The Swan Maiden's Feathered Robe, originally written for the Folk Roots Column in Realms of Fantasy magazine, was republished in the Journal of Mythic Arts Farewell Issue, July 2008. I really enjoyed doing the research for this one -- as it opened up a whole new area of folk tales for me. Usually fairy tale and folklore plots are concentrated around rites-of-passage from adolescent to adult, ending with marriage. But these are tales that seem to question the very durability of a marriage itself with the failure of marriage contradicting the usual "happily-ever-after" tag ascribed to fairy tale endings.
"...No matter how compliant a swan maiden may appear as a wife, there
remains an unspoken anxiety and tension beneath the surface of her
marriage. Her husband can never be certain of her affection, for it has
been held hostage by her stolen skin. He offers her his cloak, but it is
an exchange of unequal goods. Her feathered robe is the sign of her
wild nature, of her freedom, and of her power, while his cloak becomes
the instrument of her domestication, of her submission in human society.
He steals her identity, the very thing that attracted him, and then
turns her into his most precious prize,
a pale version of the original creature of magic...."
The Monkey Girl is an essay that first appeared in Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Women Writers Discuss Their Favorite Fairy Tales (2002), edited by Kate Bernheimer and later republished in the Journal of Mythic Arts. Kate asked women writers to reflect on their favorite fairy tale and I instantly thought of The Monkey Girl, a wonderful tale from the Sudan. As a young graduate student in African Language and Literature, I found the monkey girl to be one of the most memorable of heroines, and she seemed to have entered my life at exactly the right time. To this day, I still feel I owe her a debt of gratitude.
*Art is from The Arabian Nights, illustrated by Edmund Dulac
Between 1994 and 1995, I lived with my husband and children in Milan, Italy. I had brought with me the germ of a novel I knew would be complicated, and full of the flavors of Renaissance Italy. Over the course of that year I wrote many letters to Terri Windling, my editor and friend -- a lot about the book, about the research (which even now fascinates me!), and about the craziness of life at times in Italy. When The Innamorati made its debut, Terri gathered the letters together, edited out the more personal and private material, and presented them here on the Endicott Studio website. I do like being reminded of that particularly fertile time when all four of us in my family were indelibly changed by our lives in Italy.
A Chorus of Clowns was initially inspired by my research into the Italian Commedia dell' Arte, an improvisational and wonderfully funny renaissance theatre. I thought about not only Commedia's origins in the early Greek and Roman theatres, but their descendants in the Marx Brothers -- famous for their "zany" antics (from the Italian "zanni" referring to the buffoons and clowns of the Commedia). The article originally appeared in Realms of Fantasy's "Folk Roots Column" (2007) and was republished in the Journal of Mythic Arts, Winter 2007.
The Armless Maiden narratives fascinated me in college, where I first heard a South African version of this tale from the great Xhosa story teller Mazitathu Zenani. When Terri Windling was putting together her very fine anthology, The Armless Maiden and Other Tales for Childhood's Survivors, I wrote a version of the story, along with an afterword that addressed the unique journey of the female hero in traditional tales. Later, I rewrote the afterword into a longer article, "The Armless Maiden and the Hero's Journey" that was published in Realms of Fantasy's Folkroots Column, and republished in the Journal of Mythic Arts (Winter 2006).
"The armless maiden continues to haunt the imaginations of modern
storytellers, but as something much more than a girl caught in a complex
rite of passage to adulthood and marriage. She stands as an icon for
the perils of change, the threat of violence that surrounds women's
lives, and our own
occasional resistance to undertaking the labor of transformation.
Whether we chose it for ourselves or have it thrust upon us by
circumstances, change demands both an act of undoing, a severing of the
past, and an act of reaching, sometimes
with little more than faith, for an imagined future."
Food -- and especially its preparation -- has always been a central activity in my family. We cook together, then eat huge feasts together at which we talk about cooking. When the Journal of Mythic Arts published an issue on food (Autumn 2005), I wrote In Praise of the Cook, an article that combined my fascination with the role of the cook in fairy tales with a few brief memoirs from my family.
*The art is "The Kitchen" by Vincenzo Campi, 1580s.
Sleeping Beauty offers a brief history of this surprisingly robust folk tale (where it is learned our heroine does a great deal more than sleep and the hero is not exactly that chivalrous man we all remembered), and a summary of a panel on the story held at Madison's WisCon in 1999. The article was originally published in Realms of Fantasy's Folkroots Column and later reprinted on the Endicott Studio website.
* The art is "Sleeping Beauty" by Sir Edward Burne-Jones.