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Hamelintown by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines — Enchanted Conversation Magazine Fairy Tales, Folklore & Myths

My short story, Hamelintown, was in Enchanted Conversation recently!

 

He wore a patchwork cape and carried a flute. He would help us, but his price was high… “It is 100 years since our children left.” Hamelin town chronicles, 1384… 1,253 more words

via SATURDAY TALE – Hamelintown by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines — Enchanted Conversation Magazine Fairy Tales, Folklore & Myths

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Ever-Changing Fairy Tales – in Enchanted Conversation!

My latest article on Enchanted Conversation!

Do fairy tales always remain the same or do they change to suit each generation?

EverChangingFairyTales-GAINES-CoverABergloff

Some people have been very upset recently about the results of a survey that found that parents are changing fairy tales in order to make them more gentle tales for their children. Changing these classic tales, many an argument goes, is nothing but political correctness run rampant.

Yet fairy tales have always been retold, embellished, and otherwise changed to suit the mores and preferences of the current generation. Our current standards of child-rearing, begun with and passed down from the Victorians, is that children should be coddled and protected. What should we expect but that it should include the stories we tuck little ones into bed with? And why not? They’re small and it’s definitely better than the workhouses of yore! However, very few children, even among those parents and grandparents now bemoaning the loss of the “good old days,” ever actually heard the original versions of fairy tales while being put down to bed as tots to begin with.

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Someone Else’s Story

My latest short story appears in Enchanted Conversation this week!

SomeoneElsesStory-GAINES-CoverABergloff

Sometimes she woke and didn’t know where she was, stuck in that strange space between dreaming and the rest of her life. The man beside her, wrapped in the rumpled sheets, would seem a stranger, and she would try to piece together just how she had ended up here and who he was. She would either fall back asleep, or struggle to wakefulness, and the familiar would settle over her again.

Day to day passed with little change, but she found she was more or less content. Her home was modest, but clean and orderly. The garden plot was neat, and the animals well cared for. She had a good life. In the distance, on a clear day, she could sometimes see the parapets of the castle, the colored flags unfurled in the wind on their narrow stilts. Sometimes, unaccountably, the sight of them would leave her feeling melancholy, and she would sit inside at her spinning wheel, instead of outside enjoying the good weather.

Strange sensations, like memory, would sometimes come over her when she sat spinning. A room, empty, but for a wheel, and piles of flax. A door barred, walls bare, and only a narrow window, high up, so she could see nothing through it but a sliver of blue sky. The skin of her hands was dry from working the fibrous material. And she despaired of escape.

The man, her husband, knew about nature and humors and the elements that made the world. It was a point of pride for him, but she only felt disgust at the work. Confused, she called it piety. There were some things that it was not for man to know, that were not to be meddled with, she reasoned. It brought in coin, though. They were not wealthy, but they had enough. He reminded her of this, to know her place, that she was no grander than he, and that his work had saved her life.

Yes, that. She did not remember that. Or rather she did, but it was more like a story she had been told than something she truly recalled. Pricking her finger, the infection that followed, a delirious fever, the herbal remedies that cured her. It was all so long ago now. The skin opened up, there must have been blood, and she imagined the long, narrow spindle, stretching up like a stilt overhead as she collapsed to the floor, her dress rumpled beneath her. Yes, that must be what happened. Who had found her? Her father? No, he was long gone. Her mother? Her mother had sent her away… Something nagged at her. Her mother had sent her away. She felt anger at this, mingled with despair.

 

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Ghost Stories and their place in Fairy Tales

My latest article in Enchanted Conversation explores ghost stories as a part of the genre!

GhostStories-GAINES-ArtABergloff

I was in a car with my family in Thailand, and to pass the time, asked my sister in law if she knew any Thai fairy tales or folk tales. No, she said, there aren’t any Thai fairy tales. My brother in law chimed in, “Thailand could use some nice happy stories with fairies and happy endings.”

No folk tales? Of course I didn’t believe them.

“We have a lot of ghost stories,” my sister in law said, and I asked her to tell us one.

I spend so much time in these stories and thinking about the shape and content of traditional tales and the stories of the marvelous that we tend to refer to as a body of folklore, or fairy tales, that I forget and am surprised when people still think of them as Disneyfied children’s stories, where the girls are always beautiful and the princes are always charming. Of course, much has already been said to turn this notion on its head, and any cursory perusal of “original” fairy tales will quickly correct that perspective.

Ghosts have always played their role in fairy tales, from the unloved child who returns as a bird to claim justice for their murder, to Cinderella and Vasylissa’s mothers, who guide and protect their orphaned daughters, as godmother, tree, or doll. Dead mothers, a frequent fact of medieval life, are a common thread through fairy tales, and it isn’t a far stretch to imagine their influence in the magical assistance given to their children in other stories as well, even when it isn’t spelled out as such. The selkie, for example, is known to return, secretly and unseen, to take care of her children after she regains her skin and returns to the sea.

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Ever-Changing Fairy Tales

Cinderella

Some people have been very upset recently about the results of a survey that found that parents are changing fairy tales in order to make them more gentle tales for their children. Changing these classic tales, many an argument goes, is nothing but political correctness run rampant.

Yet fairy tales have always been retold, embellished, and otherwise changed to suit the mores and preferences of the current generation. Our current standards of child-rearing, begun with and passed down from the Victorians, is that children should be coddled and protected. What should we expect but that it should include the stories we tuck little ones into bed with? And why not? They’re small and it’s definitely better than the workhouses of yore! However, very few children, even among those parents and grandparents now bemoaning the loss of the “good old days,” ever actually heard the original versions of fairy tales while being put down to bed as tots to begin with.

Red Riding Hood ranked as the tale most often changed for younger ears. The Perrault version of Red Riding Hood, one of the oldest written versions, was in fact drafted as a warning against young women engaging in sexual activity in the age of Louis XIV’s notoriously libertinous court. Sure you don’t want to edit that a little bit before sharing it with a youngster?

Fairy tales were never initially intended as stories for children, let alone bedtime stories to fall asleep to. Fairy tales were not meant as moral injunctions to “scare kids straight,” as it were, but were often primarily stories women would tell each other to pass the time of spinning and weaving – this is why we talk about “spinning” a tale, “weaving” a good story, or telling a “yarn.” That’s why so many of these old stories feature young women in unlikely situations, and resolve with reinforcing culturally prescribed behaviors for wifehood and motherhood.

Perhaps parents are too cautious. Crime statistics show that we’re living in one of the safest times to grow up in the developed world, yet parents are literally charged with child endangerment for leaving their child to play unsupervised in the park or walk to and from home – things many of us wiled away many hours doing.

We also may very well underestimate what children, even young children, are able to handle. I re-watch movies I saw as a young child and thought nothing of at the time, and now am horrified by the degree of loss, violence, threat, and general darkness that permeates even old Disney standards. This gives me pause to reevaluate my perspective, because as a child, I wasn’t upset by it.

But changing stories to suit current need and preference is nothing new. The old versions of stories are not being done away with, and are still tucked in libraries, bookstores, or are just a query away on the internet for curious young readers to explore. Parents are doing their best in a time when they themselves face considerable real world uncertainty and insecurity. If that means giving Sleeping Beauty consent in that wake-up kiss rather than diving into #MeToo with their five-year-old, I say good job, parents, of claiming your place in the long parade of oral tradition!

But those parents themselves might benefit from digging into their own favorite remembered stories to gain inspiration, hope, and courage from the heroes that reside and triumph in the trying and uncertain circumstances there.

Writing

Hamelintown

pied piper by augustin von moersperg
By Creator:Augustin von Moersperg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“It is 100 years since our children left.” Hamelin town chronicles, 1384

“Where did the children go? Where did he take them?” my great-grandmother asked. She was in one of her fretful moods, and we would try to calm her, but she would work herself up into a state for the lost children. Why did no one go to find them? Where were they taken?

We were all familiar with her queries and the best that could be done was to try to keep her in bed and stroke her hand until she eventually cried herself to sleep. Sometimes she would get up and start for the door, or we’d find her in the kitchen, packing food into a sack already stuffed with a change of clothes, a thin and faded old nightgown, a sharp letter opener. “Gran,” we’d say, “where are you going?” She would start on about the children again, always the children. Why had no one gone to find them? Where had they been taken? An entire village of children did not simply disappear.

Gran’s young brother had been among the lost ones. There were two brothers and a sister who were lost as well, as I recalled, but this brother had been her favorite. She had cared for him as a baby, her mother never fully recovering from his, the last and most difficult of nine births. Or was it seven? It was hard to say, as so many records of that time had been lost, or destroyed. Records of the lives of the lost ones. Gran was young at the time, fourteen or fifteen, and she had a sister just a few years younger, and an older brother who also survived. Had there been another sister? Nobody knew anymore.

They came from a small milling town up in the mountains. The man had come. There was a famine, and the goats were dying. Or maybe it was a drought? They were hungry, she said, when the man came. The village stores were low, and illness was high. The rats were everywhere, in the grain, crawling over the sick, sometimes attacking the very ill before they expired.

“I woke in the night, I couldn’t breathe. There was a heavy weight on my chest, pressing the life out of me, and when I opened my eyes, there was the beast. A rat,” here she would spread her hands wide to the size of a house cat, “standing on my chest, pressing my breath out, staring into my eyes! With no fear! It tried to smother me, that animal. My sister knocked it off of me with a skillet.”

Straw mattresses were dragged outside and burned. Thatching was replaced on roofs. Holes were patched in walls and floorboards. Still the rats came. Still they remained.

“People were dying. People were dying,” she would murmur, almost consoling herself.

The man came to town. He was older than Gran at the time, though not as old as her father. He wore a patchwork cape, and carried a flute; all the accounts agree on these points. “We were desperate,” she’d say, her voice pleading. The man came. He would get rid of the rats. His price was high. More gold than the whole village had. There was the gold in the church, the candlesticks and chalice and plates and censers, the gold flake on the saints, but that was not to be considered.

Where did the man come from? Gran would wave her hand and give no other answer.

He set right to his work. The elders told him to get rid of the rats, and he set right to his work. Before long he was strolling down the street with a staff strung with rats, and whatever plague had summoned them seemed to pass; they stopped coming. He sat in the middle of the square, where he made camp each night, refusing the hospitality of any of the villagers, and would flay and spit and roast the rats, and tear the flesh from tiny bones with fingers and teeth. Then he would sit and play his flute into the night, beautiful lilting melodies.

Was he a stranger? Had he come from a far off land? Again, the dismissive wave. As though it hardly mattered.

There was something disturbing and almost sensual in the way he ate the vermin, savoring every bite, and licking his fingers when he was through. And, just as terrible, young Gran sometimes felt her stomach rumbling at the scent of the roasting meat. She never ate it! No, she never ate it!

When the rats were gone, eaten or chased off, it came time to render payment. The man, as he told them, was ready to continue on his way, and would have what was owed. The villagers gave him what they had, every scrap of gold, save a wedding band secreted here, or a chain passed down through the family, or perhaps just a few coins pocketed against future calamity. The rats were gone, and the village would give all they could, and that would have to be enough. But it was not the price demanded, nor what was agreed.

“He would give us a week,” Gran whispered, her voice trembling.

The man seemed to disappear then, though no one saw him leave town. Instead, he would be spotted, just in the corner of one’s eye, staring out of the shadows when daily chores were done, or following along on the lane, close enough to hear his steps, too far for any proper greeting.

When the week had passed, he went again to the elders. Again they offered him all the collected wealth of the village, though not the full price set for his services.

“His face went strange like a demon,” she said, “that’s what my father said. A face like a demon. And when he left, the church bell rang once, though there was no one to pull the cord.”

The next day, when the villagers had finished their church services, the children were gone. All of them had disappeared, all of those weaned and walking, and so had the man. There were no signs of struggle, no tiny footprints in the dirt, no dropped toy or scrap of cloth. The village was in the mountains, yet no one saw that lone man leading an army of children down to the valley. None of the children was ever seen again — one hundred and thirty children — nor was the man.

 

A version of this story was originally published at medium.com/@kiyomi.a.gaines on November 8, 2016

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Talia’s Queen

Talias Queen_Artemisia_Gentileschi,_Dame_assise_de_trois-quarts
Artemisia Gentileschi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
My lord, king and husband,

Though you have put me aside and confined me to these estates, know that I humbly accept your wisdom and obey your decrees in these, as in all matters. I pray only for your Majesty’s health and happiness, and hope that you may yet remember the happiness we shared together so recently. The love I bear you has never waned nor shall. In my clumsy seeking to know more of the young woman brought so recently to court, I wished only to please you, that I might love as you do and extend every warmth and welcome of the good charity that your Highness and your kingdom have always been known for, and in my meager ability, to extend that hospitality of your Grace’s court to all your favored guests.

I see that in your wisdom you have separated me now for this time, though in my smallness of mind I am unable to comprehend your noble thoughts. I mean neither to rebuke nor question your rights, and accept humbly your Grace’s command, but I beg you to educate me in where I have erred. I await your letter with eagerness and affection, and remain your most loyal and loving servant.

The Queen

 

Most noble lord, my beloved husband and king,

I have heard strange reports of the young woman who so recently has joined the court. I do not say that I believe them nor wish to repeat any slander, but only to faithfully report to you and seek your good counsel in the matter.

It has been told to me that in your most recent and successful campaign your company came upon an abandoned tower, and in that tower found an entire court of lords and ladies at table, all in the deepest sleep, covered in dust, and cobwebbed. It has been said, that upon climbing to the top of that tower, one among your number did chance to find a little room, locked, and on opening the door, found a most beautiful young woman, also asleep. This man – it was said, and I seek your instruction on what I must make of these matters – this man was taken by the woman’s beauty and immediately fell upon her in the raptures of his great affection. He was as a man bewitched. No, I forget myself, my dear husband, and know that you will forgive me my feminine weakness. There was no witchcraft nor any mention of it. No, it was told me, though, that the man seemed not himself, and in a daze, and as if he too might slip into that deep slumber if allowed to remain in that tower, and so his companions withdrew and brought him out again.

It was said these occurrences were a year and more ago, as I said, in your last campaign. I humbly beg your advice and guidance in this matter. I ask also that you would have my furs and heavy cloak sent, as the cold is beginning to set in here, though I am ready at your soonest pleasure to return to court, and to your side, where it remains my fondest wish to be. Until then, I remain your most obedient servant.

The Queen

 

My dearest lord and king,

I beg you to remember the friendship of our earlier days, and to recall the love you once bore me, that I continue unceasingly to have for you. You raised me from such lowly estate and laid upon me such great honors as to grant me titles and lands of my own – unsought and unrequested – and to call me lady and to name me queen, and most precious to me, give me the title of your most beloved wife. If ever you have loved the name of your forlorn and sorrowful wife, if ever any humble word or deed of mine has brought you any joy or bestowed any mirth to your noble personage, I beg you now to consider these ugly and vicious rumors in light of that friendship we so recently shared.

Any child of your Grace, even though it be not my own, is precious to me for that noble and beloved parentage. Yet I have not seen the young woman at all these long months of my seclusion, and certainly never have sought any harm or injury to her children. It pains me, I will not lie, to know that her children are also yours. Yet I love them for it, as I love you, and will welcome them at court with all the warmth and affection they are owed as your own when you will have me return, which it is my fondest wish to do.

I know that the tower happened upon by your company had a strangeness about it and I bare you no resentment nor reproach for any happenings on the occasion of battle. But what strangeness has there been here in our own country estates, where we have long walked side by side among our own beloved hills? What strangeness to compel any woman to order a child cooked as meat, as it is so cruelly rumored of me? In your recent absence, may I be judged if I write untruthfully, I never have set foot at court. And though I may have yet some few friends in your company, and though I pray they may remind you of our happier days, they do not write to me. Which I would never desire them to do if it might bring you the least displeasure, as surely their greater duty and friendship are owed to your Grace, whose love and generosity make all our joys complete.

I swear to you that I do not know what has become of the child. I pray for its safe and healthy return to you and to its mother. I pray you remember your faithful and loyal and loving wife, and allow me to return that I may defend myself against the slanderers who have sought to make me odious in your eyes. I pray you put aside the simple desires of the flesh and remember your true companion and friend.

I am ever your most loyal and obedient servant, and your most devoted and loving subject.

The Queen

 

Most noble king and husband, dearest to me of all mankind, my good lord,

You know these things said of me to be despicable lies. You must know the impossibility of such cruelty to be in the nature of one you once held in such affection. Further, you must know the impossibility of my travel from my place here to court and back again, and to undertake such journey unnoticed, and to steal away and murder your young children in secret, and further to conspire to have them served at your table. Your Grace will know the utter impossibility of such an undertaking, even were such not abhorrent to me, and sickening even to write of.

Yet still if I am indeed guilty of such heinous crimes as I have been accused of, let me be brought before the open court and have my guilt laid plain before all. Let the evidence against me be made clear, and my guilt be made known, or let my innocence be proven! Your Majesty will show yourself a just and evenhanded ruler, as I have always known you to be, and either you will see my innocence, and expose those who have slandered the name you have raised up, or my guilt will be established for all to see. I will accept any lawful ruling, only let me stand trial as any faithful and loyal subject might expect. If ever my name has brought you joy, or if you have gained a moment’s comfort from my company, I ask you to grant my humble request.

Only if your heart has been so turned and hardened against me in these long – few though they have been, to me they have been long – months, I pray only that you will not be held to full account for the grievous sin you commit in such cruel usage of your pitiable wife. I am told the young woman seeks my death at the stake. I will not curse the name of Talia even now, for your sake and for the sake of the love we have shared. Only let an archer be brought that my suffering may not be prolonged. On behalf of my household, I seek their wages, and release or good references, as they may prefer.

I await your word, and remain your most faithful, loyal, and obedient wife.

The Queen

 

Read Sun, Moon, and Talia

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Blog · book club · Reading

Happy Women’s Day!

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Photo: Daria Głodowska

March is Women’s History Month, and today is International Women’s Day. This month we will #readmorewomen!

Right now, I’m alternating between Julie Dao’s darkly sparkling fairy tale Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls, inspired by true stories of the horrors of Ravensbruck. Both are tales of strong women learning and navigating that strength, and finding their way in a world that seeks to overpower them.

If you’re looking for a shorter read, these are some of my favorite short stories that I’ve discovered in the last few months, all by women!
You can find more great reads at Enchanted Conversation!
Happy reading!
Kiyomi
I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.
Reading · Writing

Happy Tell a Fairy Tale Day!

Cinderella

Happy Tell a Fairy Tale Day? While the origins of this holiday are not very clear, any reason to reconnect with our favorite stories and share them with others, is good in my book!

Today is also my birthday! In honor of both, I’m asking you to share one of my stories with one other person.

Find a complete list of my published stories on the blog here. But if you’re not sure where to begin, I’ve got some suggestions for you!

Like the tale of The Pied Piper? Read Hamelintown.

Here’s Snow Fell, my version of Snow White.

In more of an Anderson than a Grimm mood?

Check out my tale inspired by The Steadfast Tin Soldier and Frankenstein, John Soldier; or if you’re more in a listening than reading mood, you can play the audio version here.

Or my take on The Emperor’s New Clothes, Re-covered.

For stories from the perspective of the princess try:

How He Found a Wife, which tells the story of Godfather Death,

Or Moon Rising, a new story of Aladdin.

For a thoroughly American tale, read my take on The Prince and the Pauper, The Complications of Rule.

The Tale of Anchin comes from Japanese fairy tales, and Like a Preyer was inspired by the Mr. Fox story.

Check here for other ways to celebrate!

And be sure to check out Enchanted Conversation for many more stories, interesting articles, and to watch for my forthcoming tale, Travelers’ Sickness, inspired by the Thai myth of the krasue.

Thanks for reading!

Kiyomi

 

I have a newsletter now! If you enjoy my stories, if you want to support my writing, please sign up. If you subscribe to my Tiny Letter, you’ll stay with me, wherever I end up writing in the future, and I’ll send you previews of what’s coming up here.