The Teens of Fairy Tales

Sometimes we forget that most protagonists of fairy tales are actually teenagers.

While they’re out-foxing witches, rescuing each other from suspect entrapments and certain death, or heading out on near-impossible quests, they must also be battling raging hormones, crippling self doubt, and huge never-before-felt emotions.

What if, at the end of the day, they pulled out their phone to catch up, debrief, and keep each other real. Monique Mulligan wondered this. Check out the video of her hilarious text conversation between Vasilisa and Snow White.

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And I wondered what their text speak acronyms would include (yes I’m old – I’m sure there’s a cool teen term for this) and came up with this short handy guide:

Is your teenager texting about fairy tales? 

OMG: Old Mother Gothel
WTF: Watch The Forest
ATM: At The Mirror
BRB: Braiding Rumpelstiltskin’s Beard
AFAIK: Ariel’s Found Another Island King 🙄
BTW: Bribe The Wolf
BYOB: Baba Yaga’s Out of Bacon!
ASAP: As Strong As a Princess
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With apologies to Arthur Rackham

 

Have you ever wondered what your favourite fairy tales characters got up to in their downtime? Let us know.

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The history of Vasilisa

By KATE FORSYTH

This week Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Young Women is finally launched into the world.

To celebrate I thought I would explore the history of the titular tale, which is one of the best-known and best-loved Russian fairy-tales. An old oral tale, it was transcribed by Alexander Nikolayevich Afanasyev between 1855-67 and first published in his collection, Russian Fairy Tales.

There are many different versions of the story, many of which are called ‘Vasilisa (or Vassilisa) the Beautiful’. I deliberately chose the title which did not focus on the heroine’s beauty but rather on her wit and wisdom.

In nearly all of the tales, a young woman is sent by her cruel step-mother to fetch fire from Baba-Yaga, a terrifying witch who lives in the midst of a dark forest and rides about in a giant iron mortar (a bowl for grinding food), which she steers with a pestle (the grinding tool).

Baba-Yaga lives in a house with chicken legs and is known to eat children. The hut has a life of its own. It walks about, spins in circles, and emits bloodcurdling screeches. A fence made of human bones surrounds the hut, topped with skulls whose blazing eye sockets light up the forest.

There are many stories about Baba-Yaga in Slavic myths. The very earliest ones refer to her as ‘Snake-Baba’. In pre-Christian mythology, snakes were not seen as evil. They were instead powerful emblems of rebirth and transformation, since they shed their old skins for new. Snakes was therefore seen as wise and powerful beings that had much to teach about the natural cycles of time and the seasons.

It is thought that the term ‘yaga’ is a corruption of the Russian words ‘uzkii’ which means ‘narrow’ or ‘snakelike’, and ‘uzh’ which means ‘grass-snake’, both developing from the Old Slavic word ‘ужь’.

The same old Slavic word led to the Latin words ‘anguis’ (snake), ‘anguinus’ (pertaining to a snake), and ‘angustus’ (meaning to squeeze or tighten like a snake), which interestingly enough also led eventually to the English word ‘anguish’.

The word ‘baba’ is linked to ‘babushka’, which means grandmother, but in its shorter form means simply any woman, young or old.

So in the earliest tales, Baba-Yaga is not a figure of evil, but rather a wild, dark, wise figure whose role is to help the heroine change and grow.

Once upon a time, older women were seen as ‘crones’, the keepers of wisdom and tradition for the family or clan. These wise women were thought to understood the mysteries of birth, life and death. Often they were healers and midwives, who brought babies into the world and cared for those who were dying.

Baba-Yaga contains within her these wise old women, as well as later ideas of witches as ugly and evil.

Her links to nature and the cycle of time are emphasised by her servants, the White Horseman, the Red Horseman and the Black Horseman, who she calls, ‘My Bright Dawn, my Red Sun and my Dark Midnight’ because they control daybreak, sunrise, and nightfall.

Vasilisa comes to her hut searching for fire, which symbolically means the light of wisdom. She has to endure a series of trials and tribulations, but is helped in her quest by the little wooden doll given to her by her dead mother. The doll symbolises the ancient maternal wisdom of the crone, but is also Vasilia’s own intuition, helping her find her way.

Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés interprets the story of Baba-Yaga in her seminal work on fairy-tales, Women who Run with the Wolves. She wrote:

To my mind, the old Russian tale “Vasalisa” is a woman’s initiation story with few essential bones astray. It is about the realization that most things are not as they seem. As women we call upon our intuition and instincts in order to sniff things out. We use all our senses to wring the truth from things, to extract nourishment from our own ideas, to see what there is to see to know what there is to know, to be the keepers of our own creative fires, and to have intimate knowing about the Life/Death/ Life cycles of all nature – that is an initiated woman.

Stories with Vasalisa as a central character are told in Russia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Poland and throughout all the Baltic countries. In some instances, the tale is commonly called “Wassilissa the Wise.” I find evidence of its archetypal roots dating back at least to the old horse-Goddess cults which predate classical Greek culture. This tale carries ages-old psychic mapping about induction into the underworld of the wild female.’

I certainly see the tale as one of female liberation. Vasilisa journeys from a position of childlike submission to one of strength, wisdom and independence. The little wooden doll advises and supports her, but Vasilisa herself must choose what actions to take.

Step by slow step, she turns from a girl into a woman. She sheds her old skin and is reborn.

Castlemaine Launch

Last Thursday, Castlemaine Library hosted the first launch of Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women. About seventy people came along and shared the celebration, one that’s been several years in the making.

The wonderful Carmel Bird gave the launch speech and began:

Once in a kingdom far far away there lived a kind and wonderful witch. In her generous witchy heart she nurtured a deep desire – she longed for a great book of stories, a book that recognised and celebrated the courage and cleverness and power of young women. The wonderful witch mixed a potion, stirred it in her cauldron, and watched the blue and green mist as it rose mysteriously from the pot. It was perfumed with lavender and honeysuckle, eucalypt and wattle, and it wove in and out of the treetops until it began to form into words that hung like spider webs on the branches. And the message was:

By Light and By Dark; By Night and By Day:

Summon Lorena Carrington; Summon Kate Forsyth; Search the wilds of Western Australia for Serenity Press.

And so she did. And lo – you now have before you the self-same book that the good witch desired.

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Many of you will know Carmel’s work. She’s a true literary genius, so I was rather pleased to keep my (relative) cool on stage next to her. She was incredibly gracious and clever and wise, and spoke deeply about the book and its place in the world.

This book comes at a time when women across the world are suddenly speaking out very loudly about the violence and oppression that have been accepted as a normal expectation in western society. Fairy tales, for all their pleasures, are a subtle and powerful way of speaking out. The term ‘sisterhood’ became current, I think, in the seventies, and what is being heard now is the voice of the sisterhood united and enabled by current technology. This book adds its voice in a dramatic and sometimes subversive way.

I spoke afterwards about the power of social media. How one well-timed tweet affected the course of several professional lives, and triggered the creation of a book (and more to come)! I also garbled a lot of thank yous and tried not to go wobbly in front of a theatre of friends and strangers. I also pulled a lot of weird faces.

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We had originally planned to hold the launch in the foyer connected to the library, but had to move the formal proceedings to the attached theatre due to large numbers (yay!). Here is some of the crowd milling about in the foyer afterwards.

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I’m so grateful to our local bookstore Stoneman’s Bookroom, and especially the dedicated people who work there. Here’s the incredible Katherine – oh and look, a pile of books!

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Castlemaine Library went above and beyond in their hosting of the launch, and I can’t thank them enough – just look at these lanterns they made!

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While it felt more than a little strange to have this first launch without Kate and Serenity Press (the pitfalls of geography and time…) they were certainly here in spirit, and there will be more launches to come! It was also a fantastic reminder of the wonderful community here in Castlemaine; filled with fellow creatives and supporters of the arts.

You can order Vasilisa the Wise from the Serenity Press website. Or win a free copy over at Goodreads! The giveaway is open until Jan 10th.

Or support your local bookseller: if they don’t have any in stock, ask them! They will be happy to order it for you, and it helps us too.

Thank you so much to all who came last Thursday. It was an incredible turn-out for a week day evening in a country town. And for those who live elsewhere, do keep an ear to the ground for launches in select capital cities early next year. We can’t wait to see you all!

Listen carefully, Vasilisa

As publication date nears, Serenity Press has recorded a short excerpt of Vasilisa the Wise & Other Tales of Brave Young Girls. Have a listen – turn the sound up.

The video was voiced by Monique Mulligan, with music called “Low Horizon” by Kai Engel providing a marvellous soundtrack.

The next step is to create a Spotify playlist! What would you include on it? Add your selections in the comments and we’ll check them out.

 

Don’t forget, you can order your copy of Vasilisa here. It’s shipped worldwide!

Trailer: Vasilisa the Wise

“Morning is wiser than the evening.” Vasilisa, Russian fairy tale

Our proofs are at the printer and should soon be on the ship, ready for despatch to Australia – we are so thrilled. We’re also thrilled to announce that Kate and Lorena will be working together on a follow-up book, Mollie Whuppie & Other Tales of Brave Young Women, due early 2019.

Here’s a short book trailer highlighting some of the brilliant images you’ll see when Vasilisa the Wise & Tales of Other Brave Women is released – thanks to Lorena for her hard work in making it.

If you  haven’t already pre-ordered your copy, you can do this here.

Seven Podcasts for Fairy Tale Lovers

If you’re anything like me, you use podcasts to get you through the day – out walking, in the car, cooking dinner: all the stuff where sometimes it’s great just to have some else’s voice in your head for a while! I also spend a lot of time at the computer working with images and, strangely enough, listening to other people talking can help the work flow. I do try to keep the subject vaguely related, so over the years I’ve been collecting fairy tale and folklore related podcasts. Here are some of my favourites.

Singing Bones

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Clare Testoni knows her fairy tales. Every episode is meticulously researched, and she brings an enormous amount of knowledge to each one. She tells a version of the tale,  and discusses its variants, where it sits in a historical and cultural context, and its hidden and not so hidden meanings.  Try her episode on Rapunzel, which happens to feature Kate Forsyth talking about her book The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden on the Tower.

Follow the podcast on Twitter at @singingbonespc and Instagram at @singingbonespodcast.


Deviant Women

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I love Deviant Women. Yes, and this podcast too. *boom tish* To quote them: “Each fortnight, hosts Lauren and Alicia delve into a ‘deviant’ woman from history, fiction, mythology and the contemporary world: those who aren’t afraid to break the rules, to subvert the system, to explore, to seek and to challenge the status quo.

Not strictly a podcast on fairy tales, but they come armed with a lot of fairy tale knowledge (and least one PhD on the subject) and they often focus on a woman from fairy tales. Check out their latest episode on Juleideh, a variant of what you might know better as All Kinds of Fur.

Follow them on Twitter at @DeviantWomen


Feminist Folklore

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I only recently found Feminist Folklore, and I’m so glad I did. Great conversations around folklore from a feminist perspective, with a relaxed presentation and great mix of intelligence and humour. Check out their recent episode on The Juniper Tree.

Follow them on Twitter at @femlorepod and Instagram at @feministfolklorepodcast.


Myths & Legends

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Jason Weiser retells Myths and Legends with varying degrees of modern language. In his episode on the Kelpies, the Scottish Cheiftan’s sons are ‘bros on their party boat’ before they fall foul of the Kelpie horse. The podcast has been around for a couple of years, and it shows in the slick production value and smooth presentation.

Follow Myths and Legends at @MythPodcast.


What The Folklore

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What the Folklore is a funny and slightly irreverent look at folklore and fairy tales, but it’s well balanced by the fact that they know what they’re talking about. There are a couple hundred episodes, and the three presentors have a great rapport. Check out their episode, A Certain Grimminess for their take on the Grimm tale The Seven Ravens.

Find the on Twitter at @WTFolklore


The Folklore Podcast

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The Folklore Podcast is excellent. It definitely has more of a leaning towards folklore over fairy tales, but there is plenty of crossover. Mark Norman is a knowledgeable host, and his guests are interesting and well informed. Check out the episode on Fairy Lore and the Witch Trials.

Follow the podcast on Twitter at @folklorepod.


 

Wallflowers Stories

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Sadly, Amelia and Josh aren’t producing Wallflowers Stories anymore, but it’s well worth going back and listening through their backlist. Fairy tales retold, with a mix of entertaining interjections and intelligent analysis. Try out their episode on Sun, Moon and Talia. I miss them.


 

Okay, so I can’t stop at seven. Here are few more I’ve just discovered and/or haven’t had the chance to listen to much yet, but look interesting.

Malicious Mamas is brand new to me, and I’ve loved the first episode I listened to (Baba Yaga). I can’t wait to delve deeper.

I’m really looking forward to listening to Six Stories, Told at Night, a six part Canadian audio drama about Faeries, writing and the Otherworld. it looks fascinating.

Another fictionalised podcast I’m looking forward to is The Infinite Fairy Tale, a “Dark, surreal and ridiculous comedy inspired by fairy tales and recorded in the moment.”

The Mythology Podcast explores myth, folklore, and legend from throughout history and from all over the world.

When Wishing Still Helped looks at “the surprising and upsetting gruesomeness found in the original versions of well known tales as well as uncovering forgotten oddities.

The Celtic Myth Podshow retells and explores, you guessed it, Celtic Myths in history, culture, landscape and literature. They also play Celtic music, recite poetry and share news. I only just discovered them, but consider me subscribed.

And there are SO MANY podcasts that focus on straight readings of fairy tales. Search them out if you’re in the mood for a bedtime story. I’ll dedicate some listening time to finding some good ones and share them in a future blog post.


 

And now’s your chance to tell me what I missed! What are your favourite fairy tale and folklore podcasts? What gets you through your commute?

Proof of a dream

The creation of a book is often likened to the birth of a baby – it’s a simile that works well, because really, that’s exactly what it is. When authors call their books their “book baby”, they are likening their creation to something they have nurtured from conception to birth, and has a deep connection to their heart.

That moment of conception – the idea – is a gift that, if accepted, is carried through various stages of growth – drafting and redrafting, and shaped into a manuscript of sorts. And then labour begins – the editing and reshaping, culling and rewriting – and the manuscript goes out into the world, searching for its place. During that search, there is more shaping and refining until the book makes its debut.

It’s an emotive process for the writer, the parent, who wants the best for their child, their book.

As a writer myself, I understand this. Birthing a book can be a tumultuous, nerve-wracking, thrilling experience. As a small publisher, the process is no less thrilling, but perhaps the publisher is more the grandparent than the parent.

Last week, Serenity Press had the pleasure of seeing the proofs of Vasilisa the Wise and Other Tales of Brave Young Women. I’ve worked with Kate and Lorena since the beginning, since Kate first asked if someone would be interested in publishing her collection. To see this book, the one I said “Yes” to, knowing deep inside there was a reason for this, brought tears to my eyes.

It’s beautiful. And I am beyond thrilled for Kate and Lorena who deserve their hard work and dreams to come to life like this.

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A few days later Kate and Lorena’s emailed their responses:

  • Lorena: “It’s all my bookish dreams come true.”
  • Kate: ” What a glorious book we have created” and “It is so beautiful it
    makes my heart ache”

So, now we’ve all proofed the copy and it’s been sent back for final changes … and soon … BIRTH!

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Serenity Press, Kate and Lorena cannot wait to share this book with you. And the best thing is … there are more fairy tale books like this to come, with authors like Jane Talbot (The Faerie Thorn) and Sharon Blackie (If Women Rose Rooted) now on our lists.

If you  haven’t already pre-ordered, you can do this here.