

Feast and revel.

Happy Twelfth Night and Epiphany!  

Winter Solstice, 2020 — Celebrate the Light

Happy Winter Solstice! For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today marks the turning of the year from the shortest day, and a return to the light.

I plan on celebrating with some good stories, coming sometime today to All Worlds Wayfarer. I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve read in their publication so far, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us today. You can read the current issue for free on their website or buy a copy for your e-reader, which I’ve done. I’m particularly looking forward to reading VT Dorchester’s story.

I’m also going to celebrate by reading “The Shortest Day” by Susan Cooper, a poem to celebrate the solstice from the Christmas Revels.

Celebrate the Light!

Mid-Winter Gift Ideas

Someone’s wise tweet – I think it may have been Nicole Valentine’s – commended a plan to buy all Christmas gifts from bookstores and museum shops. I love this idea for supporting great places hard-hit by the pandemic.

I have hopefully dogeared a museum shop catalog with a desire of my own. As for gifts to give – books are always top of my list, and I’ve been collecting a small hoard all year. Which is a good thing, because shopping is not as easy or as safe as last year. It’s very fortunate indeed that two of my local bookstores offer curbside delivery. You, too, can give a gift to your community and order books from your local bookstore if you have one, and stay safely at home while you do it. They may also be able to send them for you.*

Here are some books I am going to give this year (shhh, no telling).

For a science fiction and comic book fan: Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adaptation, which I was lucky enough to find at my local indie bookshop (they don’t have it in stock now, but it can be ordered from Barnes and Noble).

For a history/nonfiction buff, who, after reading on my blog about the Winchester Mystery House, was inspired to dig deeper: Captive of the Labyrinth: Sarah L. Winchester, Heiress to the Rifle Fortune by Mary Jo Ignoffo.

For a young adult horror fan, The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. Series #1) by Jonathan Stroud, because this book gave me great chills and I don’t even really love horror.

For a middle-grader with a big heart, a middle-grade book with great heart:  A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine. This is another book I read and loved, though I am well out of the focus audience.

And for a dear aunt, a warm-hearted Christmas romance, Season of Hope by Laura Nelson Selinsky.

cover art for Season of Hope novella

For more ideas of books to give, you can see my blog on this from last year.

Another suggestion for gift ideas: are there local artists and artisans who might have websites you could order gifts from?

How about a gift for yourself: a short collection of fine tales to take you back to the old West? My writing friend VT Dorchester has a great tale online in the December issue of Frontier Tales. I’ve read a number of these, and they are fine stories. So far, I’m particularly fond of VT’s, “Horseshoe Nail Stew”, a clever and deepened retelling of the Stone Soup folktale. I’m looking forward to taking a small break and reading more stories, then choosing and voting for my favorite. Well done, VT!

Whatever holidays you observe, may you find the light, and celebrate and share it.

*Yes, you could probably get most if not all of these books at Amazon, but Amazon has done extremely well during the pandemic. Why not support bookstores, museums, and artisans who have been hit hard?

More Publication News from a Writing Friend

Author photo of Suzanne Mattaboni
Suzanne Grieco Mattaboni, fiction writer, ‘80s podcaster, essayist

My Running Wild Press colleague, Suzanne Mattaboni, has shared some good news which I’m very happy to pass on. Her novel, Once in a Lifetime, was accepted by TouchPoint Press. She describes it as “fun, irreverent coming-of-age women’s fiction set in a 1980’s tourist town, against a backdrop of new wave music and art.” It’s planned to come out in spring 2022.  Congratulations, Suzanne!

In the nearer future, Suzanne has short story, “The World is Lava,” coming out in a horror anthology called Little Demon Digest, which will be available on Amazon starting Dec. 8th.

Suzanne will also have a story in an anthology coming out in the spring of 2021 called Pizza Parties and Poltergeist—it’s a collection of horror stories set in the 1980s. Her story is called “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

Also, one of her short stories (“A Stain in the Ceiling”) appeared in August in Dark Dossier magazine, issue #50.

That’s a lot of exciting news, Suzanne!

Readers can also find a fine short story by Suzanne in the Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 2, available from Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 2
“Our” Anthology

Here are ways to keep up with Suzanne’s news and connect with her:

Email: suzanne@mattaboni.com

Website: suzannemattaboni.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/suzanne.mattaboni

Twitter:  @suzmattaboni

Instagram: suzannemattaboni80s

Congrats again, Suzanne!

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