Monday, January 6, 2014

The Tale of a Fairy Tale – Derek Bishop's "Incendium"

Today I have a guest post from Derek Bishop as part of his Incendium blog tour.  Thanks so much for the great post, Derek!  There is a giveaway at the bottom so be sure to check this out readers! And now, I give you, Derek Bishop!

I love fairy tales. Who doesn't after all? But what's a fairy tale really? The traditional fairy tales were more akin to our modern day slasher movies. They taught a moralistic lesson to younger generations through terror. Of course, over the years, "fairy tale" has taken on another connotation.

Due to the filtering of more squeamish (or perhaps I should say "refined"?) eras of European society, we have an idealized concept of these stories―a sexless, bloodless, mix of medieval courtly love (fidelity version) and the 18th century sentimental novel. Also, I'm sure the Walt Disney Corporation had no small part in it. After all, they left out the bits in Cinderella where the step sisters cut their toes off to make their feet fit the glass slipper, and the stepmother is executed by dancing to death in iron shoes heated red hot.

This romanticized concept of "fairy tale" is rife with icons of handsome, daring knights swooping in astride mighty stallions to rescue damsels in distress; with witty, landed gentleman proposing marriage to shy ladies at Edwardian balls; with charming rom-com heroes bursting into weddings at the last minute to make some grand gesture that will win the heroine back, saving her from a loveless marriage. I enjoy both these different flavors of fairy tale―the ghastly and the romantic―and appreciate the cultural evolution that connects them.

My favorite, though, are the revisionist fairy tales. I love reading psychological analysis of the narratives we mythologize, of discussing why they resonate so fundamentally in our subconsciousness, of examining the social dynamics they both cater to and perpetuate. Revisionist fairy tales, such as those written by Angela Carter and Emma Donoghue (if you haven't read In the Company of Wolves and Kissing the Witch, you really should), rewrite over traditional stories with an awareness of the passed-down tropes they play upon, turning them on their heads, and commenting on the mechanisms by which they operate.

My novella, Incendium, which just came out from Storm Moon Press, started as a short story originally. I wrote it in response to a call for submissions for the Dracones anthology, also available from Storm Moon and containing a bunch of excellent, smoking-hot dragon love stories.

My initial story did not make it into the anthology because it did not have a traditional HEA, but more of a bittersweet ending. I happened to miss the HEA stipulation on the call's requirements. Fortunately for me, Storm Moon liked the tale enough to sign it as a stand-alone work, allowing me the freedom to expand it into a novella length format.

The thing that drew me to the project in the first place, was a sentence from the submission call. It was something along the lines of: "What if the knight in shining armor is less interested in the maiden in distress than in the dragon he's supposed to slay?" This immediately screamed revisionist fairytale at me, and I was hooked.

There is the standard Joseph-Campbell-esque interpretation of this type of tale―the symbolism of male conquest over female virginity. The hero quests after the innocent maiden of the age-old phallocentric fantasy. He delves into a darkened cavern, a fairy castle, a magical palace―all unfamiliar and malign symbols of the female space, the virgin's vagina. The monster presents itself as a barrier―the hymen. The hero drives his sword―his symbolic steel cock―into its heart and eliminates the barrier in an affirmation of his masculine virility. Then he takes the damsel away as his prize, his possession, having won her, having asserted his dominance over her.

This is the story that has outlined the patriarchal power dynamic of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman since antiquity. The man is the active participant; he takes action. The woman is passive; she awaits her fate―simply an object for the man to conquer and possess. In more recent times, this has taken on a slightly less phallocentric view, tempered by the idea of "true love" in which the man and woman are possessions of each other, that they give themselves through commitment.

Yet the device of "winning" one's lover still lingers.

In fact, much of our concept of romantic love today comes from the hero-rescuing-the-maiden motif. We have made romance into its own sort of fairy tale. Like many of the idealized situations we hold as our standard of success, it's an intoxicating one. We fantasize about it, hoping we will one day live it ourselves. We seek it desperately wherever we can, then feel despondent when we fail to find it. We convince ourselves that we need this fairy tale in order to be happy. We strain to fit our real-world lives into these ill-shaped and unrealistic molds to the detriment of our happiness and that of everyone who's a part of them. We pursue a dream that cannot be obtained, and even if it were obtainable, its lack of authenticity would sour our enjoyment.

I was intrigued by the notion of writing a revisionist fairy tale about the things we do, the lengths to which we go, the sacrifices we make in order to maintain the appearance of this perfect heterosexual romance, even when it is clearly not a relationship in which we would be happy. My imagination fired up at the idea of a hero who denied his romanticized role and threw aside the fairy tale for what he really wanted. Unfortunately, I could not end my story as simply or happily as that, for I knew the strongest way to show the kind of happiness my characters might have had was to tragically deny it of them.

The original fairy tales revealed the deep-seated desires of our minds. To some extent, the modern incarnations of the fairy tale do the same: we want to be loved, we want to be pleasured, we want companionship, and we're afraid of being alone. Like any other cultural relic, the fairy tale of romantic love has, in many ways, become a shell of its original form. We must question what about it appeals to us and why. We must remember that every fairy tale holds both a glamour to confuse us, as well as a truth to enlighten us. We can certainly enjoy the glamour, as long as we also look through it, and appreciate the truth.


Thanks for joining us on the Incendium blog tour! Be sure to take part in our giveaway! You have several options to be entered through our Rafflecopter, but you get the most entries by leaving a comment on this post! Today's question is...

What fairy tale is your favorite, and what appeals to you most about that tale?

Enter Derek Bishop's Incendium Rafflecopter Giveaway HERE

Derek Bishop grew up in a small Virginia town along the Blue Ridge Mountains. He was raised on Southern Baptism and Star Trek. The Star Trek was the one that stuck. His parents were both teachers and imparted a love of literature and wilderness exploration on him. He went to school at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where he learned the joys of studying feminist theory, dancing to techno music, and grocery shopping side by side with colonial costumed re-enactors. He left one class short of a Gender Studies major and several classes too far of an English major. His latest work, Incendium, is now available from Storm Moon Press.


Colleen_Katana said...

What a great post! I love the idea of the hero being more interested in the dragon than the maiden!

Shauna said...

Super article! I loved that deconstruction of the fairy tale myth, and I still remember being traumatized the first time I saw the real Cinderella.

Hm, my favorite fairy tale is probably The Little Mermaid---talk about bittersweet endings!

Colleen_Katana said...

Oh, haha, I didn't answer about my favorite fairy tale! (oops) I'd have to say it's Beauty and the Beast. Awkward girl who loves to read and sing and meets/falls in love with a man who's rough around the edges? can't beat that. =0)