Please welcome Carina Bissett to The Qwillery. Carina's story "A Seed Planted" is found in Hath No Fury, an anthology published on August 23, 2018 by Outland Entertainment.
by Carina Bissett
Although there has been a renaissance of fairy tale retellings over the last decade, it isn’t the first time these stories have undergone a surge of popularity. In fact, my first experience with retellings occurred when I discovered a copy of the fairy tale anthology Snow White, Blood Red in my favorite used bookstore. Within those pages, I was introduced to the work of such notable writers as Tanith Lee, Charles de Lint, Gregory Frost, Jane Yolen, and Neil Gaiman. Edited by luminaries Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow, this series spanned six collections of tales that went back to their roots as stories told by adults for adults. I was hooked.
As I child, I devoured books, but the one I kept returning to was a double-sided volume in The Companion Library series (1963), which featured Andersen’s Fairy Tales on one side and the Grimm Fairy Tales. As an adult, I turned to Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (1979), which influenced a generation of feminist poets and feminist fantasy writers including my new heroine Terri Windling. I continued backwards moving through the familiar tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen to those told by Charles Perrault and Oscar Wilde. And then, I discovered the 17th century Parisian literary salons, where literary fairy tales were created from the fragments of oral tradition combined with literary influences such as medieval romance and classic myth.
The term “fairy tale” actually comes from the English translation of the phrase conte de fée, which was coined in the French salons to describe the rise in popularity of these magical tales written with adult readers in mind. To my immense delight, I stumbled upon a whole host of gifted female writers who worked to encourage women’s independence from the gender barriers of the time. This included such writers as Madame d’Aulnoy (The White Cat), Henriette-Julie de Castelnau (Bearskin), Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier (The Discreet Princess), Catherine Bernard (Riquet of the Tuft), Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force (Persinette), and Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (Beauty and the Beast).
In the past, I had attempted to tackle fairy tales in my voice, but they never quite worked. Just when I was ready to toss the notion of rewriting fairy tales for good, a few things happened in quick succession that lead to a dramatic shift in my approach: the publication of by Michael Cunningham’s literary fairy tales in his collection A Wild Swan and Other Tales (2015); the release The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales (2015), which were originally collected by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth in the 1850s, and the publication of an obscure academic paper “Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales” published in Royal Society Open Science (2016).
In his collection of literary fairy tale retellings, Michael Cunningham created a cast of characters that we know intimately—are fragments of ourselves and others, fragments many of us prefer not to face. Of all the stories in the collection, “Jacked”—a contemporary take on “Jack and the Beanstalk”—was the one that captured my interest the most as a deft and detailed commentary on the single parent, only child plight so prevalent among middle-class Americans. Cunningham stays faithful to the original plot in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” but then modernizes it with a series of witticisms of a sarcastic nature: “The mist-girl tells Jack that everything the giant owns belongs rightfully to him. Jack, however, being Jack, had assumed already that everything the giant owns—everything everybody owns—rightfully belongs to him” (26). Personally, I’ve never been particularly fond of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” And, after reading the story, I was left with the feeling that Cunningham wasn’t in love with the original fairy tale either, which is why he pushes the unlikeable character to even further extremes.
When the Royal Society Open Science released the 2016 academic paper “Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales,” a few things clicked into place for me. Researchers Sara Graça da Silva, a social scientist/folklorist with New University of Lisbon, and Jamshid Tehrani, an anthropologist with Durham University, conducted a phylogenetic analysis on common fairy tales, which suggests that many of these stories have origins reaching back thousands of years. For instance, “Jack and the Beanstalk” can be traced back nearly 5,000 years ago when Western and Eastern Indo-European languages split. However, it wasn’t until the 1730s that the first literary version of “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean” appeared on the scene. It made a brief reappearance in the early 1800s, but didn’t really garner much attention until Joseph Jacobs included a version of the tale in his collection English Fairy Tales (1890).
Seeing as I’ve never liked “Jack and the Beanstalk,” I decided to rewrite it to suit my own taste. My fascination with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and the connection of Hawthorne’s character Beatrice to the poison girls in Hindu mythology provided a platform for my science fantasy retelling “A Seed Planted.” I decided to focus on the familial relationships in this piece about a dutiful, yet jealous daughter and the scientist who created her and her sisters as weapons. In the original draft, the science fiction elements were muted. However, under the guidance of my mentor Elizabeth Hand, it took a decidedly different turn as I worked to balance the early draft’s fairy tale components with scientific elements. I added a futuristic ecological angle and a dash of Arthurian legend, turning “Jack and the Beanstalk” upside down while retaining connections to the original story cycle.
I’ve since sketched the stories of the other sisters introduced in “A Seed Planted,” which has led me down a path of self-discovery, a place where old tales provide only the barest of foundations to build upon. I think I tend to shy away from opportunities that will only come to fruition if I am willing to write from the hard places. I think it’s a fine line to walk, but I also think that this is why fairy tale retellings continue to evolve as a popular framework with which to view the world we live in. It isn’t just the more obscure tales that need to be told; it’s the true tales. It’s up to the writers to find new ways to reflect the deepest, darkest parts of themselves through the comforts of the familiar.
Hath No Fury
Outland Entertainment, August 23, 2018
Trade Paperback and eBook, 550 pages
This anthology features 21 stories and six essays about women who defy genre stereotypes. Here, it’s not the hero who acts while the heroine waits to be rescued; Hath No Fury’s women are champions, not damsels in distress. Whether they are strong, bold warriors, the silent but powerful type, or the timid who muster their courage to face down terrible evil, the women of Hath No Fury will make indelible marks upon readers and leave them breathless for more.
Carina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of speculative fiction and interstitial art. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast (University of Southern Maine) and has studied with such popular writers and poets as Elizabeth Hand, Nancy Holder, David Anthony Durham, Theodora Goss, Ted Deppe, Cara Hoffman, and Cate Marvin. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in multiple journals including the Journal of Mythic Arts, Mythic Delirium, NonBinary Review, Timeless Tales, Enchanted Conversations, and The Horror ‘Zine. Her work can also be found in numerous anthologies including Hath No Fury, an anthology where women take the lead. She fosters her passion of fairy tale and folklore through creative non-fiction including her research work at the Mythic Imagination Institute and contributions to the three-volume set American Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales: An Encyclopedia of American Folklore.