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!  

Publication News from Writing Friends

I’m delighted to share the following news.

Aud Supplee, my critique group friend and Running Wild Press colleague, has recently been published in the Friends Journal. This is a monthly international journal of the Quakers, and Aud writes about her faith with humor, warmth, and spirituality. Her article appeared in both the online and print versions of the journal. You can read it free here.

Aud Supplee, Author

I’m equally pleased to report that another writing friend and RWP colleague, VT Dorchester, will be published online in the Winter Solstice edition of All Worlds Wayfarer. This is a quarterly speculative fiction literary magazine; I’ve peeked at a couple of stories and found them so excellent I was immediately sucked in. As VT says, “If you pre-order, the issue should be delivered to your Kindle on Dec. 21 and Kindle editions will include a bonus story. The issue will also become available on the All World’s Wayfarer website for free in December.” You can preorder the full baker’s dozen of stories for just $2.99! I just did, and I was pleasantly surprised by the low price.

VT Dorchester Portrait by Scarlet Frost

Happy reading! And well done, VT and Aud! I can’t wait to read what each of you has in store for us in the months to come.

Adventures at Home: Compendium

I have planned to post this for a couple of months. With all the uncertainty of where and when it’s safe to travel, and what places are open, this seems a good time to compile my posts of some opportunities for enrichment and inspiration.

Please note: I have not revisited most of the links, and some things have undoubtedly changed. Also, I hope people are able to find ways to get outside that are safe and healthy for themselves and those around them.

Click here for virtual travel to:
Museums
Gardens
Libraries
Unusual destinations
Fantastic worlds and their soundscapes

Click here for ways to experience:
Theater
Old Time Radio
Audiobooks and storytelling
Shakespeare’s sonnets
Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Sessions of world music
More arts and music

Click here for mostly off-screen adventures, like:
Reading
Audiobooks (again)
Jigsaw puzzles
Coloring pages for adults and kids

And for a small fee you can take a virtual tour of a mystery house, or explore some of it via still photos for free.

May you all find ways to stay creatively engaged and connected.

VT Dorchester’s Interview of me

I’m pleased to note that my writing colleague VT has posted an interview of me.

Desk of Gemma Brook

VT was an excellent host, and  asked some very good and thought-provoking questions, some of which actually took days of thought for me to put answers into words. I hope you’ll have a look. And while you’re there, have a look around the blog; VT writes very good and candid reviews of books (especially Westerns) and movies (not just Westerns), not to mention recommendations of Old Time Radio shows to listen to.

Thanks, VT!

VT Dorchester Portrait by Scarlet Frost

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑