Lesson No. 4: More Than Once Upon a Time with Brenda Mann Hammack

Dina Goldstein's "Snow White"

Dina Goldstein’s “Snow White”


Welcome back to Fairy Tale. This is our last lesson. Please make sure to complete the End of Course Questionnaire and also check out upcoming course offerings. 

As any Google trip will reveal, writers aren’t the only revisionists having a go at fairy tale.  Dina Goldstein’s “Fallen Princesses”  is one of my  favorite visual responses to the ever afterlives of Disney’s protagonists.  The Daily Beast article on “The Amazing Photos of Depressed Disney Royalty” offers some background on specific images from the series.   If you are bored by (or simply cannot believe in) that promise of unending marital bliss, you might appreciate Goldstein’s “Where-Are -They-Now?” approach to typical fairy tale endings.

However, if Snow White’s domestic drudgery or Belle’s cosmetic surgery sends you into the funks of despond (into gloom, despair and agony on me), you might want to avoid Thomas Czarnecki’s “From Enchantment to Down” and Bruno Vilela’s “Bibbdi Bobbi Boo.”  Who cares about Roger Rabbit when someone seems to be taking all these once animated sopranos down?

Some photographers are less given to violent misogynistic fantasy.  Still, no one would accuse them of rivaling Disney in über perkiness.  The child heroines are as frightening as the hag protagonists in Miwa Yanagi’s fairy tale acts.  Yanagi’s children fight spindle-wielders, force-feed sweets to witches old enough to be diabetic. Meanwhile, Eugenio Recuenco‘s fairy tale characters manage to be  fashionable without losing touch with their inner freakery. 


Eugenio Recuenco
Eugenio Recuenco


But, some photographers still believe in godmotherly (or Gandalfian) magic.  

Kirsty Mitchell helps us to remember why we need escapes into a Wonderland where we might be lulled by incantations hummed by Chrysalis’s Child, where we might share a dream with Gammelyn’s Daughter,  where we might witness the tethering of the White Queen’s Armada, where we might journey home in the company of the Guide of Stray Souls.    Or maybe we won’t.  Who would want to leave such glimmer?


Kirsty Mitchell "The Queen's Armada"
Kirsty Mitchell “The Queen’s Armada”


Some photographers enable our fantasies.  Katerina Plotnikova‘s portraits of humans and beasts convince us that trust and love can still exist between species, while Annie Leibowitz restyles Disney for an audience, liable to succumb, at any moment, to trances cast by social media.  Her magazine advertisements and billboard reenactments rely on A-list celebrities to bring back the glam.  And one can’t help suspecting that she’s salvaging fairy tale for adult and adolescent fans of the paranormal romance.  


Drew Barrymore as Beauty in Annie Liebowitz's "Dream Portrait" series
Drew Barrymore as Beauty in Annie Liebowitz’s “Dream Portrait” series


On Revising the Revision

For this final week, you will settle into revising what is already a pseudo-revision (a story that appropriates or adapts fairy tale motifs and/or patterns).  When preparing for this lesson, I contemplated revision tips that might be specific to the realm of fairy tale. I scanned my over-flowing book shelves and book piles.  Unwilling to risk tumbling any towers, I gathered only works I could reach without risk.  I could share some smart commentary from Susan Redington Bobby’s Fairy Tales Reimagined: Essays on New Retellings, Elizabeth Wanning Harries’ Twice Upon a Time: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy Tale, Christine A. Jones’ and Jennifer Schacker’s Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives, or Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers.   Instead, I’ll just recommend these books as well as everything Warner has ever written.  And, then, there’s everything Jack Zipes or Kate Bernheimer has ever written. And so on.

I realize, though, that what’s most important when retelling a classic tale or in creating an entirely new one (as Kirsty Mitchell does in her Wonderland) is fairly simple.  You need to find your own original twist.  You have to write the story that only you could write, the story that is invested with your past, your interests, your influences, your stylistic quirks.   Okay. So maybe not that simple, after all.  You can’t possibly know what has already been done to death without reading voraciously and widely.  Of course, that might seem like common sense.  Or maybe not.  When does one stop reading and begin writing?

I can only tell you what I do. And I can tell you that your favorite fairy tale writer (Kelly Link, Francesca Lia Block, Gregory Maguire, Kate Bernheimer, Neil Gaiman, Aimee Bender, Theodora Goss, Catherynne Valente, etc.) is likely to have a website or blog where s/he has posted reflections on writing craft.  Fabulist writers are among the most savvy  players of the internet game.  If you aren’t already making an effort to “friend” writers you admire, do so.  They can ignore you.  But most won’t.  Their publishers want them to tweet, to post, to connect.  If they have already reached the limit of 5000 Facebook friends, you’ll be re-directed to follow them. You can still see what they post, which means you’ll discover advice and discoveries that they and their writer friends are sharing.  Social media isn’t just about networking. It can qualify as research.  And if you get stumped while revising, you don’t have to feel guilty about visually eavesdropping on others’ writerly conversations so long as you don’t get lost in the labyrinth. You must return to your own writing, of course.

Whenever I reach a block in a narrative or I cannot untangle a snarl I’ve created in a draft, I go somewhere else.  If it’s too late at night for me to walk safely in my neighborhood, I travel through images on a screen.  If you haven’t discovered that Pinterest isn’t just for collecting recipes, bad jokes, and tips for DIY projects, let me introduce you to my unboring compilations.  Yes, I’m a frequent insomniac.  As a result, I have two large fairy tale boards, a myth and folktale board, two boards of miscellaneous phantastica as well as various other collections of characters, settings, stories, and eclectic ephemera.  I can’t possibly do justice to all this inspiration during my lifetime.  

Although I think you should be able to access  one of the Phantastica boards directly via this link  even if you don’t have a Pinterest account, I’m not completely sure about that. (Please let me know if you’re forced to register so I’ll know for future reference.)    


Wonderbook Cover


In addition to directing you to my favorite source of visual stimulation, I also wanted to share at least one creative writing book that seems especially useful to authors who are operating in fabulist realms.  Recently, I have been fluttering about  in Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction (New York: Abrams, 2013).   His chapters all read like visual wonder cabinets.  The book is almost too stimulating.  I find myself oohing and ahhing as I flip through the pages as if I’m on a psychedelic trip in writing wonderland.

Luckily the book’s website contains a number of extras so I need not pick and choose in order to provide some peeks at the wise-musings and whimsical characters that occupy Vandermeer’s text.  As you might expect, the hard copy is much more substantial than the free content on the website, but we would need a sixteen-week semester to do half-justice to the book. The excerpts, here, will offer a fun interlude as you decide how you want to revise.  You can also get a sense of the other big names who make guest appearances in interviews or essays interspersed between the kaleidoscopic illustrations:  Catherynne M. Valente; Neil Gaiman; Nnedi Okorafor; Karen Joy Fowler; Rikki Ducornet; Ursula K. Le Guin; David Anthony Durham; Lauren Beukes; Kim Stanley Robinson; Lev Grossman; Peter Straub.   

In appearance, at least, Vandermeer’s book reminds me a lot of Lynda Barry’s What It Is.  Barry describes her graphic coming-of-age-as-an-artist text as “autobifictionograpy.”  She needs a neologism because “what it is” defies simple genre designation.  See a couple of relevant sample pages below:


lyda barry What It Is Fairy Tales


Publishers of Fairy Tale Fiction and Poetry

Although you are likely to be reworking one of the pieces that you crafted during the month for this week’s effort, it may not be ready to be birthed into the world.   However, once you and the genie have finished polishing that revision and you are ready to release your work into a capable  midwife’s hands, you might be interested in submitting to one of the following publications.  I recommend sampling some of these links while you are still in the process of revision so that you’ll have a sense of particular editors’ fancies as you complete your effort.  You may be surprised by what qualifies as fairy tale.

First, I recommend The Review Review‘s article on “Lit Mags Seeking Fairy Tales.”  This source provides links to a number of the better known journals and magazines.

Kate Bernheimer, editor of My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me,  is the founder and managing editor of The Fairy Tale Review.    Copies are available as PDF downloads on the review’s website.   

Interfictions Online, an electronic publication of the Interstitial Arts Foundation, is a promoter of those perverse texts that refuse to nestle comfortably into a single genre category.  If you have a fairy tale that shifts between poetry and prose, for example, it might find a home amid the other magical misfits in the online publication.  The IAF’s homepage can also provide you with insights into what qualifies as interstitial (or in-betweenish) writing/art.

Some of you may be familiar with A capella Zoo as a publisher of magic realism. However, that journal’s mission statement also includes “modern fairy tale” on its want list along with  “new weird,” “surreal,” and “experimental” texts.

The mythic art links that Terri Windling provides on her website studio can lead you to many blogs, journals, and websites.  I also recommend her blog, Myth & Moor.  See her blogroll on the right.W

e collect stories and p

Writing Assignment

This is our last week. We will increase our word count to no more than 5,000 words. This week you can choose from the following focuses:

  1. Revise a story you’ve already submitted, lengthen it, or don’t lengthen it.
  2. OR Combine two stories you’ve already workshopped during this course into one story.
  3. OR Create a new story inspired by materials I’ve provided above.
  4. OR Submit a fairy tale fiction that you have written before, albeit not for this course.



Share what you’ve learned, thus far, about your own revision process.  

Feel free to recommend fairy-tale oriented articles, publishers, blogs, websites, or images that other workshop members are likely to appreciate.  

You may also use the discussion area to share background information or intentions.  Are you hoping to transform this week’s submission into a much longer work?  Why did you select this particular piece?


End of Course Questionnaire

Please complete the End of Course Questionnaire. We will use this information to understand what is working for you in the course; what can be improved; know what courses to add to our schedule; and understand how you came to find us. Thank you for sharing your words and talents with us this month. We hope you’ll join us again. Make sure to check out the upcoming course listings, especially Magic Realism, Hybrid and The Undead Workshops and let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be happy to make recommendations. 


End of Course Questionnaire

Please complete the End of Course Questionnaire. We will use this information to understand what is working for you in the course; what can be improved; know what courses to add to our schedule; and understand how you came to find us. Thank you for sharing your words and talents with us this month. We hope you’ll join us again. Make sure to check out the upcoming course listings and let me know if you have any questions. I’ll be happy to make recommendations.


Free Alumni Promotions

As an Eckleburg Workshops Alumni, you now have free access to our listservs in quick and easy to complete forms with automatic distribution to students, alumni and faculty of The Eckleburg Workshops, readers at The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Eckleburg Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Tumblr followers. See below:

  • The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Spotlight: In this spotlight you will not only speak about your workshop inspiration, but also about what the writing process means to you and your work. You will also let Eckleburg readers know about your current writing projects and focuses.
  • Tell Us About Your Eckleburg Works! This distribution is for works you wrote and/or critiqued here at The Eckleburg Workshops, either in part or whole.
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  • Recommended Reading: What veteran writers know, and new writers sometimes do not, is that the literary community and markets are not only about talent and craft but also about the karma. The generosity you show other talented writers who have inspired you will come back to you. Start the good karma on your upcoming publication by sharing with us a work that grips you. This distribution is to spread the word about works you are currently reading and feel others should be too. This can be a book, a short story, a poem, etc. 


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Lesson No. 3: Romancing the Beast with Brenda Mann Hammack

"La  Belle et la Bête"



How to Tell If You’ve Married an Animal

Your marriage has been arranged in order to compensate for your father’s misbehavior.

You are the most selfless member of your family despite being the youngest and/or the prettiest.

Explanations for mysterious behavior are promised, but consistently delayed to some future date.

Your lover’s personality differs radically by dark or light.

You find yourself attempting to distinguish the gradations between snoring and growling.

Your mother-in-law is a terrible ogre who’s convinced herself she is God’s gift to romance.  She won’t stop giving you rickety candelabra—and is awfully fond of cursing.

Meanwhile, your own relatives aren’t really encouraged to visit lest they inspire distrust at your spouse’s idiosyncrasies.

Said spouse won’t stop hunting for that smelly old coat that you should have burned, but hid in some forgettable cranny.

You find stray coarse hairs or gossamer feathers whenever you launder the sheets or plump the pillows. 

This despite the fact that you cannot keep that Bichon Frisé you always wanted or even so much as a caged parakeet for fear that small hearts won’t be able to bear the stress of your partner’s proximity.

And really who can blame them given that undue fondness for heart, marrow, and liver so eloquently expressed by chop-licking exercises at every meal?


"Tam Lin" by Peter Nevins
“Tam Lin”
by Peter Nevins


At least Margaret (or Janet) knew what she was getting when she wrested Tam Lin (or Tamlane) from the Fairy Queen’s clutches in the Scottish folk ballad.  While variants of this legend disagree on the specific forms the human knight adopts as he slithers and bucks in the young woman’s arms, the male’s metamorphic instability is never in doubt.  Tam Lin shifts from lizard to lion to snake to deer to dove to swan to hot iron to ember to naked man while Margaret remains fixed in position.  Of course, he’d already impregnated the girl during a previous encounter without mentioning prior ties to a mistress who’s sure to be the death of him.  Or at least that’s his complaint.

That Margaret saves Tam Lin rather than requiring rescue herself seems a significant departure from the usual run of romantic relationships in folktale.   Statistically, princes can claim more experience in the art of fairy tale rescue.  However, Margaret is not the only heroine who claims the masculine object of her desire.  Two of my favorite childhood stories, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” and “The Snow Queen,” feature females who set off on solitary quests in order to rescue dudes in distress.  In the latter story, a little girl tracks her abducted cousin to the Snow Queen’s realm and releases him from a frozen emotionless existence.  In that narrative, the male character (still a child) has lost all the affect needed to indulge in warm-blooded relationships.  

The other narrative, which involves romance with an animal bridegroom, is more pertinent to the current conversation.  Like the better-known Beauty of Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s eighteenth-century beast romance, the protagonist of Andrew Lang’s “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” agrees to an arranged marriage in order to save her family from shame and penury.  Whether she acts from a martyr or a hero complex need not be determined as the psychological motivations are not mutually exclusive in this context.   While the Beast in various incarnations of that tale has been turned inside-out in a metaphoric sense (his psychological ugliness manifested in his outward form as a result of offense committed against a magical being), Lang’s White Bear has been enchanted as a means of forcing him to marry an ugly female against his will.

Most enchantments of this nature possess built-in release clauses.  To break the spell, the frog, boar, hind, bear, or other unspecified beast must win the love of a worthy human. Accordingly,  strict guidelines have been set to test the obedience of potential human mates.  (Margaret/Janet is one of the few examples of a mortal lover who manages to abide by the rules.)  Perhaps, the enchantress, an ogre, intends to convince the prince of the infidelity of a prototypically beautiful “true bride” so that he will accept a wife of monstrous appearance.  Lang’s fairy tale does not consider the possibility of a loathly lady being transformed by pretty-man tears.

As is the case in so many fairy tales (like “Bluebeard” and “Fitcher’s Bird, which were mentioned in lesson one), the human bride in “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is expected to follow set stipulations without question or justification.  She does accept her husband’s nightly attentions without protest.  However, he only visits her bed under conditions of complete darkness. From a tactile perspective, he seems human enough.  At any rate, she does not complain of his lovemaking skills.  What the wife does find objectionable are the long daylight hours she spends in isolation.  When allowed to visit family to allay homesickness, she shares her frustrations with her mother as many females are wont to do.  Unlike Beauty’s trouble-making sisters, this female relative seems motivated by concern for her child’s well-being.  Curiously, the protagonist’s marriage to a bear had been accepted by the family who benefited from the arrangement. However, the possibility of a troll lover clearly trumps the idea of a bear lover in terms of abhorrence.  The girl is convinced to steal a forbidden peek by candlelight.  


"East of the Sun, West of the Moon" by Lomaev Anton
“East of the Sun, West of the Moon”
by Lomaev Anton


If you have encountered the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche (or Amor and Psyche), you can guess what happens next.  In breaking the taboo, the female discovers her mate’s desirability.  Lang’s heroine is so aroused by his beauty, she spills hot candle wax onto his nightshirt, thus waking and alerting him to the betrayal that consigns him to the emasculating conditions of ogre matrimony.  In the Roman and Greek legends, Venus/Aphrodite had set the terms for her son’s affairs with human females.  Only inexperienced Psyche allowed herself to be convinced by ill-intentioned sisters that her unidentified, unseen lover could be a serpent instead of a man.  (One suspects that glimpses of statuary had not informed the girl of ophidian features in concupiscent man.) When Psyche glimpses the god of love in all his limbed glory by forbidden candlelight, she—like Lang’s heroine—is so driven by admiration, lust, erotomania that she will venture to great lengths and distances to reclaim him.  While Psyche braves the underworld to win her god-man, the bear prince’s wife travels to world’s ends, “east of the sun, west of the moon” to free her chosen man from the ogress’s narcotic ministrations.   In this story the Beast has become the Sleeping Beauty.   Unfortunately, the heroine does not fight any dragonesque ogres. Nor does she hack her way through thorn hedge. She washes his shirt to remove the wax stain, an act that could only be completed by the one who stained it in the first place.  Domestic skills remain in high regard, despite the bravery involved in circumnavigating the earth solo via wind gusts.  


"Snake Woman" by Alex Gross
“Snake Woman”
by Alex Gross


Folkloric romances with beasts are not as restricted by gender mores as one might think.  Not only can a male be Beauty; a female may also be Beast.  Keats’ Lamia is probably the most attractive snake woman in literary history, despite the clashing metaphors that the poet bestows upon his (anti)heroine:


     She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,

     Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;

     Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,

     Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;

     And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,

     Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed

     Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries—

     So rainbow-sided, touch’d with miseries,

     She seem’d, at once, some penanced lady elf,

     Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self.

     Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire

     Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne’s tiar:

     Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet!

     She had a woman’s mouth with all its pearls complete:

     And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there

    But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair?


I’ve yet to see an artistic rendering of this character in serpent form that does justice to Keats’ actual description of her as an armless and legless elongation with cartoonish long-lashed eyes and seed-pearl teeth.

 Secret of Roan Inish

In folklore, female beasts may be finned, feathered or furred.   In John Sayles’ The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), the dark-eyed and dark-haired kin of the protagonist are supposed to have inherited characteristics from a sea maiden (that is, a selkie) ancestress. The so-called “dark ones” exhibit uncanny fishing skills.  They grow mentally unstable if removed from the sea.  In Scottish and Irish selkie lore, female shape-shifters find themselves temporarily confined to land after amorous humans steal their seal-skins.  Typically, the abductor hides the skin in order to keep his half-human bride from returning to sea.  Although such marriages may result in numerous children and may last for a significant number of years with the former seal-maid appearing to settle into family life with only low-grade melancholy to tinge the domestic bliss, she eventually leaves as soon as one of her children discovers the secreted skin.  Although the selkie may look back at her human family as she leaves, she does not return, preferring to watch over her descendants from the relative safety of waves.

You can view the scene in which one of the “dark ones” of Roan Inish recounts the selkie’s story by clicking on the following links: Part 1 and Part 2.


"The Mermaid" by Margo Selski
“The Mermaid”
by Margo Selski


Romances between land-based humans and mere-folk seldom last.  Even the “Little Mermaid,” in Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairy tale, does not remain with the prince, who unknowingly inspires her to undergo magical mutilation.  The mermaid suffers loss of voice as well as constant shooting pains through her artificially separated and elongated fins, and still she dances until her feet bleed.  The prince never notices her masochistic devotion and marries the genuinely kind human girl he believes has saved his life.  The little mermaid never gains affection beyond what might be granted to a beloved pet.  In this text, the prince cannot be blamed for failing to maintain a promise to allow the were-animal privacy and trust.  Nor can he be blamed for failing to maintain fidelity since he has no idea that the former mermaid has any claim to a romantic bond.  She’s simply a mute child so far as he is concerned.  His inability to perceive her as an adult woman is made evident by her inclusion in his honeymoon excursion.  This is one of the rare fairy tales when the female protagonist’s rival in love avoids demonization. (Although Disney may be credited with bestowing a modicum of autonomy on some heroines of their twentieth-century adaptations, the conflation of the human rival with the wicked water witch undermines the effectiveness of the film’s pseudo-feminist project.)

Although water spirits may respond to the physical charms of air-breathers, Anderson’s mermaid does not elect to undergo the traumatic transformation until after she learns that romantic alliance with a human can result in soul acquisition.  Luckily, heaven turns out not to be so exclusive as she has been led to believe. When the mermaid fails to secure the prince’s affections and resists the opportunity to regain her former marine existence by slaying the oblivious destroyer of her spiritual aspirations, she is granted the opportunity to join the ranks of sylphs, or air fairies.  She will spend the next hundred years, the projected lifespan for merefolk, performing good deeds, thus earning the soul she supposedly lacks.


"Undine" by Edmund Dulac
by Edmund Dulac


The reputed soul deficit is common to fairy tales that feature magical beings.  The protagonist of Friedrick de la Motte Fouqué’s Undine leaves her element for love of a knight called Huldbrand.  As C.M. Younge remarks in the introduction to the Gutenberg edition, such stories were

founded on the universal idea in folk-lore of the nixies or water-spirits, one of whom, in Norwegian legend, was seen weeping bitterly because of the want of a soul. Sometimes the nymph is a wicked siren like the Lorelei; but in many of these tales she weds an earthly lover, and deserts him after a time, sometimes on finding her diving cap, or her seal-skin garment, which restores her to her ocean kindred, sometimes on his intruding on her while she is under a periodical transformation, as with the fairy Melusine, more rarely if he becomes unfaithful.

In the case of Undine and Huldbrand, the latter is fully aware of the commitment required.  Still, he risks an affair with a human female with as little heed to the consequences as we often see in tabloid reportage of men who cheat on celebrity spouses.  Although Undine is not vindictive by inclination, she cannot resist the supernatural decree.  She is content to possess a soul, despite her husband’s betrayal, but, as her uncle Kühleborn warns, she is subject to laws and must take Huldbrand’s life should he commit bigamy.  Undine hopes to avoid this necessity so long as the fountain, the castle’s prime water source, remains covered.  But the reckless second wife fails to take precautions seriously, and, thus, Undine’s vapory spirit reluctantly fulfills the sentence for Hulbrand’s infidelity by kissing and weeping him to death.


Melusine's secret discovered, from Le Roman de Mélusine by Jean d'Arras, ca 1450-1500.
Melusine’s secret discovered, from Le Roman de Mélusine by Jean d’Arras, ca 1450-1500.


Humans are forever breaking bargains with fay folk.  Witness all the knights who can’t help bragging of the supreme beauty of fairy mistresses. See, for example, the story of Lanval in Marie de France’s Lais.  In the case of Melusine, mentioned in the above quote from Yonge, the fairy has been doubly betrayed. First, her father entered the chamber where Melusine and her sisters were born, although explicitly forbidden to do so.  Later, her lover, Raymondin, violates a similar injunction by spying on her as she bathes on a Saturday, the only day of the week when her lower limbs merge and she splashes about like a sea serpent in her wooden tub.  Though she evinces more temper than Undine, Melusine is not an entirely unforgiving figure as she keeps watch over her descendants by appearing in dragon form, swooping like an aerial performer about the ramparts of the Castle Lusignan.


Feathered Fashion by Alexander McQueen
Feathered Fashion by Alexander McQueen


Flighty brides can be found in the lore of numerous cultures.  Unlike the selkie wife who abandons her half-human children when she reverts to seal form, the Bird-Bride of Inuit legend takes her offspring with her when she refledges.  In an 1889 ballad by Rosamund Marriott Watson, this character has been domesticated by a human trapper, who sincerely believes that he deserves loyalty for clothing and feeding her.  Although he recounts her flock’s violent attempts to break his hold when he snatches the shape-shifted young woman from the beach, he does not recognize the abduction as a  violation of her autonomy.  Even at poem’s end, after he has broken his vows by slaying another sea-gull, he plaintively insists that she belongs to him: “Ye are mine forever and aye, / Mine, wherever your wild wings go.”

Although male characters assume rights to dominion over animal brides in Japanese folklore as well,  a number of helpmeets willingly offer domestic service, usually in return for humanitarian treatment of injury.  In some of the Crane Wife narratives, a poor man saves the life of a wounded bird, who undertakes the domestic duties of his household.  She helps him to improve his finances by weaving luxurious silk he can market. Unfortunately, the typically fallible husband discovers the source of her materials when he violates the restriction against spying on her work space.  Despite significant cost to her health, the Crane Wife has been plucking her own feathers to produce the resplendent brocades.    Patrick Ness’s magical realist retelling transfers this story to modern-day London, transforming the magical weaver into a mixed-media artist named Kumiko.

Probably the most familiar bird-women hybrids, however, are the swan maidens, Odette and Odile, of Tchaikovsky’s ballet.  Inspired by Russian folk tale, Swan Lake‘s story line unfolds as tragic romance.  A princess has been transformed into a white swan by an evil sorcerer.  Spell breaking requires the usual monogamous faith.  However, in this version of animal-human romance, the prince remains true at heart, but falls for the trickery of the black swan, Odette’s evil twin.  Prince Siegfrid commits an act of infidelity with the disguised Odile and, thus, condemns the good twin to perpetual bird form.  Not having the ugly duckling’s history of bullying in her background, Odette cannot appreciate the beauty of such an existence.  She and her remorseful lover commit suicide together. 

In the 2010 film Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky, the psychological demands placed on the ballerina who dances the dual roles are brought into surreal focus as the protagonist’s obsessive compulsive personality leads to extreme identification with the characters she plays.  Nina’s history of self-mutilating behavior (nervous scratching) combines with the damaging effects of long-term dedication to dance so that the viewer isn’t sure if s/he is witnessing supernatural transformation or the symptoms of impending psychotic break brought about by near-starvation and the deformations that result from chronic injury/strain.  Body dysmorphic disorder may also explain the emergence of quills through skin. Other changes, involving computer-generated special effects, allow the filmmakers to externalize the white swan’s subjugation, the eventual possession by her double, her monstrous self.  

 Outfoxing Fear Cover


As the swan doubles (Odette and Odile) demonstrate, bestial lovers may manifest as positive as well as negative archetypes. In this final segment of my lesson on bestial romance, I will focus on furred femmes, specifically on the kitsune and kumiho of Eastern folklore.   While the former have a reputation for making good wives when they manifest as shape-changing fox women in Japanese folk tale, the latter (appearing in Korean variants) are more likely to eat their lovers’ hearts out—literally.  Heinz Insu Fenkl’s articles on fox fatales from The Journal of Mythical Arts provide useful background on the  demonic aspects of this figure.  Links are posted under “Additional Readings” below.

However, Fenkl’s translation of “The Tale of the Fox Den” is particularly pertinent to the current discussion as its female character plays both victim as well as villainess.  Originally, her intentions are relatively pure.  A vixen accepts a position of servitude in the household of a man who has helped her to recover from serious injuries.  He is already married so she cannot be a wife to him.  Furthermore, her poisonous tongue is a serious impediment to their developing romance.  Unfortunately, the man’s wife recognizes the potential threat even though the fox woman sublimates her desires.  In a fit of jealous pique, the wife murders the servant, or so the wife believes. She dies of guilty conscience. 

Since the kumiho is a creature of supernatural origin, she does not stay dead.  But she lacks the martyr’s ability to forgive her rivals and, therefore, takes her enmity out on the dead woman’s daughter.  After killing the young girl, the fox assumes her body so that she can remain in the household of the man she continues to adore.  The faux daughter eventually reaches marriageable age, but the fox demon, not wishing to leave her “father,” dispenses of would-be wooers with her toxic kiss.  Eventually, her secret is discovered when an intended victim bites off her tongue.   Although her slayer acknowledges some sympathy for the fox demon’s plight, he sentences her to death.  This time the corpse is entombed in a cave, the entrance blocked by a boulder to impede  reincarnation or, at least, escape.  

In some respects, this particular kumiho resembles Keats’ “Lamia” as well as that poet’s  “La Belle Dame sans Merci.”  Although she victimizes others, she is not entirely at fault for her duplicitous and treacherous state.


"Sea Maiden with Coral" by Karin Miller
“Sea Maiden with Coral”
by Karin Miller


As Boris Sax observes in The Serpent and the Swan: The Animal Bride in Folklore and Literature, the land of lore is filled with interspecies romance, regardless of universal taboos against bestiality.  I’m sure you can generate numerous examples of gods taking bull, swan, eagle, or dolphin form to seduce human women.  You were probably expecting me to cover classic fairy tales like “The Frog Prince,” “Donkeyskin,” or “Snow White and Rose Red.”  And, although some multicultural perspectives are provided, many others have been overlooked.  What about mermaids of color like Mami Wata?  Although I have provided some links to essays that range across cultures in the “Additional Reading” section below, I encourage you to explore  interspace for animal-human figures I’ve missed despite this lesson’s length.  Or better yet: conceive some hybrids of your own.


Additional Reading

The archive for The Journal of Mythic Arts, maintained by the Endicott Studio, is another invaluable resource for folklore devotees.  The following links will take you to essays on this website, but I encourage you to explore as the site contains other material relevant to this week theme.

“Married to Magic: Animal Brides and Bridegrooms in Folklore and Fantasy” by Terri Windling

“Beauty and the Beast, Old and New” by Terri Windling

“Fox Wives and Other Dangerous Women” by  Heinz Inzu Fenkl 

“Fox Woman Tale of Korea” by Heinz Inzu Fenkl

“The Swan Maiden’s Feathered Robe” by Midori Snyder

“The Monkey Girl” by Midori Snyder

“Where the White Stag Runs: Boundary and Transformation in Deer Myth” by Ari Berk



1.  Two concept albums The Hazards of Love (2009) and The Crane Wife (2006) by The Decemberists draw upon folk tales that are featured in the above lesson.  You can read the complete lyrics for The Hazards of Love (2009), a rock opera loosely based on “Tam Lin” at their website.  In Colin Meloy’s lyrics, Margaret first encounters the shape-shifter, William, in the guise of wounded fawn.  Both characters are subjected to the demands of unwanted others.  The Queen is a cross between jealous fairy and Venus, only allowing her consort-son dalliance during the evenings, while forcing a return to enchantment by day. Pregnant Margaret is abducted by a widower who has poisoned, drowned, and burned his own children.  The Queen is delighted to support the villain’s perverse intentions.   When William attempts to rescue his lover, they both drown when attempting to cross water turned treacherous by the malicious queen.  

Although I did not find the complete lyrics for The Crane Wife in one location, you can read  ‘The Crane Wife” 1, 2, and 3 at the link I am providing in this sentence.   

Since lyrics typically leave numerous gaps in narration, you might draw inspiration from selected lines or stanzas to create your own complete fairy tale.  After all, Patrick Ness credited the Decemberists’ CD for inspiring his entire novel.

2. Although I began this lesson with a poster for a “Beauty and the Beast” film that was released in France in 2013, I have yet to find it available via Netflix or AmazonPrime.  However, Jean Cocteau’s surrealist version of 1946 is available in an instant streaming format.   I also recommend Angela Carter’s short story “The Tiger’s Bride.”   Even if you don’t have time to access any of this material, you might save the links for future reference.  You could also write your own variation by contemplating your personal standards of  beauty and beastliness.  As Carter’s story reveals, both concepts are relative despite socialization that enables us to recognize societal ideals.  Feel free to play with gender, class, race, religion, sexual orientation, or other identity concepts as you construct your own Beauty/Beast encounter.

3.  Draw inspiration from any of the enchanted animal stories from the Journal of Mythic Arts/Endicott Studio or SurLaLune fairytale websites that I’ve mentioned above. (You may also pick one of the animal-themed fairy tales that I did not address.)  For added challenge, you might situate your revision in an unusual environment such as a roller derby rink, a cosplay event, or a planet in another solar system. 

4.  Write a fairy tale romance that involves one of the finned, feathered, or furred creatures mentioned in my lesson.  Or give some underrepresented critter an opportunity to court a princess.   How about a little love for a flying fox, a moth, or a guinea pig?

5.  Even fantasists must play by their own rules.  Put a curse on your characters, but offer an escape clause.  Your beast lovers may fail to tragic consequence.  Or you may allow them their happily-ever afterlife within reason.  

 6. Visit the websites of the featured artists (Peter Nevins, Lomaev Anton, Alex Gross, Margo Selski,  and Karin Miller) for additional inspiration.


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Lesson No. 2: Her Kind with Brenda Mann Hammack

Carabosse from "The Sleeping Beauty," performed by the Paris Opera Ballet in 1989

Carabosse from “The Sleeping Beauty,” performed by the Paris Opera Ballet in 1989


Her Kind


I have gone out, a possessed witch,

haunting the black air, braver at night;

dreaming evil, I have done my hitch

over the plain houses, light by light:

lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.

A woman like that is not a woman, quite.

I have been her kind.


I have found the warm caves in the woods,

filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,

closets, silks, innumerable goods;

fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:

whining, rearranging the disaligned.

A woman like that is misunderstood.

I have been her kind.


I have ridden in your cart, driver,

waved my nude arms at villages going by,

learning the last bright routes, survivor

where your flames still bite my thigh

and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.

A woman like that is not ashamed to die.

I have been her kind.


(Anne Sexton, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, 1960)


The inductees for this week’s celebration of witch-kind include, but dare not be limited to

Baba Yaga, Mother Gothel, Maleficent, Carabosse, Queen Grimhilde, Frau Holle,  Mother Hulda, Morgan Le Fey, Circe, Hecate, Mother Goose, Broom Hilda, Frau Totenkinder, the Snow Queen, the White Witch of Narnia, Minerva McGonagall, Doloros Umbridge, Bellatrix Lestrange, Sybill Trelawny, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Samantha and Tabitha Stevens, Endora, Cousin Sabrina, Nanny McPhee, Mary Poppins, Eglantine Price, Wendy the Good Little Witch, La Llorona, Yuki Onna, Strega Nona, Serafina Pekkala, Melisandre, Sycorax, Ursula, Angelique Bouchard, Lolly Willowes, the Witch of Endor, the Bell Witch, Princess Makemnoit, Watho, Mombi, Glinda the Good, the Wicked Witches of East and West, Mortitia and Grandmama Addams, MacBeth’s Weird Sisters, the witchy woman from that song by the Eagles, and any character that I risk offending by failure to send invitation by screech owl, summoning spell, or seance.


The Holy and Undivided Trinity of Castle Rising, Norfolk, England, pre-1940s
The Holy and Undivided Trinity of Castle Rising, Norfolk, England, pre-1940s


Despite length, the above list does not take into account any of the confessed and condemned witches in history.  It does not include Marie Leveau or other practitioners of Voodoo (or Voudoun).  Male witches, or wizards, are also excluded.  No Merlin. No Dumbledore. No Severus Snape. You’re probably generating a list of all the other oversights that could render me vulnerable to curse.

For this particular lesson, I will limit myself to examining a selection of these archetypal females, these hags, femme fatales, and wise women, who appear to test, advise, or torment protagonists in fairy tales.

Many of these characters fail to register proper names and, therefore, may be known only as crones, beldames, lamias, cunning women, fairy godmothers, loathly ladies, oracles, mediums, herbal healers, soothsayers, fortune tellers, palm readers, alchemists, sorcerers, and necromancers.  

Perhaps, their power acquires more potency when their true names cannot be used in counter spells.  We don’t see the gingerbread witch of “Hansel and Gretel” cackling over her true name while hopping, like Rumpelstiltskin, around a campfire.  And what about all those extra enchantresses who trick princes into frog and other beast forms before disappearing without so much as a smoky poof? As magic workers, many fairy godmothers might be counted as nameless members of this coven of popular culture.

While many of these stock characters possess personalities without complexities, without fenny snakes or newt eyes to season the brew, more modern villainesses come equipped with enough insecurities and traumas to allow revisionists to plead extenuating circumstances, rather like defense attorneys at sentencing.

Some of these other witches sprout aliases like skink tails or hydra heads.   One case in point is her narcissistic highness of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Most people know her as “Wicked Queen,” but various online sources identify the character’s forename (notice I did not say Christian name) as Grimhilde.   

In  the titular story of Tanith Lee’s revisionist collection Red as Blood by the Sisters Grimmer, the Witch Queen is a devout Catholic.  When she discovers that her husband’s daughter is actually a vampire, this stepmother does not want to eat the girl’s heart; nor does she want to put a stake through it.  Instead, she sacrifices her own youth to allow Bianca to be reborn, to be rid of the sinfulness represented by her condition.


Red as Blood


Gregory Maguire’s 2003 novel, Mirror Mirror, offers a historical spin of the wheel by relocating the plot to sixteenth-century Italy where Lucrezia Borgia subjects her ward, another Bianca, to mercury poisoning because brother Cesare is paying too much attention to the younger female.

You may also be familiar with the romantic comedy by the same title, which starred Julia Roberts as Queen Clementianna.  Her motives have more to do with money than with vanity.  That film was released in 2012 as was Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Charlize Theron as Ravenna.   That character’s obsession with her mirror-self is determined by the terms of the spell that assures her immortality.  Ravenna dies if anyone surpasses her in fairness.  Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of Lady Claudia in Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997) is more sympathetic. Lilli, the stepdaughter in that film, is rather a brat.   The girl’s deliberate attempts to create discord within the household contribute to Lady Claudia’s delivery of a stillborn child.  Further complications result in infertility.  Grief turns to madness and, thus, Lady Claudia becomes the witch the viewer expects her to be.

Becoming the Villainess


Occasionally, villainesses undergo more radical transformations.  We saw Disney’s Maleficent recast as a misunderstood fairy victimized by a power-hungry human. She turns villainess for revenge only to transform into loving godmother, despite herself.   In the Shrek franchise, the character known as Fairy Godmother proves far more conniving than her counterpart in Disney’s Cinderella.   Even though Princess Fiona has already fallen in love with the titular ogre, this godmother plays malicious match-maker between Fiona and her own son, who is Charming in name only.


Miwa Yanai, "Fairy Tale: Snow White," 2004
Miwa Yanagi, “Fairy Tale: Snow White,” 2004


“What do witches want?,” you wonder.   A similar question (“What do women want?”)  is posed to the Loathly Lady from Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale.”  Her response:  “Sovereignty over their husbands.”   Witches don’t limit their will to dominate to spouses; however, the desire for power is often a driving force behind much of the antagonistic spell-casting in fairy tale. Some witches want revenge, often for public shaming.  If the malice of the proverbial woman scorned is hellacious, then, one can only shudder at the potential for mayhem when that woman is gifted with magic that allows her to actively prosecute and persecute.  

One of the more common forms of witch-snubbing involves failure to invite, especially to christenings.   A witch may be subjected to uninvitedness for a number of reasons. Her age, class, and/or politics may render her invisible without the need for a magic cloak. Like Madeleine in Theodora Goss’s “Sleeping Beauty” variant,  “The Rose in Twelve Petals,” she may teach herself magic from a mail-order manual after being dropped by a royal lover.   As Anne Sexton’s poem at the beginning of this lesson suggests, some women find themselves cast as witches merely because they have failed to fit into a societal mold.  Her kind might be lonely, moody, bawdy.  

She might even be a genius misunderstood like one of the Faustian females of George MacDonald’s fairy tales, “The Light Princess” (1864) and “The History of Photogen and Nycteris: The Day Boy and Night Girl”  (1882).  In the former story, Princess Makemnoit (Princess Make-them-know-it) is physiognomically hideous.  Her abnormally large forehead gives her an alien appearance, while also suggesting degeneracy. Her skin is preternaturally wrinkled as the result of constant grimacing.   However, these characteristics appear to be predicated upon the witch-princess’s cleverness.  When she is not invited to her niece’s christening, she curses the child with lightness of mind and body.  You might think her parents would approve of such mental vacuity in offspring, given that Makemnoit is shunned by both her father and brother for manifesting a challenging temperament.  The light-minded princess does not argue with anyone. She’s way too busy giggling, even when circumstances should merit sadness or solemnity.

Nycteris, the female protagonist of Macdonald’s other story, is more ideal in temperament, her education having been limited to music and children’s books, whereas Watho, the antagonist, is depicted as a witchy scientist, whose experiments combine behavioral conditioning with imaginationism (i.e. maternal impressions).  Motivated by the same kind of curious ambition that drove Victor Frankenstein to construct a creature without contemplating future consequences, Watho manipulates two pregnant women into visiting during their periods of confinement.  One woman dies in childbirth; the other is informed that her child did not survive.  After the latter woman leaves to reunite with her husband, Watho is left to treat the boy and girl as experimental objects. The boy is raised to know only daylight, while the girl knows only nightlight.   Watho controls diet as well as activities.  Even during gestational development, the fetuses are influenced by controlled environments.  The day boy’s mother carries him to term in a brightly lit aerie at the top of the castle, while the night girl’s blind mother is housed in an underground tomb, albeit one of comfortable, even luxurious design. 

The act of separating a mother from her child is intended to be interpreted as evidence of Watho’s unnatural nature. Combined with the occasional lapse into a weird trance that might be diagnosed as epileptic seizure, Watho”s character is clearly designed to demonstrate the abnormality that education of the wrong kind was supposed to have on the impressionable female mind, according to socio-medical authorities of the Victorian era.  

When Photogen experiences illness during adolescence, Watho becomes so enraged she turns sadistic, torturing the teenager with his own arrow.  She later attempts to kill Nycteris, considering the double experiment as evidence of failure.  Such ambition is especially pathological, unnatural, and evil when manifested in feminine form, or, thus is the implied message in MacDonald’s fairy tale.

Indeed, Watho’s  intellectuality is describes as a “wolf in her mind” early in the narrative.   “She cared for nothing in itself—only for knowing it,” we’re told.  “She was not naturally cruel but the wolf had made her cruel.”  MacDonald might have been writing with polemics, similar to those of anti-feminist Eliza Lynn Linton, in mind.  In Linton’s essays in the journal Nineteenth Century, she warned of dire consequences resulting from suffragists’ advocacy of “lawlessness and licence.”  In an essay called “The Wild Women as Social Insurgents” (1891), Linton expressed horror at the idea of women nursing babies with hands bloodied from slaughtering oxen and lambs.  Although MacDonald’s feminist does not operate with a scalpel or poleaxe, she does become a werewolf by the story’s end.  She employs an ointment to effect the physiological transformation, but the psychological devolution (or reverse evolution) has been underway for some time.



Anne Bachelier from “Belle fin d’année”

Like so many archetypes, witches are often cast as equivocal figures.  In Disney’s recent rehabilitation of Maleficent, the fairy rules over the spirits of the Moors, the more natural realm beyond the borders of the human kingdom.  In Angelina Jolie’s incarnation, this character contains capacities for good and evil.  Such is often the case for witch figures affiliated with nature in fairy tale.  Baba Yaga, encountered as a cannibalistic hag in last week’s lesson, often rewards protagonists who prove their merit.  She is, like Frau Holle or Mother Hulda of the “Diamonds and Toads” variants, likely to punish one or more antagonists while blessing a benevolent, obedient, and diligent protagonist.  In “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” Baba Yaga is linked with the day’s diurnal passage, represented by riders of dawn, noon, and night.  Both Frau Holle and Mother Hulda are associated with weather events.  Snow falls, for example, when the protagonist assists the old woman in shaking out feather-bedding. 


Riita Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth's "Agnes I"
Riita Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth’s “Agnes I”


Discussion Topic

For this week’s discussion, I would like you to consider the way in which revisions are influenced by the anxieties and agendas of their milieu.  What does the rehabilitation of a villainness suggest about changing mores? 

What do you make of controversies involving the Harry Potter novels/films or other witch-inhabited children’s works that have been accused of promoting Satanism?  One of my students in a university class devoted to the study of children’s literature, once observed that “we could not allow children to read the Harry Potter books because that would lead to the need to burn witches again.”   She had never studied the history of witchcraft trials in the United States or elsewhere, had never even heard of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.  In another class, a student announced that she would never read a Harry Potter novel, even as an adult, because she had heard that they promoted evil.  In the very next meeting, she raved about her favorite television program: True Blood. She did not see a contradiction. Perhaps books have a greater potential for corruption  than HBO programming?  


Additional Readings

You can find links to a number of fictions in the above lesson.  Since I began this lesson with a poem and shared the cover illustration for Becoming the Villainess, I thought I would also add a few links to poetic revisions of classic fairy tales.    

A number of samples from Jeannine Hall Gailey’s fairy tale poetry can be found on her website. 

Most of Anne Sexton’s poems in Transformations are inspired by stories by the Brother’s Grimm.  Examples include “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Rapunzel,” and “Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty).” 


Writing Prompts

1.   Some of the characters in the above lesson may be totally new acquaintances for you. Some you may have met, but forgot.  You could make up for that slight if you like in your short story for the week.  Allow your text to rehabilitate a despised figure or to malign a loved one.  Example:  if you are a Chronicles of Narnia fan, you might salvage the reputation of Jadis, The Witch Witch. Or, if you grew up reading Harvey comics, you might trash Wendy the Good Little Witch.

2.  Draw inspiration from images located at the website maintained by the artists featured above:  Riita Ikonen’s and Karoline Hjorth’s “Eyes as Big as Plates” series; Anne Bachelier’s blog; Miwa Yanagi’s “Fairytale.”

3.  Turn a historical witch trial into a fairy tale.  Give magical powers to someone who was accused of possessing such powers. What would have happened if the accusations were true? (You can find transcripts of actual trials on line.)

4. Write a story that contains magical formulas or spells.  Theodora Goss’s “The Rose in Twelve Petals” begins as her witch-wanna-be follows instructions from a mail-order Compendium Magicarum.  I suspect that some of the success for J.K. Rowling’s novels rested on her detailed imagining of Hogwarts’ classes and magical objects.  Many of the earlier witch-oriented children’s books had been vaguer when it came to recounting rituals.  You might look at herbal compendiums  for inspiration.  You may also find some studies of magic that contain spells attributed to historical cunning folk.


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