fairy tales

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“The Love of Beauty” is collected in Bishop’s That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote, and you can read the story free online at the Weird Fiction Review.

Near the middle of the night, Seaming dithered in front of the brick arch – formerly a minor gate in the old city wall and now a decoration in a lane. If there existed a main entrance to the Ravels, it was that arch. It stood only half a furlong from the glitz of Cake Street, but the short distance marked a change of register from the demimonde to the underworld proper. Behind the gaudy theatres and beer halls the streets became dark, the buildings closely pressed, the walls bare of signs, posters, paint – of everything except light-absorbing soot.

Seaming smoked a cigarette, a last procrastination, while a polka spinning down from a loft somewhere invited him to head back, spend the rest of the night with friends, and let that be that.

Act as if you belong, she had told him, and you’ll be safe enough.

“The Love of Beauty” is one of the ur-Etched City stories in Bishop’s collection. Though none of The Etched City‘s characters appear here (unlike the Gwynn-centric “The Art of Dying”), Bishop, in playing out an alternative ending to Beauty and the Beast, here stages some of the central questions and themes that are later enacted between the artist Beth and her duellist-muse Gwynn: the exercise of power and choice by traditionally passive female archetypes; and the ability of art to remake reality, especially through alchemical modes like transfiguration, refinement, and, conversely, the generation of hybrid forms. There are also echoes of Gwynn and the Rev’s amiable debates over the baseness (or not) of humanity’s desires and capabilities: the Decadent hypothesis advanced by several of the characters in “Beauty” is that art simply represents an opportunity for humans to indulge to the maximum their sensual desires, under the guise of exercising “their highest and holiest faculties.”

I read this past summer a biography of John Singer Sargent, and couldn’t help thinking of him on this reread of “Beauty” – self-effacing, determinedly apolitical, fiendishly talented but only timidly experimental, ultimately a bourgeois sensualist, he rhymes rather well with the character of Seaming. Seaming is a traditionalist and idealist, a wan foil to the morbid recklessness of ideas brandished by the rest of the cast. It’s his idealism that invests his art with alchemical potency, but leaves him defenseless against the revelation of a world activated by animal desires. Seaming’s moral universe is incompatible with the notion that the animal might be sublime.

If “Beauty” is Bishop’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” (a connection I also didn’t think of till this read, but which now seems blindingly apparent), Seaming is also easily the analogue of the sincerely anguished painter Basil Hallward, while his poet friend Stroud is on hand to dispense ego-puncturing witticisms as the resident Lord Henry. The Wilde connection is also made easy by the rotting Victorian setting of “Beauty” – I find this story to have a more traditional dark fantasy aesthetic (meaning “Gormenghast” by “traditional,” I guess) than the sort of Symbolist wasteland in “Art of Dying,” or the steamy colonial landscape of Ashamoil.

There’s a peculiar emptiness to the physical setting of “Beauty.” The danger implicit in Beauty’s warning of “you’ll be safe enough” to Seaming prior to his entry into the Ravels never manifests as expected. The Ravels that Seaming encounters is a leashed menace: thickly eerie, but empty. There’s a sense that it’s been locally vacated in order to furnish a space where this particular allegorical drama can take place: Seaming is reserved as victim for spiritual threat, rather than physical. (It’s also a tempting interpretation that Seaming is simply below the notice of whatever is happening in the rest of the Ravels.)

The story unspools with a swift, morbid grace. Scene-setting and backstory feel much lengthier than the actual “action:” Seaming’s interview with Beauty and the Beast, and his completion of the Beast’s portraits. My one dissatisfaction with the story is that balance between build-up and dissolution, the way that the story seems to begin to slip away too swiftly during the turning-point of the interview. This creates a decided aesthetic effect – undercutting melodrama, and Seaming’s weak attempts at harvesting it. (See also the end of the journalist in “The Art of Dying.”) But there’s a larger sense of off-kilter narrative construction: as intriguing as it is, the teasing about the dangers of the Ravels perhaps belongs to a different story; and then, having found its narrative center, the remainder of this story proceeds a little too impatiently to its conclusion. The facts of the case of this Beauty and Beast are revealed in a few paragraphs of very direct exposition, and there’s a coy refusal to show any of Seaming’s artistic process. Somewhere along that stretch, I keep thinking, something could have been lingered over just a bit longer.

For those reasons, “The Love of Beauty” has never rung to me with the assurance of Bishop’s best work. But it is, in addition to being a rich philosophical playground, as thickly beautiful and infuriatingly witty as usual.

Go to:
That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote, by K. J. Bishop (2012): master post
The Etched City, by K. J. Bishop (2003)

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 9.5.2014
Book from: Library

Fashion Beast is a 10-issue comic written by Alan Moore, Malcom McLaren [yes, that Malcolm McLaren – father-of-punk Malcolm McLaren], and Antony Johnston, with art and colors by Facundo Percio.

“Doll was unfulfilled in her life as a coat checker of a trendy club. But when she is fired from the job and auditions to become a “mannequin” for a reclusive designer, the life of glamour she always imagined is opened before her. She soon discovers that the house of Celestine is as dysfunctional as the clothing that define the classes of this dystopian world. And she soon discovers that the genius of the designer is built upon a terrible lie that has influence down to the lowliest citizen.”

Such a whitebread back-cover description! Some high-concept terms that get at it better: Beauty & the Beast in a rotting, faintly fascist retro-future city on the brink of nuclear winter, with a lot of gender ambiguity and sundry, Gormenghastly gothic touches.

Surprisingly, despite all those Emera-tuned keywords, I didn’t love this, and primarily because I didn’t enjoy the art. I quite liked Percio’s penciling (especially his pacing of gestures and facial expressions from panel to panel), but the colors are everything I dislike about digital color in comics: every surface airbrushed into metallic smoothness, plus periwinkle shadows for everyone’s skin in case they didn’t already look enough like metal. Also, for a comic that’s about clothes wearing people rather than the other way round, the fashion is disappointingly boring: all basic, flat Neo-Edwardian silhouettes. I wish it had exerted more visual seduction.

Otherwise, I found the comic to be an enjoyably rich text. In the days after I’d read it, I thought through its themes repeatedly. It’s a darkly cheeky satire on celebrity and image – very similar there to Watchmen, really, but more winking, a bit more knowingly confected, and targeted more specifically at myths of creative genius, and consumerism. The allegorical elaborations are anchored by characters who are developed just enough to read as prickly, human, and sympathetic.

I can’t seem to find this review anymore, but I had read one that mentioned the troubling erasure of the initially apparently queer characters: the girl who looks like a boy who looks like a girl, ends up clinching happily and heterosexually with the boy who looks like a girl who looks like a boy… I wish I could find that review to credit it, because it made the ending of the comic click for me: “But that’s the POINT!” The provocateur who seeks validation and fame by way of the establishment ends up becoming the establishment; the consumerist machine chews its way forward; the walls close in again. Also, everyone’s going to die in a nuclear apocalypse anyway.

A side note on said nuclear apocalypse that I loved: the creepy background notes riffing on the hollowness of fashion – the use of uninhabited, remote-controlled radiation suits to patrol and reclaim destroyed areas, for example. Who cares why they would be suits rather than just robots, when it’s such a great image?

All in all, Fashion Beast would easily have been a favorite if not for my feelings on the art. Do pick it up if you like Moore’s other work, or enjoy dystopias and dark fairy tales.

Go to:
Alan Moore: bio and works reviewed

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I’ve reread Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber about once a year for the past 8 or 9 years (that is, since I was 17 or so, and effectively trepanned, Emily-Dickinson-style, by my first reading of the collection), continually refining and enriching my understandings of her stories – which are not, Carter said, “retellings” of fairy tales, but attempts to “extract the latent content from the traditional stories.”

All this time, though, I’ve never actually written down any of my thoughts about the collection – perhaps because it really has felt like one continuous reading, with no clear outlet or stopping-place. (“The woods enclose. You step between the first trees and then you are no longer in the open air; the wood swallows you up… Once you are inside it, you must stay there until it lets you out again…”)

But here, finally, is a first attempt: some thoughts about the “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon,” prompted by a conversation with friend J (and then rather painfully rewritten several times over the past few months).

That story has always felt the least conducive to extended inquiry: it’s so much lighter and subtler in palette than most of the other stories in the collection (Fragonard next to a Caravaggio, approximately?), and it hews quite closely to the original moral thread of “Beauty and the Beast.” Compared to the other tales in the Chamber, it’s still wickedly sharp-eyed, but less on-edge, less violently dramatic – dare I say, sweeter. Pleasures more straightforwardly tender.

But there’s a definite strain of ironic commentary woven throughout “Mr. Lyon” about wealth and privilege. By extension, this reflects too on the invisibility of those who are not privileged: the literal invisibility of the Beast’s servants takes on a distinctly uncomfortable cast when framed by this explicit awareness of class privilege. While the servant angle isn’t deeply explored in the story, the hint of it still serves to unseat Carter’s telling from the easily conventional.

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 4.25.2014
Read the story online at the New Yorker.

“A Stone Woman” begins in a quiet haze of sorrow. Ines’ mother has died:

People had thought she was a dutiful daughter. They could not imagine two intelligent women who simply understood and loved each other.

As with many of A. S. Byatt’s protagonists, Ines is an older woman left in a position where society, and she herself, expect little else to come of her. To “solitude and silence” she resigns herself.

But the story turns, and turns, and turns again, impelled by a quiet vigor, a hungry, searching fascination with the natural world. Strangeness proliferates: Ines proliferates, her body sprouting clusters of crystals, nodes and veins of stone.

She saw dikes of dolerites, in graduated sills, now invading her inner arms. But it took weeks of patient watching before, by dint of glancing in rapid saccades, she surprised a bubble of rosy barite crystals breaking through a vein of fluorspar, and opening into the form known as a desert rose, bunched with the ore flowers of blue john. Her metamorphosis obeyed no known laws of physics or chemistry: ultramafic black rocks and ghostly Iceland spar formed in succession and clung together.

“By dint of glancing in rapid saccades” – !! Perfect. The story’s language is by turns minutely exacting, and bounding, gusty, electric. It encompasses the wonder of dictionary-language (Ines, again typically for a Byatt character, is a “researcher for a major etymological dictionary”) – hard, crystalline mouthfuls of Latin and Greek (botryoidal, hematite, icositetrahedral) – as well as the mythical, elemental Germanic sounds of gleam, rattle, stride, moss.

Likewise, the story’s emotional focus moves easily from particular quirks of character –

The English scholar that persisted in her said, “What does it mean?”

– out to larger, universal, mythical arcs of movement and transformation. It is a personal and thrilling fairy tale, rough and vital.

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 8.3.2013
Book from: Personal collection

“Stories do not serve me. Even my own stories.”

Caitlín Kiernan‘s The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl form a diptych: red and blue, burial and drowning, the chthonic and the oceanic. They’re mirror-image confessionals struggling with grief, mental illness, suicide, inexplicable loss, inexplicable hauntings. Present-day hauntings as crucibles for pain, and art, folded in with the matter of folklore and urban legends – that is, hauntings passed down through time, what Imp in The Drowning Girl terms, with a kind of vehement sociological exactitude, “pernicious memes.” (As if naming the thing will better pin it down, fix its dimensions. I suspect the vehemence is partly ironic.)

The Red Tree has a ferocious heat to it, a molten core exerting terrible gravity – the boiler in the basement of the Overlook. There’s only one way in to Sarah Crowe’s story, and it’s down. Catabasis without anabasis.

Like Sarah, Imp circles around and around the places of greatest hurt, making darting rushes towards them, then leaping back again just as quickly; being slowly, slowly drawn on and in. But as Imp makes her way through the waterscape of her memories, slipping from current to current, tidal pool to tidal pull, we gradually become aware that for her, there might be a return. Her story is not entirely about consumption, about the claiming of a sacrificial victim; it is also about bearing witness, about choosing or being chosen to bear witness, and it is as a witness that she will survive. (Her survival of Albert Perrault’s art exhibit in particular, and her movement in memory around it, reminded me of another of Kiernan’s haunted witness-narrators, in the science-fiction short “A Season of Broken Dolls.”)

Because one thing The Drowning Girl does that The Red Tree doesn’t, is show us, make us bear witness to, the bodies of the dead. Bodies, and unfamiliar or outright violent transformations of them, mutability and violation, are one of its principle preoccupations (again as in “Broken Dolls,” and countless other pieces of Kiernan’s fiction). The Little Mermaid, werewolves, Imp’s transsexual girlfriend Abalyn, all are considered as superimpositions of multiple identities, and multiple physical beings. (Though Abalyn resists Imp’s initial attempts at narrativizing her experience as a transsexual woman – telling her that she was “brave” for undergoing surgery, for example.)

In The Red Tree, the dead are disappeared, beneath the roots of the oak tree, or simply into a black obscurity, like the endless void of the basement spreading under Sarah Crowe’s house. But in The Drowning Girl, the literal bodies of the dead are tossed back out again, out of the deeps, for Imp, for her fellow witnesses in fiction and in history, and for us to contemplate from shore. We see that they’ve been worked on, but not, of course, what’s been working on them. The recurring image of a beautiful girl, drowned and bisected – gone from ribcage down, like half-rotted Hel of Norse mythology – becomes a macabre sister to the image of the mermaid. The blame is put on scavenging sharks, but who’s to say what was really responsible for the dissolution of body, life, memory, out there in the blue. For those victims of the deep, the physical violation seems besides the point.

Still, it’s enough to wound their witnesses in turn. Imp assembles snippets of song, poetry, fiction, art, history, and legend around herself like talismans, weaves them densely, as if glancing from juncture to juncture of the resulting web, assessing its intersections and symmetries, will render her own experience of being haunted, twice, by a siren or a werewolf named Eva Canning, more comprehensible, more forgivable.

It doesn’t, of course; it just makes it deeper, more terrible. “Lost paintings, daughters of mystery, mysteries and the pieces aren’t ever going to stop falling into place. Or falling, anyway. One Eva, but two paintings.” I found myself thinking about the all the twinnings, the uncanny reflections and resonances and multiplications, as two kinds (more twins) of sounding: echoes sent up the wellshaft by Imp’s investigations, her attempts to sound the depths.*

But the denseness of the weaving, and the mind of the weaver, are beautiful, too. Sarah Crowe is furious in her hurt; Imp is just as much a wounded animal, but a gentler one, with a quietly mordant wit. The essential elegance of her thoughts, as they flow from tale to tale, image to image, is not diminished by their desperation – rather, that intentness and need invests them with elemental power, the ability to peel back the surface of fairy tale and urban legend, expose the bone. Not as a violation (“stories do not serve me”), but as a revelation of potency and meaning, of one possible essential shape among many. I think Angela Carter would have approved.

 

* I just realized that I gravitated towards this pun because I’ve used it once before on this blog, in this post about a Jack Gilbert poem.

Go to:

Caitlín R. Kiernan: bio and works reviewed
“So Runs the World Away,” by Caitlin R. Kiernan (2001): review by Emera
Alabaster, by Caitlin R. Kiernan (2006): review by Emera
The Red Tree, by Caitlin R. Kiernan (2009): review by Emera

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 10.7.12
Read online at Strange Horizons Fiction.

“Huntswoman,” a Snow White retelling, is a quietly moving and thoughtfully constructed puzzle-story – the kind that invites you to read it again from the start once you’ve finished, reexamining each piece of language and dialogue for new significance. It works very effectively with dream-symbols and -logic to create a sense of wordlessly uneasy compulsion and claustrophobia. Ultimately, Haskell subverts the original story’s subtext of female jealousy and competition for male attention (which Angela Carter placed at center stage and heightened to grotesque effect in “The Snow Child”), turning it instead into an argument for healing within a specifically female community.

Looking at readers’ responses online, there seems to be some confusion as to interpretation of the story. The following is to me the most straightforward (spoilers follow, naturally): The huntswoman is the embodiment of Snow White’s dissociated and wandering consciousness during her poisoned sleep; there is an implication of previous abuse by her father, the king, who repeatedly and brutishly breaks things, and refers with desperately insistent imperiousness to Snow White as “my girl.” The stepmother queen, by contrast, is a repairer and healer, but conditioned by the canonical Snow White framework, we regard her magic at first with suspicion and incomprehension. (After all, she does keep asking for Snow White’s heart and hands.)

The bone china and pastry offered by the queen turn to humbler items in the huntswoman’s hands because she reflexively rejects knowledge of her true (royal) self. When she finally achieves synthesis and reawakening, it is overseen by her witch-stepmother, whom we now understand to be nurturing and benevolent, and contingent on her own efforts, rather than those of “a thousand princes.”

Go to:

Merrie Haskell: bio and works reviewed
Read the story online

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 4.30.2012
Book from: Personal collection; the full story is available online for free here.

The Golden Key: cover image“There was a boy who used to sit in the twilight and listen to his great-aunt’s stories. She told him that if he could reach the place where the end of the rainbow stands he would find there a golden key.

“And what is the key for?” the boy would ask. “What is it the key of? What will it open?”

“That nobody knows,” his aunt would reply. “He has to find that out.”

“I suppose, being gold,” the boy once said, thoughtfully, “that I could get a good deal of money for it if I sold it.”

“Better never find it than sell it,” returned his aunt.

And the boy went to bed and dreamed about the golden key.

Now all that his great-aunt told the boy about the golden key would have been nonsense, had it not been that their little house stood on the borders of Fairyland. For it is perfectly well known that out of Fairyland nobody ever can find where the rainbow stands. The creature takes such good care of its golden key, always flitting from place to place, lest any one should find it! But in Fairyland it is quite different. Things that look real in this country look very thin indeed in Fairyland, while some of the things that here cannot stand still for a moment, will not move there…”

George MacDonald has long represented a major hole in my knowledge of fairy-stories, though I’ve known of the deep regard of Tolkien, among numerous others, for his work. I’ve always wanted to read The Princess and the Goblin for that reason, but this gracefully designed edition of “The Golden Key, with 1987 illustrations by Maurice Sendak and an afterword by W. H. Auden, ended up being my first foray into MacDonald’s work.

“The Golden Key” is an “adult” fairy tale, in the vein of The Little Prince: deliberately rich with allegorical possibilities, though less explicitly moralizing than the former. It begins in a lightly mischievous register – hard not to be delighted with the character of Tangle, who begins her adventure by climbing down the vines outside her window because the heroine in her storybook did it – but quickly takes on mystical overtones. In a quest fueled by Romantic ideals of childish intuition and union with the natural world, and distinctly reminiscent of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Tangle and Mossy (the boy in the opening lines) endlessly seek the land whose beautiful shadows they see cast in a valley in Fairyland. Sendak’s illustrations perfectly complement the text, with their air of thoughtful mystery:

I do wish I had read this when I was a bit younger, and more readily stirred by purely romantic narratives; the richness and profundity of MacDonald’s prose can teeter on the verge of cloying. There are plenty of wonderful details, though, that startle with their strangeness and vividness – my favorite being a flying, feathered fish that leaps into a cooking pot. And MacDonald writes with easy, luminous grace, evoking a sense of immense yearning and mystical expanse.

Go to:
George MacDonald: bio and works reviewed
Read “The Golden Key” online

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Reviewer: Emera
Date read: 2011.10.16
Book from: Personal collection

Cassel Sharpe is the only non-magical member of a family of curse workers, in a world where magic is illegal and hence “worker” families constitute the magical equivalent of the mafia. Despite his disappointing failure to inherit curse-working powers, Cassel somehow managed to murder his childhood friend and love, Lila – though why he can’t remember. Add in life-threatening bouts of nightmares and sleepwalking, a dysfunctional crime family, and the beginnings of an elaborate conspiracy, and Cassel’s attempts at passing himself off as a normal kid seem like they might be over for good.

I read White Cat in one sitting after accidentally meeting Holly Black at a book festival and picking up a copy from her. This is addictive stuff: magical con artists and Russian mobsters; family melodrama; a hard-driving, twisty-turny plot; a mouthy, self-deprecating protagonist with likably grounded sidekicks. I must give a particular hurrah for there being a male Asian-American character: Sam Yu, Cassel’s roommate, a theater geek whose vehicle of choice is a converted hearse.

Black’s prose is a lot sharper and cleaner than I remember it being in her Modern Faerie trilogy, which I sorta-loved for its heroines, but mostly remember as a swill of angst. Cassel angsts plenty, too (I admit to skimming some of the whinier passages), but there are moments – particularly the ending – where his emotional experience deepens into real, wrenching anguish. That, and plenty of sharp detail – the world-building, Cassel’s slickly laid out cons, characters who convince you of their reality – kept me invested. I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here. Let this stand as a reminder to myself to pick up Red Glove whenever I find the chance.

Go to:
Holly Black: bio and works reviewed

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Date read: 12.10.10
Read: Borders piracy
Reviewer: Emera

Quick skim after my interest was momentarily piqued by seeing the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation. Alex Flinn‘s take on Beauty and the Beast casts Kyle Kingsbury, a New York prep-school prince with daddy issues, as the Beast. After playing a cruel prank on a (token subcultural) classmate, Kyle is horrified to discover that said classmate is, in fact, a witch, who proceeds to perform the requisite curse. Kyle is exiled by his father to an apartment in Brooklyn, where he sulks, is encouraged to read classics by his blind tutor, cultivates an interest in rose-gardening, obsesses over how he’s going to find someone to love him, and engages in mildly amusing repartee with a chatroom full of other modern-day fairy-tale characters. After an altercation with a drug addict, Kyle ends up welcoming into his mini-domain the addict’s daughter: one of his former classmates, a token scholarship student/girl named Lindy, who happens to like books and roses. You know where it goes from there.

For a book that’s supposed to be about learning not to rely on good looks and privilege, Beastly is distinctly concerned with, well – good looks and privilege. When Kyle first meets the witch, she’s described as an overweight Goth girl with a hooked nose and green hair. Luckily, when she reveals herself to Kyle as a witch, we learn that oh, actually, she has long eyelashes and a nice nose and a “hot” body. This is how we know she’s cool and powerful! And apart from his personality makeover, pretty much everything that Kyle accomplishes in the book (constructing a greenhouse and growing roses, buying a library’s worth of books for Lindy) is contingent on his still having access to his daddy’s credit card. Also, have a wise Latina (in the film version, magical negro) maid while you’re at it!

So yeah, I was not so much a fan, although I did find parts of Kyle’s voice and mannerisms surprisingly convincing, particularly his mixture of half-formed self-awareness and “buuut I couldn’t be bothered to give a crap about it” attitude, and some of his painfully telling remarks about his childhood perception of his father. The result is a character who balances depressingly realistic self-absorption and callousness with a believable eagerness to learn and do good.

I did appreciate Flinn’s obvious desire for readers to further investigate fairy tales and literature – the book is littered with references to other adaptations and parallel works, e.g. The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the afterword includes extensive recommendations for other fairy-tale retellings. If I could rewind, I might have read only the afterword, really, since I enjoyed her reflections on how she decided to approach the tale, particularly her observation that Beauty and the Beast can be read as two abandoned children united by circumstance. Nonetheless, I’m going to be incredibly predictable and recommend instead either of Robin McKinley’s retellings (Beauty or Rose Daughter; review of Beauty here) or, if you’re interested in the Beast’s perspective, Donna Jo Napoli’s Beast, whose historical and descriptive detail I remember enjoying.

Go to:

Alex Flinn: bio and books reviewed
Beauty, by Robin McKinley (1976) E

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Date Read: 09.01.2010
Book From: Dearest Emera
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

(Shamelessly stolen from Emera’s review— if it ain’t broke, why rewrite it?)
Princess Lissla Lissar lives quietly and invisibly in the shadows of her father and mother, who are worshiped by the people, and whose love for each other is all-consuming. When Lissar’s mother mysteriously wastes away, she forces her husband to swear that he will not remarry unless he finds a woman as beautiful as she was. This promise comes back to haunt the kingdom when Lissar, becoming a woman herself, attracts her father’s attention for the first time. Driven from the kingdom by an unendurable ordeal, Lissar escapes with her only friend, her dog Ash, and struggles to survive and reclaim her sense of self.

Review

The beginning of Deerskin was eye opening. As I started reading McKinley, who I haven’t picked up since Sunshine several years ago, I realized there was so much to her writing and storybuilding that I had not been able to fully appreciate before. Deerskin began with a delicate yet urgent account of Lissar’s childhood leading up to her escape from the kingdom. In my opinion, the gem of the novel was here– the elegant and insightful conveyance of the uncrossable distance that can form between a child and her parents, and the stunningly eerie account of the relationship between Lissar and her father. It has certainly been done before– stories in which royal children are neglected emotionally by the majesties– but none have devoted the same care as McKinley did here. The brilliance was the realization that something so little as lack of acknowledgment combined with an initial reverence for one’s parents can slowly ferment for years until it is replaced by fear. Here, I thought the execution was splendid and something that served to set this retelling apart from others.

Next, I apprehensively followed Lissar as she fled her kingdom and sought a bitter refuge in the wilderness, waiting to be impressed by Lissar’s independence, resourcefulness, and elegance in the face of hardships (as is to be expected of fairy-tale-retelling-heroines). This was the case, more or less, but as the story progressed, I was assaulted with pages of visions, repetitive daily monotony, more suffering than one reader can handle, ellipsis abuse e10, and a blind race to the resolution.

And may I interject here, did the climax really happen?  [not-really-spoiler-alert] Did she really honestly just pour forth a fountain of blood from her vagina, leaving a stain in the wood that was to be studied and used as an oracle for generations thereafter? I entirely understand what McKinley was striving for, and yes even though Deerskin is regarded as the Moonwoman, there are other ways to tie together “moon” and “woman” and “dark” and “fantasy”. I would expect a male author to commit such a transgression.

To be fair, I could chalk up my dissatisfaction with the second half to the fact that I simply have much more in common with a shy, black-haired, independent, voracious reader of a child than a lady who traipses through winterlands with a large dog in tow. Despite everything, Deerskin was still one of the most exciting fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time, and it is a dark fantasy novel that places great care in maintaining and exploring the different forms of love in all relationships.

Go to:

Robin McKinley: bio and works reviewed
Deerskin (1993)  [E]

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