I Came to Love You Late, Princess

For the last several years, I’ve ignored the burgeoning interest in retold fairy tales. Until recently, I didn’t even recognize some of the fairy tale themes in my own stories!

Why? In truth, I was never a fan of many fairy tales to begin with. Or rather, it was not so much fairy tales that I had a problem with (I was fascinated by the story of Hansel and Gretel). It would be more accurate to say that I was never a fan of Disney princesses.

Those princesses were always beautiful, and even as a tot I knew I would never look like them. They were loved by all except the truly wicked, and I knew I could never hope to inspire such admiration. Handsome princes were willing to brave all kinds of peril for their love. Yeah, right.

So when it came to Disney, I was not charmed by Cinderella. Instead, I loved Bambi and his forest friends, and I put up with Snow White for the sake of the dwarves. I was most impressed by Mary Poppins, who always knew the right thing to do, and came and went as she pleased, courtesy of her levitating umbrella.

In truth, songs like “Someday My Prince Will Come” made me want to hurl.

As I grew older, I loved Lucy Pevensie, who skipped being a princess altogether and went straight to being a Queen of Narnia. Her gift from Father Christmas wasn’t a doll, but a dagger – and a cool healing cordial (which certainly would come in handy following any adventures involving said dagger). She rode into battle with the other archers. She loved sailing toward adventure with her shipmates on the Dawn Treader.

More importantly, Lucy loved her brother Edmund so much that even in the face of his betrayal she begged Aslan to help him. She was kind to her spiteful cousin Eustace. She was willing to risk her life to save her companions by facing the Magician’s magic book alone.

In so many ways, Lucy had the kind of courage I wanted to have. I wanted to be like her. I still do.

For above all else Lucy knew her own faults, and was sorry for them. But she also knew that Aslan knew her as well or better than she knew herself, and that he loved her, as she loved him. This gave her hope.

Queen Lucy never appeared to be pining away, waiting for her prince to come. I mean, sure, she missed Aslan when he wasn’t physically present in Narnia, but … that’s not the same thing, right?

Hmmm….

Which leads me back to the current popularity of retold fairy tales. Turns out a fairy tale (as I’m sure countless others have observed before me) has become something like the tofu of the literary world – a template that is used to cook up a story flavored with whatever one likes:  Materialism. Eroticism. “I Am the Captain of My Soulism.”

Many tales, however (for reasons that deserve a separate post), are especially well-suited to depicting a God-centered view of reality. Therefore, I set out to find some retellings that resonate for me.

And guess what? I found an entire collection! Coming soon: A review of Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales.

Fearing Black Riders

I think I came to love The Lord of the Rings a bit later than many fantasy enthusiasts. This is because, although I remember trying to read it more than once as a lass, I wasn’t able to get past the Black Riders.

They terrified me.

There is evil in Narnia, but somehow, despite seeing how the characters I cared about suffered, and even faced possible painful death, I almost never felt seriously threatened by their experiences. I was eager to see how they pulled (or were pulled!) through, but somehow I always had a sense of assurance they would, and that all would be well. This kept any real sense of menace at bay. I realize now, looking back, that this underlying sense of assurance – a vain hope that there really aren’t any Black Riders, perhaps? – was one of the most important things I was looking for in the stories I lived on in my early years.

The only real exception to that Narnian sense of assurance came in the final volume of the Chronicles, The Last Battle. It was hard to read about those losses on and off the battlefield. Somehow, they represented a threat of a different magnitude. It was the first time I can remember feeling the real shadow of menace over Narnia. As a result, I didn’t reread that book with warm enthusiasm the way I repeatedly reread the others – at least, not for many years.

But how I felt about The Last Battle was nothing compared to what it was like to encounter the Black Riders. Fearing Black Riders was the sort of thing that makes one shudder and put a book down, unfinished. Which is what I did for several years with The Lord of the Rings.
As it turned out, I had to meet a few “Black Riders” in real life before I was able to appreciate their significance in fiction.

Flash forward a few years, into adulthood: There I was on the run, as it were, with my own Black Riders in pursuit. The terror was real. The horror of it was in my life!

It was only when I was beyond any hope of helping myself that it finally became clear to me that help comes from God. Not to escape in a moment of deus ex machina dramatics, but rather to bear the experience. And for me, having help to bear the fact of Black Rider presence in this sad beautiful world was significant indeed.

After that, I came to love The Lord of the Rings as I’ve loved very few other stories. What a comfort to be reminded that although the road is long and hard, following it is the only hope there is. What a comfort to be reminded that whatever astonishing burden we must bear on the road is meant for us to bear – but not without help.

What a comfort to be reminded that even though we don’t understand everything that is happening, if we only follow through as much as we can, then even when we fail, all is not necessarily lost.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

I was talking with an artist friend the other day, and the name Thomas Kinkade was mentioned.

“Oh,” my friend said.  “Was he the guy who painted all of those kitschy houses?”

You remember the painter Thomas Kinkade, right?  He certainly did paint a lot of pictures of houses, some in a kind of pseudo-old-English cottage style that looks like something out of the sanitized version of a fairy tale.

And yet, the Kinkade house I remember best was set against a background of misty woods at twilight.  You can almost feel the chill of the cool evening air in the rich blue-grays and purples he used to suggest deepening shadows between those trees.

And these shadows are serious; you know at a glance that this forest is no place to go wandering alone and unprepared in the evening. Probably not during the day, either. It’s not a place you would be wise to enter without a firm purpose at any time, because it clearly is not “safe.”

It’s because of that cool shadowed forest that your eye is drawn to the light within the heart of the house at the center of the painting.  Behind the multi-paned glass of the cottage windows golden light, tinged with red, glows.  A hearth, a lantern, many candles – whatever the source, that light is there, and it tells you that within this house you will find warmth and comfort.  Of course there will be food in such a house, and drink – lots of it, whatever it is you need to make you feel better as you pause for a few moments of rest and refreshment in the midst of your quest.

Some people think this is nothing more than sheer escapism, or even a lie about the nature of reality.

But I prefer to think of it as a small yet significant moment of what Tolkien, in his essay “On Fairy Stories,” called “consolation.” He was speaking of the necessity of a happy ending in a fairy story. To me, any opportunity to come in out of the cold, even if for only one night, in the midst of one’s harrowing journey through that dark and dangerous forest, is like a promise (an earnest or token, if you will) of that final consolation.  How bleak and stark would Middle Earth be without Tom Bombadil’s house! Without Rivendell, without Lothlorien!

But this temporary respite from cold, from hunger, from darkness, and from evil, doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge the existence of such things.  It doesn’t mean we truly believe that Mordor has gone away.  We aren’t toddlers playing peek-a-boo, believing that because we’ve hidden our faces behind our own hands no one can see us.  We know full well that just because we’re spending the night in a clean, well-lighted place doesn’t mean the dark forest is not still out there.

I don’t think Thomas Kinkade was so hugely popular because all of his fans were silly enough to believe his stuff depicted reality in the same sense that, say, Guernica depicts reality.

But why is it not realistic to acknowledge that within every human soul is a longing for the light and warmth and comfort of home?  And that sometimes, even if it’s only for a brief while, we actually find it?

Freebie at the End of October!

Monster (my retelling of Frankenstein) is scheduled to be available for free on Amazon in e-book format from October 29 thru November 2 (in honor of the fact that my version unfolds over Halloween).  If you haven’t read it yet then I hope you’ll download it for free, and if you know anyone who might be interested in a contemporary retelling of a classic story (in which nanotechnology and hubris run amuck, with unexpected results!), please pass the word along.

Speculation on … Vintage Novels (among other things)

During the past year or so, I’ve been so focused on trying to finish/publish my first several stories that the idea of trying to blog went out the window. Recently, however, I’ve found myself jotting down some thoughts about reading and what I love about speculative fiction. At the same time, I’ve started following a few blogs (mostly by other writers and lovers of all kinds of stories). I don’t have time to read everything they write, but I’m grateful for what they’re willing to share.  So, I’m going to begin posting some of my own speculations and writing/publishing updates here, and also sharing links to some favorite resources.

First up: Vintage Novels. Suzannah Rowntree reads a lot of great books, and most of them are in the public domain (available online for free)! She has been writing Christian critiques of classics of adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and more since 2010, so there is a wealth of material here. (She provides a helpful index of her reviews, so you can quickly see what she’s written about and go straight to any work that interests you.) She is able to see through antiquated language to the heart of a story; I’d never had any burning desire to read Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene before, but she made it come alive for me.

SR is also a talented indie author. I’ve been enjoying her retold fairy tales (The Rakshasa’s Bride might best be described asBeauty and the Beast go to Bollywood!”), and if you appreciate all things Arthur, then I recommend her first novel, Pendragon’s Heir. I’m looking forward to enjoying many more Rowntree reads in the future!