A Consideration of Fairy Tales in Context of Memento Mori

A new article I wrote for the Thanksgiving 2017 Special Edition of Enchanted Conversation, looking at fairy tales in light of memento mori in the early modern era.

FairyTalesInContextOfMementoMori-GAINES-ArtByAmandaBergloff copy
Art by Amanda Bergloff
 Memento mori were objects common in Medieval Europe, through the Victorian era, designed to remind one of death, and perhaps, relieve anxiety or guilt over good fortune, since many were luxury items. Although we now talk about stories being sweetened with bloodless conflict and happily-ever-afters, in the early-modern era virtue might be added to otherwise frivolous entertainment by invoking Death.

Find my version of the Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type 709 here.

Be sure to check out Beloved, too!  It’s a lovely flash fiction piece by Amanda Bergloff, with a character named after me! Read Here
Beloved by Amanda Bergloff



The Girl in the Glass Coffin

Walter Crane, via Wikimedia Commons

Mississippi, April 1969

It’s hot, as one would expect. The summer heat comes on suddenly and with no regard for the calendar or the comforts of inhabitants here in the deep south. The weather has burned into the people here, along with the fine burnish of skin long used to labor under the sun, a kind of quiet strength and pride. Pride in the cooking, and the land, and the decaying yet still decadent architecture; pride in the knowledge of living things, that comes from making a life off of agriculture and sweat. Pride in that certain politesse that comes of being known as a “gentleman” or a “belle” of a certain variety. Pride in that lengthening of the vowels in every word, that immediately identifies one as being of a certain place; of belonging. Insistent pride in the good things – family and sweet tea and hot summers and hard work and church and football – because just below that run the scars and secrets and shames also handed down along with those recipes for pecan pie and injunctions to remember one’s manners, perhaps buried just about four feet deep.

On this hot, late spring day, just off the banks of the Yazoo River, a group of said gentlemen are digging a pit, expanding a septic tank in the garden of an old plantation house, that still oversees a working operation, growing cotton as it has for one hundred years or more. There’s a loud crack, or maybe more of a crunch, and one can imagine the man standing on the ground calling up to the man operating the rented backhoe, “Hold up! Hold up!”

The digging machine is turned off, and they, and perhaps one or two other men with them, take up shovels to uncover whatever made the sound. There’s a momentary dread between them of perhaps having hit a gas line, or causing some other damage to the comforts and habitability of the home with that crunch.

Imagine their surprise, imagine the delight and horror, the fascination that would not let them look away, overriding even the natural revulsion that makes one realize the terrible intimacy of death, and that one should take care of where the gaze lingers; imagine that sensation as one of them reaches down with a careful hand and brushes aside the crumbling, moist, reddish earth, to see the fresh face of a young woman under a pane of glass, now cracked.

The sound was the backhoe hitting her iron casket and breaking that delicate viewing pane. They see the embalming liquid, some kind of alcohol by its smell, running down the side of the iron case. They grab their shovels and uncover her the rest of the way.



She is young, with a childlike face. She has long red, or maybe black, hair. She is petite, small, and dainty; dressed in fine clothes the make her of another era, including a red brocade velvet dress. She is wearing white kid gloves and black leather boots. She is a fine lady, this sleeping girl encased in iron and glass. The name plate on the casket, probably a Fisk Metallic Burial Case, and standard for these models, is missing. The men don’t find it in the shallow grave. There is no marker in the garden to indicate her presence, and no one knows who she is, or how she came to be here. The families who have owned the property for the last hundred and more years are all accounted for. No one was ever buried in the garden. There should be no one there.

The newspapers call her the Lady in Red. After waiting half a year, in the weeks following the devastation of Camille and orders to desegregate the schools and amidst on-going anxieties about the war in Asia, with the living perhaps quite reasonably more concerned with carrying on with the tasks of living, she is laid to rest once more in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Lexington, under that name, and to this day given no other.


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Moon Rising


Hallwyl Museum / Helena Bonnevier, via Wikimedia Commons

The room she found herself in was dark and cool. Moon had been in her bedroom a moment before, preparing to receive her new husband. They had been married that day, an arrangement made between their fathers. Her robes were folded away into the chest and she had put on her new silk pajamas and slid beneath the blankets, closed her eyes to wait, and then opened them again to find herself here. As her eyes adjusted, she found she was on a sort of bed, a raised dais or platform with blankets piled on it. The floor and walls and ceiling were all carved of stone and unadorned. There was a lake all around the platform, and a narrow walkway that led to another chamber. There were candles, which cast a weak light, but allowed her to see. A shadow moved in the doorway and then filled it.

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