Isn’t it a wonderful thing when you can trust someone to tell a good story? I tell you, there’s nothing like trusting your entertainment to someone. You wouldn’t think it would be such a big deal – but it really is!
We are only human, and we get upset when a story is told badly. When it’s full of clichés, or the action doesn’t flow properly, or the characters are impossible to connect with… So many ways a tale can be mishandled! But you get a deep, excited feeling in your stomach, a flutter of butterflies, when you know a new story is coming out by someone you trust. It makes you feel alive, and like there’s something to add just a little bit more brightness to your regular day. Praise God for good storytelling!
This was brought home to me painfully when the new Star Wars films came out. So much of my being is wrapped up in the story of Luke, Han, Leah, Anakin, Obi-Wan, and all that wonderful world of characters, and the Force that inspires them. But then the films were such a disappointment. I don’t want to go into that in detail here, although I might sometime, but it was the first time that I realized just how deeply a story could impact me. Because when you open yourself up enough to be impacted for good, then you’re opening yourself up to be impacted for the worse too.
And now the trailer for Avengers Endgame is out! And I am squirming in my seat! Those are storytellers that I trust – they have done such wonderful things with their world up until now – and it has been truly impressive! The large cast of characters, the emotions that affect all of them, the character building, the world building, the consistency and variation across films that matches so well together! I could get nitpicky, and point out a few things here and there that they didn’t do well, but when it comes down to it, they are masters. They are bards. They are Homerically Epic.
And, which is unusual for me, I don’t have a way that I want the movie to come out – I am content to merely let them tell the story, and lose myself in however they decide to handle it. Because I know it’s going to be amazing! 😃
The trailer already is! 🎥
Who are your favorite story tellers? Who do you trust when it comes to that flutter of butterflies in your stomach? Are you excited for Avengers 4???
So, before I continue on the path of laying out each individual genre in this continuing series, I think it’s good to take a moment to talk about the category ‘Coming of Age’. This is the Internal Genre, where the story is driven by the hero’s personal struggles, rather than a villain they must defeat.
By ‘Coming of Age’, I do not mean a teen romance. I’m willing to bet that, when you hear that term, you think of a young adult category.
I won’t argue that these types of stories certainly seem to appeal in a deep way to young people who are only just beginning to understand life; however, a ‘coming of age’ can imply far more. Every person is learning and re-learning life all the time, and stages of maturity and realization happen for us sometimes at 12, sometimes at 20, and sometimes at 75, so I think it is fair to say that a ‘Coming of Age’ story can happen for anyone, and appeal to anyone.
There are 4 ‘coming of age’ categories that my brother and I have been able to identify so far. I’m not sure yet if there are more than these, and would love to hear what you think!
I’ll use death to explain this a bit more. Sometimes there is a story like My Girl, where the main character has to deal with death at a young age, and matures through that process. But there are also stories like A Christmas Carol, in which an old man has to come to terms with his own mortality, and becomes a more whole person because of it. Both of these, in a sense, are ‘Coming of Age’ stories. They deal with someone who begins the story incomplete, or possibly broken, in some way. And when the story is over, they have grown, learned, and moved on, embracing the reality that they had before ignored or been ignorant of.
So the criteria for a ‘Coming of Age’ story is:
There is a reality, or truth, of life – such as death or love.
Main character denies or does not know about this reality.
The reality confronts the character with unavoidable force.
They run from it, rebel against it, do not want to accept it.
Finally, they must accept it, although they have to die (in a metaphorical sense) to a part of themselves to do so.
They are a more complete person after accepting it.
So there you have it! I’ll be diving into each section in detail soon, so keep an eye out.
Are there any ‘coming of age’ stories you can think of, or any other genres that fall under this heading? Are there any stories you would like me to explore to see what genre they fall under?
So, I called my brother in a literary panic the other day.
Let me explain. I have realized that I read books differently than most people. Even, possibly, differently than most authors – though I don’t personally know enough authors yet to confirm this.
I like to read in order to hone and perfect my own writing. So I read masters.
I tend to avoid anything that is subpar in every way.
If something is popular, I will read it to study why. And if something is a classic, I read it for the same reason. I love and enjoy many books this way, and I don’t really look at it as an academic exercise, but that’s why and how I read.
So I often revisit books that I have read before – especially books that are similar to my own stories. And while I was dwelling on The Lord of the Rings the other day, I had my panic moment.
All of a sudden, I was very much afraid that Tolkien made a grave error in his story. I suddenly wondered if Legolas was a superfluous character.
I called my brother, and the first words I spoke were: “Is Legolas a necessary character? Or is he only a convenient one?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, after laughing at my panic. “What does it mean for him to be a convenient character, and what is a necessary one?”
So I explained. An unnecessary character is one that could be removed from the story, and everything would still happen the exact same way. For example, if Sam were taken out of the Lord of the Rings, the ring would never of been destroyed, Frodo would never have made it to Mount Doom, and Gollum would’ve had a very different role in the story. Not to mention the fact that, as a reader, it’s important for us to connect with Sam in order to see Frodo from a distance, instead of being trapped inside his ring-obsessed head.
Frodo is the hero, but Sam provides a foil – a perspective – in which to view him. It’s a necessary point of view, especially the way that Tolkien told the tale. I suppose he could’ve left Sam out completely, but I’m sure we can all agree that the books would’ve been very different.
So I was suddenly worried that taking Legolas out would not fundamentally change the story. Now, there are some arguments against that. For one, Legolas, as an elf and kinsman, seems to be the key that allows the fellowship access to Lothlorien. For another, Legolas tells them the way off of Caradhras and gives them hope with his light heart. And lastly, he is one of the three companions traveling at the beginning of The Two Towers, alone, through the wild, and the reader can latch on to him emotionally through that journey.
But the more I explored these arguments, the more I was confirmed in the opinion that these are merely conveniences. If Legolas had not been with the group in the Fellowship of the Ring, when they enter Lothlorien, there is very little reason to doubt that they would still have been brought before Galadriel. Galadriel had a vision about them, apparently, and sends a message to her warden elves telling them to let the fellowship come to her. She has this vision apart from anything that Legolas does. Also, we learn in the appendixes that Aragorn was very familiar with Lothlorien, and could probably have gained almost as easy access to it as Legolas himself.
“2980: Aragorn enters Lorien, and there meets Arwen Undomiel.” – The Return of the King, Appendix B
For the second argument, Boromir and Aragorn head off to find the way off the mountain with Legolas, and Tolkien had only to change a few sentences to make them the ones who brought back the hope of going down. And this scene is so small that I’m willing to bet that some of you reading this article don’t even remember it. It’s pretty short. I had forgotten it myself.
“‘Well,’ cried Legolas as he ran up…. ‘There is the greatest wind-drift of all just beyond the turn, and there our Strong Men were almost buried. They despaired, until I returned and told them that the drift was little wider than a wall.'” – The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Ring Goes South”
Finally, we are given very little chance to emotionally bond with Legolas in the early scenes of The Two Towers. As I talked with my brother, the most emotional of a connection that I could recall was the moment when he is not sure whether the wizard approaching them is Saruman or not. When he realizes that it is Gandolf, and cries out Mithrandir! we feel elation and bond with him. But it is brief, and passes very quickly. After that, we are shown much more of Gimli and Aragorn’s emotions than Legolas.
“Legolas gave a great shout and shot an arrow high into the air: it vanished in a flash of flame. ‘Mithrandir!’ he cried. ‘Mithrandir!'” – The Two Towers, “The White Rider”
There seems to be no necessity for Legolas as a character, and I was crushed. Especially as my brother kept agreeing with all my arguments. I wanted him to talk me out of them!
I was crushed because I like Legolas. Because I want him to have a reason to exist. Not because Tolkien would be lowered in my estimation: every author has flaws. But I felt like Legolas should exist, and I wasn’t sure why. It bothered me.
Is that OK?
But then I asked the next question. Is it OK to have a character who exists only out of convenience? Who is not well developed, and doesn’t fundamentally contribute to the plot line?
We explored that question next, and after a lot of discussion, we decided that it was. We allowed Legolas to remain. We realized that the biggest flaw was just that Tolkien had underdeveloped him. Not that he should not exist, but that he has so much more potential than he was given in the story. You could say it was the fault of Tolkien, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem with the story or the world. Legolas very much belongs in Middle Earth. Our understanding of Middle Earth is enriched simply by his being there, and that alone is enough of a reason for him to remain. But even more than that, he does not intrude into the story. His presence is not abrasive, or misleading, or distracting. It fits. And if a character fits, even if they are not as perfect as they could be, they should exist.
We started naming off some of our favorite classics that have underdeveloped characters. Even as main characters. The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, does not give us an adequate understanding of the Pevensie children – especially in Prince Caspian. They have no character arcs, no faults, and no struggles in that story. They simply exist as a convenience to place Caspian on the throne. Does that mean CS Lewis should not have written Prince Caspian? No! It simply means he did not elaborate as much as he could have.
We also talked about the Lord of the Rings films, and how Orlando Bloom was given the opportunity, because Legolas exists, to elaborate on the character presented in the books. My understanding of the Lord of the Rings is intrinsically tied up with the films themselves. I saw the films before reading the books, and have very little desire to separate the actors’ portrayals from the book characters. And Legolas does have a little bit more presence in the films. As my brother said, ‘He kills Wormtongue!’ (He said that sarcastically though – our family is not a fan of that moment in the films! Why would Legolas kill Wormtongue? It makes no sense!) His presence in The Hobbit films is unfortunate, only because of the way that the films themselves turned out. I think his presence in the Middle Earth world could have been further illustrated, but that entire project was handled indelicately – which is a great disappointment!
So what do you think? Is it OK to have a character who is less developed than they might be? Should all the characters be thoroughly worked out, and always present a foil to those who are more central? Or do you think it’s OK for someone to slip in through the cracks, present more world building, and enrich our experience? Love to hear from you!
Who is your favorite Lord of the Rings character? And which do you like better, the films or books?
Last night, I skimmed through the 500 page word document of my novel manuscript, and stopped every time I encountered a block of red text. Those sections were notes I left myself about missing scenes in the narrative, and with dedication, I knocked each one out of the park! All my missing scenes are now written, and I officially have a finished, readable story from start to finish.
Those red sections were like scary warning signs before – telling me my novel isn’t complete, and darkly hinting that it may never get there. But I did it! I got there! I beat that red text.
I feel so much better about it now, too, because it’s turned into a great story! I know that when I enjoy reading my book, I’ve made a good product. It might have a few problems, or not be entirely, one-hundred percent perfect, but then, nothing ever is! It’s a good book, a good story, and I can say that with confidence. And soon, it will be published and able to be enjoyed by others!
I can’t wait!
Have you signed up yet to read it for free? Really, it’s totally free, no strings attached. Well, OK, unless you call giveaways, videos, and author interviews strings. Because that’s what you get if you sign up to read it BEFORE it hits bookstores!
I had a total freak out moment yesterday! I all of a sudden got very terrified – not just about publishing my book, which is scary enough on its own – but about being a writer at all. I’ve heard about writers feeling like frauds, and for the first time, I really felt that!
My mom talked me down from the emotional ledge, thankfully. She reminded me of the big picture: of the fact that I am a good writer and am always trying to be better, and that it’s ok to not be an overnight success. “They say it takes three books,” she reminded me, “before you really get noticed.”
I sighed in relief – this is only my second novel, and already, I know it will do better than my first. This is a process! I’m taking actionable steps, and I know success is down the road – I just need to be patient about getting there.
“Wish I could turn back time
To the good old days
When the mama sang
Us to sleep, but now we’re stressed out!”
Have you been there? How did you get past the overwhelming terror?
External Genres, as opposed to Internal, are primarily driven by a problem that comes up outside the person, and solving this problem results in the end of the story.
The problem usually looks like a large-scale villain. Someone the protagonist has to face off against and prevent them from doing permanent harm to the world.
Mystery, Horror, Thriller, Comedy – these are all External Genres. However, it is HOW these stories are told that determine what genre they fall into.
My brother and I determined the genre according to the emotion the story raises in us, and Action/Adventure raises the emotion of excitement. It puts us, with our hearts racing, on the edge of our seats, wondering at each moment what is going to happen next. It’s a lean forward, hands on you knees, emotion.
This is one of the largest genres of all time.
Example Action/Adventure Stories are:
All the Marvel Films
Pirates of the Caribbean
All Star Wars Films
Dark Knight Trilogy
Lord of the Rings
Cowboys vs. Aliens
If the story is edge of your seat action, but takes the action lightly, it is not an Action/Adventure genre. Action/Adventure takes itself seriously. Guardians of the Galaxy is the closest you get to comedy without being a part of the comedy genre, only because it is part of a larger universe, and the characters are in real, permanent danger throughout the the story.
The story begins with a problem – someone is kidnapped, someone is running for their life, someone is pulled out of normal life and thrust against an evil force. The story ends when that someone defeats the evil force. All in between is full of nail-biting action – this is the Action/Adventure Genre.
It’s been awhile since I’ve done a post about genre, and I think it’s overdue.
Romance is another of the simple genres, so I’m going to get that one out of the way with this post.
Most of us could say right off the bat what a romance genre is. Romance begins with two people who are not in love, and who are in some way closed to falling in love. Usually their problem is internal, but sometimes it is an external obstacle. By the end of the story, they’re both in love. That, in its barest form, is romance.
Example romance stories are:
Pride and Prejudice
You’ve Got Mail
Sleepless in Seattle
The Lake House
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Romance is the first of the INTERNAL GENRES that I’ve posted about. Internal Genre stories are all driven by a personal problem for the protagonist. As the story progresses, the main character has to shift their world view until they see the world differently. For the Romance Genre, the World View is a shift from ‘closed to love’ to ‘open to love.’
And just to avoid any confusion, the love must be amorous and romantic in order for the story to be a Romance. Other types of love, such as a parent for a child, friendship, or pet love, would not be a romance.
Hey everyone, it’s been almost a week since you’ve heard from me, and I wanted to be honest about why that is, and why I haven’t been keeping up with my NaNoWriMo Challenge.
As you may know, I chose not to pursue writing a novel this year – although I’ve done it the past two years. I just finished a novel, and wanted to pour my energies into editing and preparing it for publishing. So I chose to do a poetry challenge instead – see if I could learn proper metre the same way I might learn a new language. To pursue this goal, I started reading The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry, and I completed about 6 challenges – less than one total week of NaNoWriMo.
Then I fell off the grid. For a complete week, I did no poetry, and posted nothing related to NaNoWriMo.
Do I feel guilty? Yes. Should I? No.
Here’s the thing. In those 6 days that I actually participated in the challenge, I learned more about poetry than I did in 4 years of classical high school, and another 4 years pursuing a Liberal Arts degree.
In no way is that a loss!
Why I Failed
Life just got in the way, you know? It does for all of us, and each of our problems are unique. Personally, I’m plagued by Myalgic Encephalitis, and am constantly confined to bed with migraines, near paralysis, and brain fog. That makes writing near impossible at times, and last week was particularly bad.
But other problems are just as legitimate. Sometimes a kid gets sick, a pet dies, our spouse struggles and needs all our attention. Sometimes a friend needs us more than our writing.
We could beat ourselves up over this and say these are just excuses – we could say we should be able to write despite all that. And lots of times, that’s true! It’s important to pursue our writing whenever possible, and make time in our day for it. But when we have done all we could, and life still had thrown a wrench in our perfect plans, then regretting what we could not control, and beating ourselves up for it, helps nothing.
Changing Our Outlook
We need to embrace our weaknesses and distractions, and appreciate the work we did anyway! Despite my erratic illness, I learned iambic pentameter! AND, my love and appreciation of poetry had vastly increased! I was inspired to listen to all of Twelfth Night the other day just because I was so newly excited about poetry. That’s a win, if you ask me!
Any work you got done on NaNoWriMo this year is a plus. It has reintroduced you to writing, or reminded you how much you could write in a day. It has connected you with other writers, or re-ignited your passion. Any of those results makes this month of November a win!
We should never let the chance of failing keep us from benefiting from the journey. So please join me this week in celebrating the failures that lead to success!
What did you accomplish this month so far? In what way has it helped you? I want to hear your wins — no matter how different they might be than what you expected! Share your failures and wins on instagram and twitter with the handle #Nanofailtowin, and let’s support each other in life and in this final stretch of writing!
Now that I have enough of Trinian, An Epic Fantasy put together to send into the world for review, I’m getting germinal feedback. I love it! But it’s also terrifying.
My sisters, who are geniuses with artwork, have already taken a stab at illustrating a couple characters, and my best friend Sophia has started marking up my first chapter. She says she’s being harsh, and I’m so grateful to her for that! I want the feedback as truthful as possible, so I can turn out a final product that will please my readers! And, of course, help me to achieve the highest level of writing ability that I can!
I’m thrilled and nervous all at once, and the emotions flow together inside me to create general excitement! Whether the manuscript is terrible or wonderful, it’s going out into the world, and that something!
Sorry for my weekend extended absence. I spent all weekend, and some bleed through into Monday, finishing Trinian, An Epic Fantasy’s second draft. I just sent it out for review, and I can’t believe my project is actually out there, being read by other eyes! I’m all tingly.
I still have a few middle scenes to compose, and a bit more of the ending.
I intend to avoid the common writing choice of writers who write an entire book, with lots of detail and description, and then end the book immediately, as soon as the climax has passed. Maybe they have a brief wrap up, bringing the characters together who’ve been estranged, etc. But I have always felt far more satisfied by endings like Jane Austen or Tolkien, or even Dean Koontz, who really take the time to explain not just what the characters did immediately after the action, but how the action affected the rest of their lives.
So I’m making sure that I’m putting time into my ending, and not just wrapping up the major loose ends. But don’t worry – it won’t be a drag, making you wish that it would end already. — At least I hope not!
I’ve been particularly struck lately by the power of creativity. The impact you could have on a person’s life by simply being brave and open to self-expression.
I used to doubt that word: self-expression.
It seemed fabricated, as if people were trying to force something out of themselves that wasn’t there to begin with. Or else were closing in on themselves, self-focusing and thereby shutting out the world. And while that might be true sometimes, I think most of the time, self-expression never happens at all.
Fear is a very real thing, and keeps us bottled up inside. In fact, if it were not for personal handicaps that have kept me from pursuing other avenues in life, I’m not sure I ever would’ve allowed my own creativity to see the light of day. I had nothing to lose by pursuing my writing: I couldn’t hold a job, I couldn’t volunteer or give of my time to other causes, other things that I saw as more important at the time. But over the years, by devoting myself to creativity and self-expression, I have found that I have not shut out the world by being self-centered: it’s the exact opposite.
I am so much more open to experiences, emotions, and connections to other people than I have ever been before. And the more recognized I’ve become through my art, the more it terrifies me. For the first time, I’m scared to take the next step, because it might be noticed.
And if it’s noticed, I can’t go back.
But I don’t want to go back!
I want to keep going. I want to write for the rest of my life, and make an impact on the world. It’s just that I thought I had to do something more than my writing in order to do that. But I just need to do what comes naturally to me. I need to allow what is easily inside of me to come to the surface. And to be seen by the rest of the world.
So look out world. Here I come.
Don’t let your fear stop you, or you might close up. You might shut out the world. You might never truly experience it. We only have one life. And it’s never going to be perfect. So why self-sabotage?
It’s. Just. Not. Worth it.
Be creative. Express yourself. And do it for others. By doing it for yourself, it cannot stay with yourself. It must – and will -influence the world.
The mystery genre is pretty straightforward. It begins with the main character and the audience not having all the information, and by the end of the movie, they have all the answers.
Some films that fall into this category are,
Murder on the Orient Express
There are other films that seem to fall into this category, but do not. Such as the Bourne Trilogy, Memento, The Fugitive, and Minority Report. These have mysteries in them, but the main point of the film is that it is an action movie, which is a different genre that I will talk about soon.
In order for the film to be a mystery, the mystery must be the main point. It must be the part of the movie that most consumes and engrosses you, and what controls the action. If there is someone chasing the main character the whole time, then it’s the action that predominates. Because, in that case, the main character is only motivated to solve the mystery because of the chase, whereas in a true mystery, he will be motivated to solve the mystery simply because it is a mystery.
There are not many true mystery films, but there are mystery TV shows. Those abound in plenty! Numbers, Monk, Psych, Castle, Sherlock Holmes, Person of Interest, CSI, and The Good Cop are all mystery genre TV shows.
So, my brother and I got very fed up last night with genre.
Take romance and psycho-thriller for example. One describes how a film makes you feel, the other describes how characters change throughout the film. They are not compatible comparisons!
Romance is about two people who meet and fall in love. When we hear the word romance, we know that the film will be about two characters who are not free to love each other in some way, but by the end of the film, they will both be free. But to say a movie is a romance tells us nothing about how we will feel when we watch it. In fact, it is so bad at conveying that idea that we have to pair funny romantic movies with the word Comedy, thus specifying it as a Rom-Com.
Whereas, if someone tells me we’re watching a psycho-thriller, I know exactly how I will feel when I watch it. As my brother put it, I will sit plastered to my seat, wondering eagerly what’s going to happen next, why it’s happening, and how.
So… We got ambitious, and decided to re-explore the entire concept of genre.
After an hour of discussion we split it into two categories.
Number 1 is pretty self-explanatory. Movies make us feel a certain way, and dividing them into how they make us feel just makes sense. Especially since most genres that exist already fall into this category.
Number 2 might require some explanation. (UPDATE: You can read the post about it here.) Many films are driven by the main character changing their world view. They start by believing a lie about the world, or having wrong information, and by the end, their world view has shifted.
Most Stories have both an External and an Internal Genre, but they will be primarily driven by one or the other.
There’s a lot of advice out there about writing descriptions. About keeping them to a minimum, about making sure they don’t cut into the action, about not over-painting a picture.
It’s all well and good, and has valid points. BUT, knowing how to write a long, detailed, poignant description is still a very important skill! You won’t know what to cut out without knowing what to put in in the first place. And who better to learn from than the masters?
The greatest description writer of all time, in my humble opinion, was Charles Dickens. Reading him can get cumbersome at times, but oh, how lovely his cumbersome writing is!
Take this passage here: “The place through which he made his way at leisure was one of those receptacles for old and curious things which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town and to hide their musty treasures from the public eye in jealousy and distrust. There were suits of mail standing like ghosts in armor here and there, fantastic carvings brought from monkish cloisters, rusty weapons of various kinds, distorted figures in china and wood and iron and ivory: tapestry and strange furniture that might have been designed in dreams. The haggard aspect of the little old man was wonderfully suited to the place; he might have groped among old churches and tombs and deserted houses and gathered all the spoils with his own hands. There was nothing in the whole collection but was in keeping with himself; nothing that looked older or more worn than he.” – The Old Curiosity Shop
What an image! The shop lives and breathes in our minds, leaping out to us from the page, drawing us inward. Dickens did not simply lay out all the items in the shop, and then describe the old man. He used the items to reflect the old man, and the old man to reflect the items. He made them seem one and the same, as if removing one from the other we do harm to both. Which of course happens later in the book, and is all the more heart-wrenching because of the image he has planted in our minds at the very beginning. The old curiosity shop is curious not so much in itself, but in it’s inhabitants. And Dickens conveys all of this in one paragraph.
Take this next passage as well, which is one of my favorites: “Monseigneur, one of the great lords in power at the Court, held his fortnightly reception in his grand hotel in Paris. Monseigneur was in his inner room, his sanctuary of sanctuaries, the Holiest of Holiests to the crowd of worshipers in the suite of rooms without. Monseigneur was about to take us chocolate. Monseigneur could swallow a great many things with ease and was by some few sullen minds supposed to be rather rapidly swallowing France; but, his morning’s chocolate could not so much as get into the throat of Monseigneur, without the aid of four strong men besides the Cook.” – A Tale of Two Cities
What a ritual! It goes on for several more paragraphs, detailing exactly how he takes his chocolate. Aside from a few comments about what other people think of him, we are able to form a picture of the Monseigneur simply by watching him eat chocolate. He makes a ritual out of it, as if it were a celebration of the mass, or some other liturgy. Amid all the squalor that we see in other parts of the book, this is a revolting spectacle of decadence, and yet, Dickens never tells us how revolting it is. He lets the actions speak for themselves.
Dickens is a true master of description. His characters come so to life, but if you’ve ever watched a BBC miniseries reproduction of his books, you know that they are the most true reproductions of any book you’ve ever seen. His villains are hatable, is heroes lovable, his side characters mysterious, lovable and gross all at once. I highly recommend that you pick up a page of Dickens, notice the details that he draws upon, and then try to describe the room you are in with as much detail. Reflect on the characters and personalities of the people who decorated the room, or left their things in it. Allow the surroundings to speak of the characters, and you will become a Master Descriptive Narrator!
As I’ve been editing the final draft of my latest novel, Trinian – An Epic Fantasy, the editing process affects the way that I watch and read other stories.
What I mean is, as I edit and pay attention to character development, all I notice when I watch a movie is the character development.
And when I edit plot and pacing, that’s all I notice in the book I’m reading.
My head is so jam-packed with characterization, mounting conflict, increasing stakes, and relatable villains that I feel like I’m going to explode!
I will be so happy when this novel is finally finished, which should be the end of December!
I couldn’t have gotten this far without all the resources I’ve benefited from along the way, so here is a brief list of some of the most helpful writing resources that helped turn me into the writer I am today. I highly recommend all of them!
A paragraph with sentences that vary in length is far more powerful than sentences of all the same length.
Short: I watched him leave. The pain of his loss squeezed my heart. It burned my skin. I wanted him back. But my pride rooted me to the floor. I was too weak. I lost him.
Long: With longing, I watched him leave the room, and the pain of his loss squeezed my heart. It burned my skin because I wanted him back, but my pride rooted me to the floor. I was too weak to take the steps necessary to get him back, so he left and I lost him forever.
Compare those to this:
Combo: I watched him leave. The pain of his loss squeezed my heart. It burned my skin because I wanted him back, but my pride rooted me to the floor. I was too weak to chase after him, and lost him forever.
This paragraph begins with two short sentences, and then swells with a longer one that carries up through the emotion and out the other end, where the last sentence drives home the resolution.
When every sentence is the same length, it’s difficult to convey emotion in writing. Short, staccato sentences carry desperation and excitement, while long sentences convey melancholy or peace. But when put together, a wider range of emotions can easily be conveyed. Your writing will improve by leaps and bounds!
3 Tips to Vary Sentence Length
1. Combining Sentences
Combine 2 thoughts into one sentence and create a flow.
Put a less important thought inside a longer one to extend the dramatic effect.
3. The Short Sentence
An occasional short sentence drives home a point, or increases the drama.
1. Combining Sentences
Two thoughts side by side can sometimes be combined into one sentence, which makes for easier reading and variety of structure.
For example, combine these two sentences,
1. She floated by like a cloud.
2. I was terrified by her beauty.
1&2: She floated past me like a cloud and I was terrified by her beauty.
1. I decided monsters didn’t scare me.
2. I was going to be brave.
1&2: I decided monsters didn’t scare me, and I was going to be brave.
By combining the sentences, the cause and effect is much more clear, and so is the sequence of events. It plays out easily, with a flowing rhythm.
Sentences can also be made longer by the addition of a clause. Whether at the beginning, middle, or end of the sentence, a clause adds information that stretches the thought, and makes it more dramatic.
For example, combine these two sentences,
1. The trees grew thickly behind the house
2. I ran among them as I tried to get away from everything inside me.
1&2: Where the trees grew thickly behind the house, I ran to escape the thick, tangled thoughts inside my head.
1. I was thirteen and emotional.
2. That was when I decided to run away from home.
1&2: I decided, because I was thirteen and emotional, to run away from home.
In both sentences, the first thought is not as important as the second, but it serves to paint a picture of the setting. It works better as a clause inside the second sentence, instead of on it’s own.
3. The Short Sentence
I am not opposed to short sentences by any means! They are a valuable tool and should be used when a short, dramatic statement will heighten the tension or drive home a point.
1. He loved me. I knew it now. Looking deep into his eyes, savoring the truth I already knew, but wanting to hear him say it, he whispered tenderly into my ear, “I love you.”
2. I felt like the room was closing in like the trash compactor on Star Wars. Something was coming, breathing down my neck, making the little hairs prickle and rise. Just behind me, a hoarse sigh. I whirled.
See how each short sentence is accompanied by a lot of detail, and longer sentences? This raises the stakes, and we know the short sentence is important. Everything leads up to it, or adds to it afterward.
Writing long and medium sentences is a good idea because it adds a rhythm and flow to your writing style. It heightens emotion and action, and draws the reader naturally into the story. But don’t forget the short sentence! It’s the best part, so use it sparingly.
The best way to make your book interesting – after having a good, solid plot and characters – is to improve your sentence structure.
Lately books are all the same. The sentences are short. They’re sweet. They all start with a subject.
I watched him leave. The pain of his loss squeezed my heart, burned my skin. I wanted him back. But my pride rooted me to the floor.
When every sentence begins with the exact same part of speech, it gets boring to read. It’s easy to read, but it’s boring. So if you want to write a novel that stands out, and doesn’t come across as simple, keep reading.
3 Tips to Vary Sentence Structure
1. Adverbial Opener
–Describes the verb.
When I was a child, the world was a simple place.
2. Adjectival Opener
–Describes the subject.
Chivalrous to a fault, I refused to let her open the door and did it for her.
3. Prepositional Opener
–Begins with a preposition
With the force of a mighty wind, he destroyed the sand castle.
Don’t just open with an adverb, like ‘lately’ or ‘really.’ Stretch yourself and describe the setting with a phrase. Instead of putting two thoughts into two sentences, combine them. Place and time are good material for this.
For example, combine these two sentences,
1. The trees grew thickly behind the house
2. The trees were like my thoughts, and I ran among them as I tried to get away from everything inside me.
1&2: Where the trees grew thickly behind the house, I ran to escape the thick, tangled thoughts inside my head.
1. I was thirteen and emotional.
2. That was when I decided to run away from home.
1&2: When I was thirteen and emotional, I decided to run away from home.
Freeing you to create free-flowing visuals, adjectival openers can be a wonderful tool. A good indication that you’re using an adjectival opener is when the first word ends in ING, although it’s not always the case. Just make sure it’s modifying the subject. Again, a good way to use an adjectival modifier is to combine thoughts.
For example, combine these two sentences,
1. She floated by like a cloud.
2. I was terrified by her beauty.
1&2: FloatING past me like a cloud, I was terrified of her beauty.
1. I felt lazy.
2. I decided to watch tv.
1&2: FeelING lazy, I decided to watch tv.
1. I was brave in the face of monsters.
2. I stood up to him.
1&2: Brave in the face of monsters, I stood up to him.
As with any sentence variable, prepositional openers can be very useful. But these have the most potential. There are tons of prepositions, which means tons of different sentence openers for you!
Combine these sentences,
1. We looked to the sky.
2. The elephant floated like a dark gray cloud.
1&2: Above the three ring circus, the elephant floated like a dark gray cloud.
1. She mourned the loss of her gray kitten for a while.
2. But Mandy tried to get on with life after that.
1&2: After mourning the loss of her gray kitten, Mandy tried to get on with her life.
Next article, I’ll talk about how to make your sentences longer inside and at the end, and when it’s a good idea to do it.
I’m so excited to introduce you all to my NEXT BOOK…
When I was thirteen years old, I read the Lord of the Rings and was disappointed by the lack of female characters in it. So, I decided to write my own epic fantasy that would be sprinkled with plenty of women characters who fall in love, go on adventures, and save the world. Typical thirteen-year-old girl stuff. I wanted to read the story, so I decided to write it.
It was a tale of a kingdom with a new king, a vague enemy threatening the safety of a world, and several romantic couplings playing out against the backdrop.
At the beginning, it was a straightforward story with many plot holes and inconsistencies.
Since then, I have grown. I have found more reasons to tell the story, expanding beyond the superficial need only for more femininity. The story has come out of me, grown with me, and reached beyond me. The protagonists have grown more complex and wonderful over time, and it has taken a full ten years before I finally discovered the wider context of the fictional world living inside my head.
It has truly been a fantastic journey to discover the intricacies of this story over the years, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you!
I just wrote the climax, and for the first time, I feel like I’m really almost done with it! I’m so excited to finally finish this story!
Just joined Medium.com, and this was my first post! You can read the entirety here.
We see illiteracy as a negative thing because without being able to read, we lack the ability to effectively communicate ideas. But, ironically, our reliance on literacy has actually led to a degradation in our confidence to communicate through the written word.
While any average person on the street can tell you how to pronounce the sounds of the alphabet, or how to spell “Kardashian,” they stumble over writing a basic business email. And most wouldn’t have the confidence to sit down before a room of kindergartners and tell them a ten-minute story about a cat and a ball of yarn.
Yet this is a very simple process, drawn upon everyday experience, with a very simple audience who, if you make the cat fall down or get twisted in the yarn, will be very forgiving of your mistakes. They just want to hear about how a cat responds to the yarn because it helps them understand life. The illiterate children relate to storytelling better than…continue reading
In the Grimm’s version of Snow White, the evil queen attends Snow White’s wedding at the end and receives the sentence to dance in iron-hot shoes until she dies. Snow White gets a happy ending, and the Queen dances to death.
Here, the protagonist is happy and the villain is miserable, and all is right and just in the world, but what about the stories where the main character has a tragic ending, like Hamlet or Gone with the Wind? Why did the author decide to give the protagonists in these stories a pair of theoretical iron-hot shoes? What was the point? Was it just to break the hearts of readers and make them feel betrayed for investing all this time and attention into the character?
Probably not. If that was their only reason, then they’re a terrible writer (Not to mention person).
But allowing for the benefit of the doubt, what would be their good reason, and how can we know when to apply it in our own stories?
There are two endings to any type of story, and we see them to best advantage in Shakespeare’s brilliant two categories: The Tragedy and the Comedy. (All his Histories can fit into one of these two categories)
A comedy ends in rejoicing, marriage, and the promise of a bountiful future.
A tragedy ends with death, suffering, and general doom and gloom.
Every story has a protagonist, a main character. It is the job of the protagonist, throughout the story, to overcome the internal and/or external dangers that come their way. Sometimes they overcome them through brawn, sometimes wits, sometimes unflinching goodness, and sometimes just pure good luck.
All of those reasons are legitimate and popular methods of storytelling.
Luke Cage uses brawn. Adrian Monk uses wits. Emma Swan uses goodness. The three stooges use luck.
These stories explore the meaning of good fortune, and how we can achieve it. Often, the main character begins without believing in the benefits of his/her force for good. They think they are destined for unhappiness, and don’t know how to use their inner strength. The riveting nature of the story is how he/she learns to accept and grow, until they are a major force to be reckoned with, and can overcome great evil.
Sometimes, however, their inner strength is not enough, or they are not able to grow enough to harness it. This is where fallen nature comes into play.
I watched The Informant the other night, a movie wherein Matt Damon plays a man helping the FBI to uncover illegal activities inside his company. However, about half-way through, the story takes an unexpected twist. We discover that, although he has been helping to uncover legitimate corrupt activities and thinks of himself as a hero for doing so, he has been stealing 11 million dollars on the side all along.
And he doesn’t see himself as a villain.
This is significant. We realize that he was actually an evil force all along, and his refusal to see it results in the FBI turning their attention away from the first crime and entirely onto him. He finally ends up in jail because he refuses to see that he was in the wrong.
This is a tragic ending.
The Informant involves an internal evil that Matt Damon’s character was unwilling to defeat. There are a few stories, however, which are fewer and far between, in which there is an external villain the protagonist cannot conquer.
This rears its head in plays, mostly, such as Shakespeare and Aeschylus. There are very few films that deal in this genre.
This particular evil is almost always Fate. Any evil can be overcome, the story tells us, unless Fate is against us to begin with. We cannot see it, feel it, or get our hands around its throat, so our lives end miserably because Life/Fate/the gods had it out for us in the first place.
Tragedy is either about refusing to wage inward battles, or losing battles against fate.
So there you go! This is the difference between a happy ending and a sad. You can choose to end your story happy, but make sure it’s because your characters learned their lessons. Or, you can end it sad, but make sure it’s either on account of fate, or block-headed characters!
Did I miss anything? Did I leave out a genre? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Comedy endings are about people who overcame all obstacles, inward and outward, and have a hopeful future because of it.
Tragic endings involve either the protagonist’s refusal to accept their weaknesses and seek to overcome them, or else involve intangible Fate destroying them from the outside, no matter what they do.
They want to be a writer, always have, but they’ve never gotten their BIG BREAK. Suddenly, something dramatic happens in their lives, and it inspires the great story idea that’s always been just out of reach. In a moment of muse possession, they sit down and spit out the book…
…IN ONE NIGHT.
Forget hard-work, discipline, or road-blocks – all you need is a desire, deep feelings, and a dramatic experience.
….aaand, the pin drops. So that’s not really what happens – EVER.
But even though we all know that, we still feel like it should happen that way. It’d be nice if our life happened in a montage. Wouldn’t it be lovely if meeting the love of your life coincided with creating something fantastic? Everything in life comes together in one fell swoop!
Shawn Coyne, on the storygrid podcast said, and I’m paraphrasing: “When you come up against the ending, you start to get overwhelmed. The closer to the end, the more you psyche yourself out.”
We all get that way. We have our moment when the great “beast,” as Shawn called it, threatens to completely devour our creative genius.
How do we fight this beast and overcome him?
The answer is to just do what you’ve done before… DO WHAT YOU SET OUT TO DO. You had a direction for this story from the beginning, even if you didn’t write out the outline, so write until the characters naturally reach that conclusion. Tell yourself the story, and write it only for yourself.
Just write. Don’t worry too much about the structure of the story – concentrate on getting the story out. Once it’s out, you can rewrite it. But it’s never going to get anywhere if you don’t just write.
Not to mention that, when we are in darkness, it is the worst time to start rethinking and doubting what we had in mind in the first place. It’s like a weaver who has laid out a pattern, but then the lights go out. He can feel the pattern, he knows how to keep going, and it’ll turn out just fine in the end. But in that moment, he instead decides to blindly rethread the pattern. When the lights come on, it’s going to be a terrible product!
Why are you doing this to yourself? Stop!
Remind yourself that YOU CAN DO THIS and keep on going. Don’t let your doubts have a voice in your head. Shawn says, “Go back to the source material that inspired you to begin in the first place.” Plow through, and stop telling yourself you’re not good enough – BECAUSE YOU ARE.
YOU’VE GOTTEN THIS FAR, and you can see this race through to the end. Slay your beasts. It won’t be overnight, but as Shawn says, “you’ve got a sword, and you’re going to cut your way out of the stomach, and you’re going to cut that beast into little pieces, until you’ve solved your story.”
You know, I get a little too caught up sometimes in dissecting books and trying to figure them out from the inside out, piece by piece. But it’s also important to look at them as a whole. Because even if all the pieces are perfect, that doesn’t mean the whole has turned out great.
It’s important, when studying stories, to look at the greats: the old greats, those whose works have stood the test of the ages and still appeals to readers. Because even if all the pieces of their story weren’t perfect, the whole has lasted hundreds or thousands of years.
You can go really old, if you want, to the days of Homer and Gilgamesh.
Or more recent, like Beowulf or Chaucer.
I’m just kidding. (Except not really, cause those books are great) John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, and James Barrie are totally fine!
When you read the story, ask yourself these questions:
1. Did the story satisfy me?
2. Was it predictable?
3. Did the beginning catch hold of me, or did it take time for me to get into it?
4. Was the middle boring? If so, why did I stick with it?
5. Was this a perfect story? (The answer is always no! No story is perfect) So then ask yourself, what could it have done better?
6. What was the basic premise?
7. What were the fundamental events?
8. Was the conclusion a natural one that was set up well?
These questions will help you to forget about sentence structure, the use of specific words, or even proper comma use. Forget about those things for a little while, and ask yourself – why is this a great story?
Now draft your own story based on the answers to your questions.
Here are my answers to all 8 questions, using Pride and Prejudice (the ever hackneyed, ever re-gurgitated example! Oh literature gods, praise be for Pride and Prejudice!) as an example.
You could write your own story based on these answers, without ever giving away to your audience that you copied Pride and Prejudice. So I challenge you to take the time today or this week to think of a story you love – a classic that has weathered the test of time – write out the basic events, and invent a story off of it for yourself!
Share your dissection of your favorite classic in the comments – I’d love to see it! 😀
In a village wrapped about with strange monsters and superstition, a new kind of child is born. Half-man half-monster, the villagers fear their own children and, turning against them, burn them at the stake. But a small band of resilient Halfbreeds escape their executioners and take up their home in the wild. In a desperate attempt to find their place in the world, these children question what it really means to be human.
See the world of Halfbreeds through the author’s eyes.
I’ve created a couple of the iconic images from my novel that stick in my mind.
First, here are some I did months ago.
Above: Bobakin, in soft chalk pastel
Below: Dalimi, in soft chalk pastel
I’m very happy with the way these turned out! I feel they get across the essence of their characters. It’s rare that I’m able to do just what I want with art, so I’m proud of this.
2. I keep going back to the barn for some reason – every image looks similar to how I picture it, and eventually, I’ll get one that looks exactly right.
Above is a closeup of my first one that I did in colored pencils awhile back.
Here is an oil pastel I did just the other day. The terrible forest is in the upper right corner. It’s rougher, but has more of the appropriate feel.
I thought I was going to put the barn in this one, but turned into a stretch of the Terrible Forest. The hard copy is very heavy and shiny since it is done in thick oil paint. I was out of blue paint, so I had to be creative with the sky, but I think I like this better. It brings across the true feel of the forest.
3. I wanted to work the title into the wheat field, so here’s the logo in colored pen! I used up an entire blue pen on this one. 🙂
4. Finally, here is a sketch I did of Cornanam a long time ago. I waited to post because I kept thinking I would finish it, but I just never got around to it. I like that he looks more savage than Bobakin – and yet, like he feels deeply.
Hey guys! I don’t usually break the fifth wall – you know how much I love writing a story and just putting it out there. Without commentary, without introduction.
But I’d love to hear more from all of you! So I thought I would share a list of my top ten favorite books, and then ask you to comment and share your favorites! I’d love to read them. 😀
Here are mine:
Pride and PrejudiceThe best written love story of all time!
The Great GatsbyThe imagery of the green light, the eyes of Dr. Eckelburg, and the ridiculous pomp of Gatsby’s parties will never cease haunting me.
The Little PrinceLook up at the stars – and believe!
Go Set a WatchmanWho knew I would like the sequel even better than the first? Harper Lee never disappoints!
The Lord of the RingsArguably the most influential book of my childhood.
Tenant of Wildfell HallThough I love all the Brontes, this is my very favorite!
The Picture of Dorian GrayWith his masterful portrayal of characters, his societal wit, and his flair for the dramatic, Wilde paints a word picture of Dorian Gray!
Through the Looking-GlassAgain, a sequel I love even better than the original! The White Knight, the Red Queen, and the boating sheep – I love them all! And Alice the most.
HamletThe greatest ghost story – if not the greatest story – of all time.
Winnie-the-PoohMy favorite book of childhood – and all these years later, it does not disappoint! The veins of wit, humor, subtle characterization, and innate understanding of childhood simplicity that run like a tapestry all through are utterly charming, funny, and nostalgic!
Tell me about your favorite books! Which of the above did you read? Did you like them? I’d love to hear!
I’m going to take a break today from my usual topics to talk about the ending of one of my favorite TV shows, Star Wars Rebels!
With Kevin Kiner’s Season 2 soundtrack playing in the background, let’s settle in to discuss this masterpiece of Dave Filoni.
My family watched the final three episodes last night, and my, what a finish! It lived up to all my expectations! –except in one thing…
The finale gave us a satisfying ending for each major player. It masterfully completed Ezra’s story arc – reminding us of why he’s fighting, what he’s lost and found, who he has become, and it even – bonus! – gave us his trials! (I honestly didn’t expect that) It brought all the themes together seamlessly – Sabine’s artwork, what they’re all fighting for, what makes it worthwhile to fight, the wolves and Purrgil, the owl painted on Sabine’s armor for good measure (which changes to the Purrgil later), and even the Jedi Temple! And it provided closure on all the existing villains – Price, Thrawn, and the Emperor himself. (Vader’s timeline was already tied up in A World Between Worlds when Ashoka acknowledges to herself and Ezra that she cannot save her master.)
So with all that amazing storytelling, what was the one thing that disappointed me? Dave Filoni and his team crafted a complex narrative with many twists and turns, set-ups and pay-offs that brought so much satisfaction to me as both a Star Wars fan and a lover of stories, but then they decided to throw something big into the very end of the show with absolutely no set-up — Jacen Syndulla.
Now granted, I am very excited about Kanan (or Caleb) and Hera having a child together. That’s pretty awesome, and opens up worlds of possibilities in future stories! But where was the set-up? As fans, we are left to imagine, futiley, where and when this child could have possibly come from? Kanan and Hera were not physically affectionate with each other until just before she left Lothal, leaving Kanan behind. Hera does not say “I love you” to Kanan until five minutes before he dies. (cue heartbreak – it was such an epic death!) Kanan knows, deep down, how Hera feels about him, but he’s not been able to get her to admit it. He’s surprised when she kisses him before taking off. Maybe that’s because she’s doing it in public and Kanan didn’t think she was comfortable with that, you say? Maybe, but now we’re grasping at straws. As an audience member, that shouldn’t be our job, and we haven’t had to do that for anything else in Filoni’s saga, so why for this?
I’m really not sure why there was no set-up for this sudden child. Maybe they wanted to keep the romantic tension tight for the audience, and weren’t considering the awkward timeline, or maybe the child was a last minute addition. Those are the only two options I can think of. The only other option left is to consider that Kanan and Hera had a casual relationship together, purely physical, in which they never talked about the fact that they loved each other. But first of all, that does not at all line up with their personalities, high moral code, and personal self-restraint, and secondly, we are once again grasping at straws and making up our own answers.
But since that is the only route left to us, I will present the answer I like to believe, even though it does not entirely line up with everything.
My Fan Fiction for Kanan and Hera’s Relationship
Sometime around the end of season 1, Kanaan and Hera go on a mission to a distant planet. While there, their feelings for each other escalate, and they wonder why they’ve never been together. Kanan brings it up and Hera pulls back, but then in the course of their mission, Kanan nearly dies and Hera realizes how much he means to her. They have a private wedding according to the laws of that planet and a single night together. But in the morning, Hera tells Kanan they can’t do this. His most important mission right now is training Ezra, and they can’t get in the way of that. “But when he doesn’t need you anymore,” she tells him. “I’ll be here.”
Years go by. Kanan is blinded and draws deep into himself. Hera feels she has lost him and throws herself into the rebellion, renewing her dedication to the cause at the expense of all else. After a long while, they both acknowledge in their hearts that they are further apart than ever romantically, even though they are so close personally. Kanan is a Jedi now, Ezra is able to handle himself, and even Sabine has found peace with her people. But Hera has only one goal in mind – defeat the Empire and protect her family. She is denying herself the strength she needs to see this through, and Kanan can see it. He decides to pursue his wife.
When they return to Lothal, he remembers they’re earlier relationship, what they felt for each other. He starts to get sappy, and to his joy, he finds that she responds. Slowly, she opens up to him, though he feels the walls that still closely ensnare her heart. One night, while on Lothal (after episode 4), she opens to him and they have a romantic evening, but once again, in the morning, she says they should return to camp and they do not discuss their future. Kanan knows she is all he wants and he’s tired of this rebellion that keeps them apart. Suddenly, he accosts her with his frustration.
“When are you going to feel you’ve done enough for this rebellion?” he asks her when she prepares to leave.
“I guess when the empire is overthrown and people are free to live their lives they way they want again.”
“And when that time comes, how do you want to live your life?”
“Hm, I don’t know. I guess I never really thought about it.”
He realizes she does not take their previous marriage into account. “So I guess you never really thought about us.”
“Kanan, we’ve talked about that before.”
“You know how I feel.”
They’re cut off, but later, Kanan brings up their conversation.
“Hera, about what happened before…I don’t want you to think…” He doesn’t want her to think he’s pressuring her. He knows they agreed to not talk about it for awhile – maybe ever. “I just…” It’s just that he’s miserable without her, and he thinks she’s miserable without him, and suddenly, she kisses him and it throws him off guard. He realizes she has let down her walls, and when she returns, they will have a real marriage.
So there you have it, a window in which Jacen came about and Hera and Kanan adhere to their high moral codes, although it’s a bit far-stretched. But it’s romantic and let’s us inside their heads.
The children ran as fast as their abnormally short legs would carry them to the edges of the Terrible Forest and there crouched among the brambles in the thicket. Once down, not a leaf stirred from place—these children were adept at making themselves invisible to Human eyes. Bobakin lay still and silent, watching the townspeople growing larger as they neared, when from the other side, the forest side, something else caught his eye—a boy, quite close and quite conspicuous.
“Get down!” hissed Bobakin from the brambles. The boy was a Halfbreed, judging more by his ragged attire and mud- streaked face than his stature, which was upright and fearless. Yet the boy, though he heard, did not respond; there seemed an air of defiance about him in his straight back and fiery, orange eyes.
“Get down or they’ll see you!” said Bobakin again, and this time the other boy saw the townspeople, quite near now, and the fire in their eyes, so he disappeared in the brambles as effectively as a magician.
Carl Drax, the leader of the town, was ahead of the others and paused before the brambles where the children hid. He surveyed the bramble patch with his stern, blue eyes and handsome brow, seeming to meet the gaze of each fugitive there, and then turned to look over the wheat field on the other side of the road. It was tall, plenty capable of concealing even the tallest of their band, but the man could see nothing.
He whirled back to the villagers, with their axes and pitchforks and knives, and declared, “Halfbreeds have made their escape! For now.”
Disappointed and grumbling, the people turned back to the village and went away. Carl glanced again over the cornfield and then looked over his shoulder toward the Terrible Forest, knowing wherever the children were, they would see the leer of hatred and resolve on his face and know they were not safe.
Bahia breathed a sigh of relief and picked herself up from the thicket. “Bobakin,” she said—he was the oldest and they all looked up to him. “What do we do now? Where do we go?”
“See here!” broke in the newcomer, pointing an accusatory finger at them. “You can’t expect to escape men if you’re all together. It’s only on your own you won’t get caught.”
Bobakin saw some of the littler Halfbreeds’ eyes fill with tears, and in indignation, turned on the naysayer. “We just did. And we’ll do it again. There aren’t so many of us—only ten or twelve—and it’ll be no use being alive if we’re alone!”
All the Halfbreeds plucked up courage and grinned at each other. Even the newcomer shrugged his thin shoulders; maybe this tall Halfbreed had a point.
“We can’t stay here,” said Bahia, glancing over her shoulder.
The village huts were still in sight.
“But we can’t go too far,” said Nappy, an unusually short Halfbreed—shorter even than the children of the Schumps, but bright for his eleven years. Everyone always listened when he had an idea. “If we keep going this direction we don’t know what we’ll find; it may even be the Schumps. And if we go into the woods it definitely will be.”
“Then what do you suggest?” asked Bobakin, and the newcomer was impressed to see someone so tall deferring to someone so little.
“The lake. There are two of them, and the villagers never use the smaller one on the backend. We’ll need water and the stream nearby is as good a place as any to get it. The buildings are all abandoned, some even say haunted, so not even the children will be out that way, running into us.”
“But it’s so close,” whimpered Fafolio, her brilliant orange eyes filling with tears.
“Would you rather be close to the Schumps?” demanded Nappy, and Fafolio shook her thick brownish-green curls.
“Maybe the Schumps aren’t as bad as you all think,” said the newcomer.
Before the children could rebel at such a suggestion, Bobakin interjected, “Alright, we’ll go where Nappy says. He’s right, you know. We have the best chance there. We’ll go through the wheat field, where we won’t be seen, but stick together or someone will be lost. Once we’re on the other side, we make a break for the Rosenchanz Barn. Everyone take a partner and let’s go.”
As the children paired up, he turned to the newcomer. “Coming?”
“You don’t want me,” he said defiantly.
“You’re a Halfbreed, aren’t you? You belong with us.” Then the tall boy flashed him a smile and said seriously, “Just learn to curb your tongue when the little ‘uns are around.”
And they made their way through the wheat field.
Bobakin was wrong when he said there where ten or twelve in total. He had never counted them all before. There were seven.
Yet if anyone had ever gone missing, he would have noticed instantly, knowing each child by name ever since most were old enough to toddle.
There was Bahia. She had been the first, and they knew each other best of the whole world. She was twelve with dark, straight, brown hair and stubby, bowed legs. Her eyes were the color of the sky at midnight, and her face ruddy and rosy when not drained from hunger.
Next came Nappy, the smart, little one, with his owly- orange eyes and short stumps of legs. His arms, which were just a bit too long for his body, gave him a gangly look despite his short stature.
Then there was Fafolio. She was holding tight to little Kaka as they made their way through the field. They were both from another village, a foreign world it seemed to the others, but were accepted since they too had been ostracized as Halfbreeds. Fafolio was nine, with the orange eyes and green hair of a Schump but the graceful figure of a lady, and Kaka seven with wistful, orange eyes yearning for a mother he still remembered.
The last two were held fast by Bobakin and Bahia and were the littlest of the group: Bebbin and Brine. Bebbin did not look any way at all like a Schump with his yellow curls, brown eyes, and chubby little body not yet rid of its baby fat. But he walked different, almost as if he were bowlegged. But Brine was different and might have been supposed, had he not been witnessed to issue from a Human mother, to be a full-blooded Schump. He had been the first to join Bobakin and Bahia.
They reached the edge of the wheat field, and Bobakin looked out from among the golden stalks. The distance to the barn was only fifty yards; they could make it at a run. So everyone grasped tight hold of their partner and made off.
But then Kaka cried out—two farmers had seen them and were running their way.
“Run! Run! Go faster!” cried Bobakin, but what could they do? If they made it to the barn, they were still discovered. There was no sanctuary and no means to defend themselves.
Then Bebbin tripped, and Bobakin lost hold of his little hand. Bebbin, in blind terror, swerved, making for the animal pens. Bobakin cried out and went after him, but Bahia was faster. With her skirt whipping behind her and her legs pumping like a locomotive, she screamed for Bebbin to stop. But the little boy was flying on the wings of panic and could not listen. He was already closer to the two men than to the other children.
He reached the pens, which rose chest-high to a man, and leapt over them. Even the men did not have the height or ability to accomplish such a feat, and they swerved to circumvent the fences.
Bahia reached the first pen and started climbing it with Bobakin close behind.
The little boy was possessed of a reckless disregard for all and anything that could harm him. He aimed toward the pens on the outer extremity of the fields. These pens were known to the little boy in his rational mind, and normally, nothing would have tempted him toward them. Now he fled there as toward life itself.
Bahia saw where he headed and tasted tears in her mouth though she did not know she had been crying them. But her whole heart ached with despair for his little life as she saw him vault into the pen of the Manticore.
The Manticore lay in his golden glory at the back of the fenced pen, sleeping. And when Bebbin landed inside, Bahia knew he was doomed. But the beast awakened slowly, and blinked slowly, and slowly raised his head, and by then, Bebbin was through the pen and into the next one. Bahia came to the fence of the Manticore and wanted to cheer when she saw the boy was through, but there were still the men.
And she did not see what was in the very last pen.
When Bebbin landed in the final pen, his only thought—the thought that had driven him across the fields, over the fences, and through the pens—was escape. He must escape. He had run far but never saw what he encountered until he ran up against the giant wall of the barn. It blocked his path, forming an insurmountable barrier and an endless partition to freedom. And so he stopped. Right in the center of the last pen.
Something growled close by. His little four-year-old body, breathless and shivering, quaked to hear it. He turned around and saw the Manticore which was still asleep and in the next pen over. Then he looked around and met the eyes of the Bullbeast.
The Bullbeast was unlike anything mankind had encountered before. Like the Schumps which resembled Humans, the Bullbeast resembled a bull. But ever so much mightier and frightful, with tusks like a boar and a mane like a lion. It was vicious and wild, with a queer, caged look in its eyes. Now, it stared at Bebbin.
He stood a moment, frozen with fear beneath its gaze, waiting for it to pounce. But it only lay still, watching him. The little boy backed up and climbed over the fence on the side with the barn. The men had paused in their chase when they saw him enter the pen of the Manticore, but now that he was safely through, they advanced. And there were more men now, a quarter of the village it seemed, and they were all making their way toward Bebbin.
But then something even more extraordinary happened that caused the men to pause again. The Bullbeast, which had never left its enclosure before, climbed the fence and alighted beside Bebbin. And Bebbin was not afraid. Cautiously, he put forth his hand and stroked the Bullbeast’s muzzle. It licked his face and purred.
In their consternation, the men forgot all about the other children as they watched the beast’s actions. Bebbin made his way around the enclosure—not away from the men as one might expect—but toward them, with his little baby hand nestled in the creature’s mane. Two or three of the braver men advanced, but the Bullbeast raged. They stumbled back in fear, watching from a distance. Then it nuzzled the boy. He accompanied the child all the way up the path toward the barn, turning upon anyone who ventured near. Bahia got off the fence of the Manticore, and she and Bobakin met Bebbin and the beast. The Bullbeast did not endear himself to them but was not savage either, simply handing over his precious charge. After making sure the children marched back on their way to the barn, the Bullbeast returned to his pen.
The village men did not dare follow the children after that. They decided, anyway, to put if off for the time being. The Bullbeast’s actions were peculiar and, in the minds of the villagers, a blessing on the children—or a curse. For, to those superstitious folk, it was the same thing. The children were cursed and so were protected by a demon of a creature. There was no other explanation. If these simple people had known of the ancient Human idea that innocence, when abandoned by mankind, will often receive aid from the most unlikely of sources, they would not have given it proper weight to their situation. The children, for the time being, were blessed by a curse.
Chapter Two — Schumps, Humans, and Halfbreeds
The Halfbreeds had been living in the Rosenchanz Barn for a week, and everything was going well. After the event of the Bullbeast, the Humans left them well alone. Their first night, Bobakin built a fire and everyone gathered around to enjoy roasted rabbit.
The newcomer found he enjoyed the company more than he bargained and was easily accepted by the other children.
Brine sat down and offered his carrot. “Here, I don’s need it so much—I’m liddler.”
“How old are you?” asked Bahia of the newcomer, as she served out the rabbit.
“Truth?” she exclaimed. “I’d have put you for older. You’re just ’bout the Human size for your age.”
“Sure.” he shrugged rebelliously. “But I’m a Halfbreed, all the same.”
“No one’s sayin’ you’re not,” said Bobakin. “What they call you?”
“Some’s called me Pincher. But ’riginally I was called Denmin.”
“What’s pincher?” asked Kaka. “That’s a funny name.”
Denmin-once-called-Pincher answered quickly and dismissively. “Means crook stealer thief.”
“Course yer a crook, yer a Halfbreed. It’s all the same.”
“No, it ain’t. Not where I come from. Only sometimes, when a Halfbreed is cast out. Then he’s reckoned to be a thief.”
Everyone was looking at him curiously, and he realized it was not the same for them. “Don’t you cast out Halfbreeds sometimes? Affer all, you’re all out here, running. You can’t be beggars.”
Bobakin leaned forward, curious and anxious to understand. He explained, “We can’t be beggars, you see. Because we’re Halfbreeds. We’re not supposed to be alive, even. So we run, so we’re not caught, so we’re not killed. That’s the way it’s always been. If you’re a Halfbreed, you’ve no right to live amongst Humans.”
“Sure, I’ve heard that. And course, if you’re a Halfbreed, you’re less than a Human, but that doesn’t mean you’re killed for it. Just cast out, or beggerin’, or vagabondin’. Truth is you’ve got it nasty here, don’t ya? Man, I thought something wasn’t right when every folk I see is trying to kill me, but I just figured they reckoned I stole something big. That it would pass.”
“This here is our life,” said Bobakin, “and we’re the lucky ones, ’cause we’re alive.”
“Truth,” said Denmin, more as an exclamation than agreement; he was a bit overwhelmed with it all. “So…” He leaned forward, trying to understand. “When that man Carl came to our village and started preaching his gospel of ‘Humanity ’gainst Schumps’, and his talk about ‘demons living amongst us’ and all, your village does it?”
“Sure. That’s the way it’s been long as I can remember,” said Bobakin.
Kaka snuggled closer to Denmin. “What’s ‘demons’?”
“I think it means Schumps,” the new boy told him.
“Course it does,” said Bobakin. “And they’re evil, worse than Humans, ’cause Humans are only evil to Schumps and Halfbreeds, but Schumps are evil against everything.”
Denmin looked at Bobakin with respect. There was something inspiring and intriguing about this tall lad with his greenish-brown curls and fiery-firm hazel eyes. “So how come you’re alive?” he asked him.
When Bobakin was born, he was as normal as any other boy in the village, only rather bald. He had a loving mother and father and knew nothing of the evils of the world. Then one day, when he was four years old, he saw a child burned in the square. When he asked his father why, he told him the boy was evil, “a Schump.” And from the fear in his father’s voice and the shudder of his shoulders, Bobakin knew he never wanted to meet a Schump. As he grew, he heard tales about the Schumps—how they looked with their eyes the color of hell’s fire, hair the rank growth of green weeds, and short, stumpy legs that caused them to waddle and hobble like a lame duck. Some of the villagers told ghost stories to the children, warning them if they weren’t good, they’d change into a Schump for their sins and be burned to death.
When Bobakin was five years old, his hair finally began to grow in; and one day, after he’d had a bath and was combing it before the mirror, he saw to his horror that his hair was green. Only a small tinge of green in the muddy brown color, but it was there. He was transforming into a Schump for his sins and would be burned to death.
He ran out to the garden and rubbed mud all into it to conceal his disgrace and keep alive. Miraculously, this trick worked, and Bobakin managed to keep his secret for three whole years, often forgetting his shame, and even enjoying life. He went to school to learn his numbers and letters and was a bright child— far ahead of all the others in his class, though his teachers always complained of his dirty hair.
Then one day, and this day did not seem any different from any of the others, his mother walked by him and ruffled his hair.
“You’re so dirty!” She laughed at him. “You always are, and no amount of bathing ever seems to get it out of you.” And on an impulse, she grabbed a jar of water and poured it over his head.
There was a ghastly silence, and Bobakin was afraid to look at her. When he did, her face was white. “A Halfbreed,” she whispered, and it was the first time he ever heard the word. “My only son, a Halfbreed. I swore, I swore it was your father’s—I did— I swore you were. But you’re not—you’re a Halfbreed.”
“I will be burned?” he asked with wide open eyes. She did not answer, but he saw the look on her face.
She ought to have sounded the alarm, as they had done with so many children before, but right then she could not move. Bobakin saw she no longer looked at him as a mother looks at her child, but as a woman looks at a frightening thing: a snake or a rat that has wandered into her kitchen. This gave him the courage to do what he must, the courage to turn tail, then and there, and run away from home forever.
“And so I left,” said Bobakin. “I learned to live in the wilderness, on the outskirts of villages. To steal, hunt, fish, trap, anything to keep alive. I was all alone for a long time; until one day, I met Bahia. And then Brine, and slowly we’ve all come together. And now you’re here.”
“Your own mother would have burned you?” asked Denmin, shocked out of his aloofness and defiant independence.
“It was what she needed to do. But I think…I think she didn’t want to. She wanted me to run away because it would be easier than seeing me die.”
Bahia took Bobakin’s hand.
“We are a curse on this earth,” she told Denmin. “A curse on our parents and villages. But we run away because we do not want to die. That’s just the way the world is.”
Bobakin squeezed her hand and then told all the children to go to sleep.
Nappy, who had been Denmin’s partner through the wheat field, offered the newcomer a space beside him on the ground, and they lay down together. They were the same age and drawn together as children often are by ties indefinable and unseverable, instant and lasting.
Nappy gave Denmin a sharp look as they lay down together. “If you’ve been around Human villages before, have you seen Schumps?”
Denmin, his boyish heart relishing the chance to cause a sensation, raised his eyebrows. “Once, a few years ago.”
“What did it look like?”
A thrill went down Denmin’s spine at the awe in the other boy’s voice. “It was at night, from far away, so I only saw his outline. He was large, with fat, short legs that were bent the wrong way.”
“Was he hairy?”
“Naw, don’t think so. Just on his head. I saw him sneak into a village, and pretty soon there was lots of yelling and screaming and bells were making a racket. Then he ran out, carrying a Human woman slung over his shoulder.”
“A woman? Why? Did he kill her?”
“Don’t think so. Lots of women were taken, but they always came back after a few days.”
Nappy rolled onto his back with a sigh of wonder, and both boys grew quiet. Denmin was pleased with the effect of his tale, but presently, his thinking came back around to Bobakin’s story. Reflecting on it sobered him, and finally, he nudged his bedfellow. “Nappy, I’ve been thinking, and the Schumps are evil, right?”
Nappy opened his eyes. “Sure.”
“But Humans are good?” pursued Denmin.
“Well, if we’re Halfbreeds, then we’ve half the blood of Humans and half the blood of Schumps, so I reckon we’re only half evil and half good.”
“Say!” said Nappy. “I never thought of that. Yeah, maybe we’re not all the evil we’re made out to be. Would be a big relief to be good.”
“Sure. And maybe, if we try hard enough, we can be gooder than the evil in us.”
“Yeah.” Nappy smiled. “Maybe.”
Find out what happens to Bobakin, Bahia, and the rest of the halfbreed children by clicking here!
Throughout July, I wrote a three part story called My Wolf Friend. Inspired by a playlist compiled by my brother, it tells the story of a little boy and a wolf named Andrew, who together battle a pack of evil wolves.
My brother Andrew had compiled a playlist full of songs by Mumford and Sons, Of Monsters and Men, and other artists, which mention wolves.
The songs were:
Mumford and Sons: The Wolf
Of Monsters and Men: Wolves Without Teeth and Six Weeks
The National Parks: Monsters of the North
and Warren Zevon: Werewolves of London
The only one I did not use was Werewolves of London. It had a completely different feel than the others.
As I listened, a story began to take shape and each character began to have his own theme song. Eventually, I branched out into other songs, mostly incorporating more Of Monsters and Men.
I Of the Storm
And Little Lion Man and Broad-Shouldered Beasts from Mumford and Sons.
Some of the songs are very clearly related to the story, and some only incorporate one or two lines, or else simply inspired an idea. It was super fun to write, and I encourage you to listen to the songs and compare them to the feel and flow of the story.
Thank you to all the artists for your extraordinary music! Art inspires art, and it is a splendid thing to participate in that.
“Far out in the ocean the water is as blue as the petals of the loveliest cornflower, and as clear as the purest glass.”
The opening lines of this fairy tale immediately set the tone. Reminiscent of fragrance and translucence, Anderson prefigures the ending of his tale, when the little mermaid will become an airy wind, flitting about the earth, and doing good deeps to gain an immortal soul. But in order to reach the heights, he must first bring us to the depths. So he brings us down, down, the height of many steeples stacked one upon the other, down to the depths of that world.
Then he describes it. In vivid, watercolor beauty, he takes four paragraphs (which I will not do) to paint the pristine and intricate image of life beneath the sea. This is a tale Anderson cared for, nurturing it like a mother with her babe, setting it out like a designer for a stage. He tells about the little mermaids living beneath the sea who arrange their garden plots, and offhandedly, gently, he introduces the youngest of them. “She was an unusual child, quiet and wistful, and when her sisters decorated their gardens with all kinds of odd things they had found in sunken ships, she would allow nothing in hers except flowers as red as the sun, and a pretty marble statue.”
This is not a story about a rebellious teenager, or a lover of trinkets and gadgets. This is a careful story, full of meaning, heart, and tender dreams. The Little Mermaid does not merely want a prince to fall in love with her; this desire, for her, is only the beginning of the journey. As her desire deepens, her world widens.
First, she loves the statue. It is beautiful and simple, and represents something she does not have. We can all relate to desire, since we all yearn for something more – something that beckons us to transcend the mundane and traverse the heavens. For her, the world above is what the universe is to us. She explores it and encounters the prince. He is a world beyond her own, and she watches him in his sphere above. But the more she “looks to the stars” in her own sense, the more she learns that there is something even beyond that. “Don’t they die, as we do down here in the sea?” she asks her grandmother, seeking to know more of these creatures, but not possibly imagining the magnificence of the answer.
‘”Yes,’ the old lady said, ‘they too must die, and their lifetimes are even shorter than ours….We are like the green seaweed – once cut down, it never grows again. Human beings, on the contrary, have a soul which lives forever, long after their bodies have turned to clay. It rises through thin air, up to the shining stars. Just as we rise through the water to see the lands on earth, so men rise up to beautiful places unknown, which we shall never see.”‘
Now the littlest mermaid knows there is a life even beyond her wildest dreams, and her former desires bow to it in reverence. Her entire being yearns, aches, trembles now for this new idea. “‘Why weren’t we given an immortal soul?'” she cries. “‘I would gladly give up my three hundred years if I could be a human being only for a day, and later share in that heavenly realm.'” Although she has been in love with the prince before now, this is the first time she expresses any concrete desire to be human. Her love for the prince caused her to discover something greater, as any human love ought to do.
Unable to shake free of the desire for an immortal soul, the littlest mermaid decides to go to the sea witch. For the mermaid knows if she can get the prince to love her as she loves him, and if he swears to love her for all eternity while a priest joins their hands in marriage, then she will gain an immortal soul and eternal happiness with her beloved. To make this come true, she endures a harrowing experience.
The witch is no fairy godmother. There is no sparkle and wave of a pretty wand, but a forest of frightening polyps who will strangle you. And the witch herself is hideous, bulbous, and crass. She is gleeful about the mermaid’s suffering, and bargains cold-heartedly for the girl’s greatest treasure, her beautiful voice. She must give it up on the bargain that the prince will love her, or else, if he marries someone else, she will turn into sea foam the very next day. She warns the girl she will endure terrible agony walking above ground: “‘every step you take will feel as if you are treading on knife blades so sharp that blood must flow. I am willing to help you, but are you willing to suffer all this?’ ‘Yes,’ the little mermaid said in a trembling voice, as she thought of the Prince and of gaining an immortal soul.'” The sea witch, despite Anderson’s description which paints her as a hideous and cruel being, perfectly capable of stepping into the role of villain (and indeed, taking that role in the Disney version), is not the antagonist of the story. The Little Mermaid is not Snow White and this is no moral tale warning against selfish witches. For the witch, in the tale, represents more than herself. She is the voice of terror, pain, and ultimately, evil itself. The Little Mermaid is not committing evil to be human, but she is willing for it to exert its influence upon her, so she can gain something greater than mere comfort. “‘Let us leap and bound throughout the three hundred years that we have to live. Surely that is time and to spare, and afterwards we shall be glad enough to rest in our graves;'” thus her grandmother had urged of her, but the little mermaid is not content to be comfortable for three hundred years – she wants more. She would “dare do anything to win him [the prince] and gain an immortal soul.”
If the witch is not the villain, and the mermaid has already gone through so much agony, then the ending of the story seems clear. The prince must fall in love with her, and she must, thereby, gain an immortal soul. But then the unimaginable happens. Though the prince loves her with a great love, he never makes her his bride, but falls for someone else and marries her instead. In her struggle to gain a soul, the little mermaid has sacrificed her voice, her tail, her home, her family, and now her life. She has given up everything for him, and now she will simply fade away, disappear like the ‘green seaweed – once cut down, it never grows again.’
Her sisters are terrified for her, and make their own bargain with the sea witch, and this time, the little mermaid must participate in evil in order to return to the depths. If the little mermaid stabs the prince in his sleep before the sun rises, she will return to the sea, a mermaid again, who can live on in comfort for three hundred years. They give her the knife and she enters the prince’s chamber. But she was never in search of comfort, and she had never acted out of selfishness. She would rather lose everything completely than betray her love, so she hurls herself into the sea and becomes light, frothing foam.
Just as her love for the prince first inspired her to yearn for a human soul, so her love for him redeems her in the end. “The little mermaid discovered…that she was gradually rising out of the foam.” Since the little mermaid has done her best and noblest to gain an immortal soul, she discovers that she can now spend three hundred years as a cool breeze doing good deeds to finally gain one. She can rise above, touch the stars, and live in eternity.
The little mermaid is not a story about the fulfillment of a human love. Anderson, instead, told a greater tale. It is the saga of how a heart, yearning for a deep fulfillment, was opened through human love to the possibility of something greater. Ultimately disappointed, as we all must be by mortals, in the love of a man, the heart finds in eternity that bliss we all seek. And the little mermaid, who through a lack of a soul could not weep before, ‘lifted her clear bright eyes towards God’s sun, and for the first time her eyes were wet with tears.’
Artwork courtesy of Artpassions.net
Translation of ‘The Little Mermaid’ by Hans Christian Anderson courtesy of Barnes and Noble: The Complete Fairy Tales, 2010 edition.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the fairy tale princesses of Perrault, Anderson, Grimm, etc., were written to be heroines, role models, perfect representations of the perfect woman; an archetype, if you will. Snow White’s habit of lying around in a coffin teaches girls passive acceptance. Sleeping Beauty reminds them that beauty triumphs over any difficulty. And they can clearly see that Prince Charming only marries Cinderella because her self-abasement after the ball is appealing to his male chauvinism. In misreading these fairy tales, modern individuals seek to alter, prune, or explain away the negative elements, reworking the female lead into a strong, independent heroine who will stand for no weakness, no saving prince, and no redemption. But not all princesses were written to be role models, and many of those that were, represented virtues generally overlooked, but by no means outdated, in modern society.
Besides the heroine, there are two other types of Fairy Tale Princesses: the anti-heroine and the victim.
Cinderella is one of the most controversial characters in fairy tale lore. Is she a good woman who exercises virtue, or a passive, weak victim of her abusive family? “If only Perrault wrote Cinderella as a molder of her own future! If only she had defied her oppressors and won respect! Then she would be a proper role model for our daughters.” Thus argue some critics of the tale, but such an argument puts emphasis on the wrong part of the story: on the wrong virtues. Cinderella is much more real and her triumph far more wonderful. Sometimes, we are not masters of our own fate; sometimes, we are trapped in a world beyond our power; and that is Cinderella’s reality. In such an unfair world, despair easily blots out all light, joy, or promise, but not for this Princess. Perrault describes her with a “sweet and gentle nature”, saying that she got this from “her mother, who had been the nicest person in the world.” He says that “the poor girl endured everything patiently, not daring to complain to her father.” Not because she was passive and weak, but because he was. He “would have scolded her, because he was entirely ruled by his wife.” Her actions, then, instead of being weak, are prudent. When the sisters are preparing for the ball, Cinderella offers to help them. This displays the virtue of brotherly love, orliberality, which is remarkable in her situation and shows great maturity of character, “anyone else but Cinderella would have done their hair amiss, but she was good-natured, and she finished them off to perfection.” When they leave, she does something completely human and not at all wrong: she cries. Not in despair or to complain, but from a natural, human heaviness of heart. Finally, Cinderella displays incredible trust in the divine when, over the course of three days, she makes no claim to her magnificence but waits to see how all will come right. Cinderella may not display the typical feminist virtues of action, self-salvation, or emotional strength, but she displays something much greater: trust, patience, and strength of soul.
Snow White, it may surprise you to hear, is not a heroine. She was never meant to be a role model, but to serve as a warning. In the Grimm’s version, wherein she is known as Snow Drop, she is young, innocent, and beautiful, and for this reason must flee for her life. Right from the start, we learn goodness and innocence often lead to oppression. As the story unfolds, the innocent Snow Drop faces cruel reality, evil cloaked in deceitful goodness, and three times she is blind to its tricks. The Dwarfs tell her, “The queen will soon find out where you are, so take care and let no one in.” She tries to rely on her own judgment, disregarding the advice of the seven little men, and all three times, she fails.
“‘I will let the old lady in, she seems to be a very good sort of body’…Snow-drop did not dream of any mischief; so she stood up before the old woman; but she set to work so nimbly, and pulled the lace so tight, that Snow-drop lost her breath, and fell down as if she were dead.”
“Snow-drop said, ‘I dare not let anyone in.’ Then the queen said, ‘Only look at my beautiful combs;’ and gave her the poisoned one. And it looked so pretty that she took it up and put it in her hair to try it; but the moment in touched her head the poison was so powerful that she fell down senseless.”
“‘I dare not let any one in, for the dwarfs have told me not.’… ‘You silly girl!’ answered the other, ‘what are you afraid of? do you think it’s poisoned?’…she had scarcely put the piece into her mouth, when she fell down dead upon the ground.”
As punishment, she falls into a death-like slumber. In a way, she deserves to remain there: she was naive to a fault, and received not only a second chance, but a third, and ignored prudence every time. It is by the mercy of God that she not only receives a fourth chance when the Prince comes along, but a passionate, adoring love. The final lesson, then, from Snow White, is sometimes, through no merit of our own, we get a happy ending.
The last type of Princess is the victim.The victim succumbs not to a witch, or a dragon, or a wicked step-mother, or an evil king, but to something invisible, intangible, powerful. Two examples of such princesses are The Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. The Sleeping Beauty is the victim of fate, and her story asks the question whether we can escape our curses and blessings? Her parents do all they can to save their daughter from her terrible fate, but ultimately there is no salvation. Not, that is, until she has first suffered. Then her salvation finally comes to her in the form of her godmother’s blessing: she is awoken at the end of one hundred years by a gallant prince who risks death for her sake. The final life lesson the story of Sleeping Beauty leaves its reader is the assurance that just because our inescapable fate may lead to years of misery, there is joy at the end.
Rapunzel’s fate, on the other hand, is not external, but self-inflicted. Like Snow White, she is naive. But unlike Snow White, she does not merely make a mistake: she falls into the sin of lust. Both she and the Prince fall victim to sin in this story. The miseries that befall them are in expiation for their failures:
Rapunzel is exiled to a desert to raise her twins conceived in sin, and the prince is blinded (effectually removing the occasion of his sin, sight) and wanders the world alone. This story has been extensively altered from its original version by both the Brothers Grimm and more recent storytellers, but its original conveys the idea best.
Between once upon a time and happily ever after is not always the cute, clear-cut story we pretend it is. Like real life, fairy tales are full of mess, consequences, and human frailty. There are good people, evil people, and then just people, who do their best to be good but sometimes fall low.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Grimm’s Fairy Tales. 2010, Puffin Classics, New York.
Perrault, Charles. Perrault’s Complete Fairy Tales. 1961, Dodd, Mead and Company, United States of America.
Fairy Tale: A story that pushes the boundaries of the natural world, seeking to raise the reader to a simultaneous knowledge of both the supernatural realities of life as well as an innocent, child-like perception of creation.