Once Upon a Time the review (aka two friends having a good old chinwag)

[Written or rather chatted about by Sharon Ring and Mark S. Deniz]


Once upon a time there was a publisher and literary agent and they sat down to ponder a recent urban fantasy series…

Some of the main characters of the show

Mark: I’d say it’s all your fault, but seeing as I am very positive about the series now, I probably need to thank you for pushing me to watch more episodes when I was watching one every now and again and was 18 episodes behind the rest of you. What was it about the show that grabbed you right off?

Sharon: It didn’t grab me right off at all. That first episode was full of schmaltz. Well-written but full of so many cliches I was tempted to give up on it. Those in the know who were already watching it persuaded me to persevere, so I did.

M: Ah, so you pretty much started the way I did then but had a head start on me? Cool! So what kept you interested?

S: It’s a combination of factors. The dialogue is wonderful, the inter-weaving of plot and sub-plot is superb, the casting is excellent (one character in particular is genius casting for the show). More on that character in a bit!

M: I think I might know who it is…;-) I only just realised that we haven’t had a proper chat about the show, so this little online chat is our first ‘real’ chat – ooh the spontaneity of it all! Well not surprisingly it seems that we agree on what makes the show great (even with its schmaltzy bits), and I actually know who a few of your favourite characters are (not that our readers do though…). I was immediately impressed with protagonist, Emma Swan, sassy, sexy, pivotal role in the whole thang. I had a couple of characters that really grabbed me later on too, was that fact that it was deliciously character-driven the biggest thing for you or would you say the plots and sub-plots did it?

S: A bit of both. There are one or two weaker characters but I think that’s more to do with my own personal preferences of stories from my childhood. Without giving away too many spoilers there is a revelation later on in the series that was a huge disappointment for me. However, the upside to that disappointment was how the writers of the show played with those expectations. The internet was buzzing for weeks over this one hook.

M: Blimey, I missed all that kerfuffle entirely. I am going to write a spoiler alert at the beginning of this post so that when it goes live those who read this without having seen the show do so at their peril. So spill the beans, Sharon, what did I miss?

S: It was the true identity of August W Booth. Man, that bugged me. I wanted him to be Mr Gold/Rumpelstiltskin’s son, Baelfire, and what did we get? Bloody Pinocchio, that’s who! Yes, it fitted the storyline as we got closer to the truth and it allowed for some wonderful soul-searching on the part of Mr Gold, but ultimately I was disappointed by the revelation. It does, of course, leave room for an appearance from Baelfire in the next series, about whom I have a potential theory.

M: Ah, yes. I actually loved the scene where August announces he is Baelfire, as both he and Robert Carlyle were excellent in the scene. It was quite heart-wrenching stuff. It felt like Pinocchio was a character that didn’t really need to be in the show, as it felt like it was always going to be wedged in (see what I did there)…

S: I felt that was as well for a while. Once he reached the point of a reunion with Gepetto, his real father, that kind of made up for things. As it’s a huge theme for the show those reunions are really something. Still, back to Rumpelstiltskin for a minute. He’s the one I mentioned as a favourite character. I could rattle on about him all evening.

Sharon’s bloke

M: We might well get some of your rattling…I immediately loved his Rumpelstilstkin entrance, with his whiny/weasly giggles…that sort of tipped him into the favourites pile.

S:  It’s one of the most genius castings I’ve seen in a long while. I had no idea he was going to be in it. Just saw him pop up on screen and I was in love from the get-go. The dual characters work perfectly, perhaps better than any of the others. And his long arc behaviour has been exceedingly well thought out by the writers. I expect he has a whale of a time getting to play this odious, mercurial monster. Although, as the show progresses it becomes apparent that his monstrosity is not what it first appears to be.

M:Yes, agreed, if I’m not mistaken, he’s one of four people that are aware of the curse from the beginning: Henry, The Wicked Queen and August being the others. That’s one thing that if it’s been mentioned then I’ve forgotten it or missed it, which is the explanation about why three others (actually four, I’ve just remembered my favourite minor character, the Mad Hatter) know about something that was only known to the Queen (as per her spell). And why is Henry her adopted son – for plot purposes?

S: The way I see it Henry is her adopted son for a very important reason. Bear with me on this. Rumpelstiltskin was the one who put the idea in the Wicked Queen’s head to cast the spell to take them all out of Story Book Land and into Storybrooke. So far so good. What’s his reasoning behind all this? It’s because he wants to find his son, Baelfire. To do that he needs to cross to our world so he gets her to cast the spell, drags them all over, then waits for Emma to grow up (because time is irrelevant in Storybrooke, he can wait). He then treks off to get Henry in order to eventually entice Emma to town to break the spell. Once the spell is broken he can then bring magic into the world with a spell of his own making, which will then allow him to find Baelfire. Whaddya think?

M: I think I’m with you there m’dear, makes a whole lotta sense that one! I still want an answer for the others knowing about the curse, oh wait Pinocchio went through with Emma. What about the Hatter though, is it because he’s a loon?

S: Actually, I’m not sure on that one. I should probably go through the season again as I know the answer’s in there somewhere. Maybe something he did or said to the Wicked Queen at some point that made her want to punish him by forcing him to stay away from his daughter? That does seem to be a bit of a thing with her – separating people from their loved ones, which, from a psychological point of view is all down to her own heartbreak when she was younger, forcing her to become the person she is.

M: *nods* There is something about her leaving him trapped in Wonderland when she takes her father back through the hat which could link to it – oh there’s a lot I want to know about the Hatter in season two! So, should we argue about one of your faves now and easily one of my least favourites, Snow White?

Not by Mark she isn’t!

S: I love her and won’t hear a bad word said about the woman! Bring your argument forth then but don’t expect any more than short shrift from me on this subject! 😉

M:Erm, was it Snow White I meant? Well there’ll be one thing you can’t stand fast on and that’s the fight scene when she and the seven dwarfs rescue Prince (the most irritating character in the show) Charming from his Dad/Not Dad Jim Robinson – how bad was that done?

S: It wasn’t the best scene in the series but I see no reason to put Snow down for that one scene. Anything else? And you’re right about Charming. What a bland, insipid specimen he is.

M: I just thought casting was a bit off, I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that but wasn’t Snow supposed to be the fairest in the land, not the rough, tough fighting gal that would lose out to Red, the Witch, the dizzy fairy, etc, etc. any day of the week? “Mirror Mirror on the wall, you’ve got bad taste methinks”

S: That’s a little mean, isn’t it? Speaking on a personal level here, I find her very pretty. But I think some of the casting with this character is that they wanted a traditional look – the dark hair and porcelain skin – they certainly got that right. That said, she is certainly not as striking as many of the other female characters. Same goes for Charming and I wonder if this is a deliberate ploy on the part of the show. Standard generic casting so they don’t take over the whole show?

M: A very good point and I’m inclined to agree. They weren’t brave enough to make that decision with Emma, as she is incredibly striking, although has many flaws which make her very human. Her inability to deal with responsibility being a massive part of her arc. That leads me to one element that was very well done throughout and that was Emma’s reluctance to accept what was happening because we were being given the story in somewhat of a third person viewpoint and were aware of the curse immediately. That Emma wasn’t forced us to keep reminding herself that there was no way she should believe what was going on just because a child and a stranger told her similar things. Even when the Hatter ranted on about things you could see there was no way she was falling for it. One of my pivotal moments was when August showed her his wooden leg and it was normal for her. This concept that there is much more out there if we were open to it and not so blinded by logical was summed up at once.

S: Emma is striking? Well, there’s no accounting for taste. As you say it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Anyway, it’s interesting that you raise the subject of what’s logical and what’s not because one of the things I love about the show is the comparison between who they are in Story Book Land and who they become in our world. Traits and trades remain – such as Jiminy Cricket becoming local psychiatrist Archie Hopper or Rumplestiltskin becoming Mr Gold the local, hmm, what exactly is he? Antique shop owner, landowner, occasional lawyer. Jack of all trades that one. I digress. The comparison of the dual characters gets me and I think it might be a vital clue to Baelfire’s eventual appearance.

A very striking Emma (I’m sure you agree)!

M: Indeed! One thing I want to mention before I forget, (giving me a chance to pretend I didn’t read your comments about comely Emma) is the issue at the end of the season. Basically I’ve been reading on forums (I know, I know, me reading) that people are suspecting that the storm that came in means that we are wound back to the setting at the beginning with no one rememberiing who they are. If that was the case I would turn off the TV after about three minutes. Surely the ending was that everyone now knows who there were but are trapped in our world, some of them now having power again. What’s your thoughts?

S: Not sure yet. I’d be disappointed if that were the case but I think it might be something different. It’s something of Rumpelstiltskin’s, I’m sure of that. It’s a reversal of the curse, but I believe he may have added a clause to the reversal. A straightforward reversal would mean everyone’s memory restored and a return to their own land. I don’t think that’s going to happen because I don’t think that’s what Rumpelstiltskin wants. Remember I said I think this is all about him getting back his son? Why would he yank them out of our world and whisk them back to their own? I think they’ll stay where they are and I think some characters will continue to remember what has happened. Perhaps characters who are in a position to help him find his son. I do think that we will see many more characters coming in from the outside world, Baelfire being one of them.

M: That would be cool, as characters who know who they are in our world would open up all kinds of plot-goodness! And I agree with this thing about the characters coming in from the outside as they know who they are now and that makes a difference to their lives/motivations. Maybe the Hatter made a deal with Gold, because this would also benefit him, yes?

S: Perhaps, although don’t rule out the possibility of him having made a deal with the Queen of Hearts. Remember he was locked in her world, had his removed and replaced, then set to work to make another magic hat. She was quite an intriguing character. We didn’t hear her actual voice or see her, which was a bit of a thing with everyone in her Court. Lots of covered faces, did you notice? I think she may well be around more in the next season and there’s a fair chance we might discover she’s behind Jefferson/Mad Hatter being one of those aware of the spell.

M: I may well have got that one way off then, as I thought she was the one who the Wicked Queen had a fight with who then became the Sleeping Beauty Queen/Dragon…oh, I’m all confused now…I do remember the covered faces though, which was a tad creepy.

Oh and that apple, genius way of getting Snow to take a bite. Not sure how Gold had planned to deal with the whole thing about Emma eating the pie (if she had) either…

S: Okay, well the Sleeping Beauty Queen was Maleficent so she couldn’t have been the Queen of Hearts. Did you spot who was playing Maleficent? Pam from True Blood. I love that woman, she’s bloody great. Yes, the covered faces were very creepy and I’d like to know more about that. There’s a second series sub-plot right there. Hmm, how would Gold have dealt with Emma eating the apple pie? That’s a tricky one. It’s easy to think, because he’s been manipulating events from before the curse was cast, that he’s capable of stopping and causing all that happens but I guess that’s not the case, unless he has more up his sleeve than we’re aware of at this point. Wouldn’t surprise me at all.

M: I noticed our Pam (I can call her that, yes?) and the lovely Amy Acker too (who I have such a thing for, and incidentally is in Grimm as well). Of the main characters in the show there are three I think we need to look at here (we can ignore Prince Charming) and they are: the Wicked Queen, Henry and Red (oh, OK Red is not a main character but she is lovely!).

S: Where do we start? How do we solve a problem like Regina? She is fantastic. One of the things I’m most impressed with in her character development is allowing her to have a reason for her behaviour. It certainly doesn’t justify it but it serves to help the viewer understand that she was once a lovely young woman in love. It’s well-played. The show’s writers could have gone for a cardboard cut-out evil queen but they’ve chosen to humanise her. I think, though this is a massive speculative leap on my part, that we may just begin to see more of this side of her in the next season.

We love Regina here!

M: Yes, she starts off very cardboard but gets all those human traits as the season goes on. She’s a complex character who has had to adapt to a world in which she doesn’t belong but one which she forced herself (and all the characters) to. She’s also rather striking too…

And Red is just an interesting character through and through, there we have this little throwback to Twin Peaks and all of a sudden she comes into her own in one episode. I loved the whole thing with the cloak too, the fact that the cloak was her protection from the wolf inside her.

Henry is a little love, thankfully not one of these hugely irritating child actors that we are overwhelmed with in other programs (Terra Nova anyone?). I like the way he maintains his faith in his mum and is so determined to see ‘justice’ done that he’ll break any rule to do it.

S: You’re going to have to explain your Twin Peaks comment at some point. The cloak device was very clever and I wonder how soon it will be in the next season before we see its reappearance. If their powers are returned but in our world, that could make for an interesting moment or two. Henry’s initial determination to find his mum and then to make her believe what he knows to be real is a wonderful side of the show. It taps into something many children feel at some point in their lives – a feeling that mum or dad is not really their parent, that somewhere out there is the real parent who will truly love them, not like the wicked ‘other’ with whom they are forced to live.

M: Good point – I realise we have chatted a good long while now, you think any of our readers are still reading? Any conclusions on the show/last thoughts?

S: Yes, one. The thing that keeps drawing me back time and again, beyond the things I’ve already mentioned, is the delight the show takes in booting the viewer’s cynicism out the window. It is unashamedly fun and funny, and it also demonstrates that no matter how evil or bad to the bone a person may appear, there’s always a story beneath the surface and we should perhaps remember that next time we decide to judge another person.

M: A cracking point to end on, thank you ever so much for joining me on this and I can honestly say I can’t wait for our next banter!

Red Riding Hood Review by Carole Lanham

Red Riding Hood

by Carole Lanham

Red Riding Hood

Crimson-tinged and misty in all the right places, this 2011 version of Red Riding Hood is breathtaking as a hand-painted picture book and contains the most dramatic red cape a girl could ever hope to have.   At various dreamy moments, it trails in a twenty-foot train across a blanket of snow, pools to form a ruby bed for kissing lovers, and spills over golden hair.  Not since someone waved a wand and said Bippity Boopity Boo has there been a more alluring bit of wardrobe magic.  I’d have twirled in it more but otherwise, it’s perfection.

This film was largely panned when it first swept onto the big screen last year but (call me superficial) I found any shortcomings in the plot to be more than made up for by its gorgeous look.  And I liked the plot.  It’s a fairy tale and it’s simple and any comparisons to Twilight are as expected as they are tired.  Fortunately, it’s still legal to create something with a young female protagonist and a supernatural creature, provided you sign an agreement allowing all film reviewers to use the word “Twilight” no less than two times but as many as ten times when discussing your storyline.  I’ve fulfilled that reviewing requirement now, I’m pleased to say.  Anyway, Red Riding Hood doubly qualifies for Twilikening by including a love triangle, and whose fault is that?  Sad but true fact: Homer, that copycat, was stealing plot devices from Stephanie Meyer before she was born.

Here’s another true fact:  Red Riding Hood is best enjoyed if you sit back, breathe in the stunning scenery, and take it for itself. 

Amanda Seyfried as Valerie

The story opens with two children named Valerie and Peter and the trapping of a pretty white rabbit.  That this sweet-looking girl and boy are thinking of killing the bunny tells you right off that things are going to get wonderfully dark.  Jump ahead ten years to an older Valerie in a powder blue dress played by Amanda Seyfried, and step into the Medieval village of Daggerhorn.  Plagued for decades by the threat of a roving werewolf, the people of Daggerhorn leave gifts of piglets to placate the beast, thus avoiding attacks.  But things are about to change.  After Valerie learns that her mother, Suzette (Virginia Madsen), has arranged for her to marry the son of a prosperous blacksmith, she and her childhood sweetheart, Peter, decide to run off together.  Cue the werewolf alarm.

Panicked by a sound they have not heard in many years, the pair race back to the village as murmurings of a new attack ripple through the crowd.  Valerie pushes through a circle of tearful friends and frightened villagers to discover that the center of their attention is her sister Lucie, dead by the wolf.

As the concerned citizens of Daggerhorn gear up to hunt the beast, we are introduced to Valerie’s father, who is the town drunk, Father Auguste, a caring young priest, and Grandmother, played with an uneasy twinkle and a sly, curled-lip by fetching Julie Christie. This interesting little cast of characters is soon joined by an outsider come to lend a helping hand; Father Solomon.  As this role belongs to the always-sinister Gary Oldman, you may well guess how that turns out.  It is Father Solomon who breaks the troubling news that the werewolf lives among them.

Father Solomon

Two things keep the story rolling forward from this point on, Valerie’s up and coming marriage to Henry, the blacksmith’s boy, and the realization that she is the only one in the village who can understand what the werewolf is saying.  When the wolf tears up the town one night, it demands she run away with it.  Valerie looks into its big, shiny brown eyes and proceeds to imagine that the eyes belong to Henry, Father Auguste, and even her beloved Peter.  Everyone is a suspect.  No one more so than Grandmother.  And rightly so.  The woman pops up when you least expect her, lives in a crookedy old cottage in the middle of the forest, and, well, there’s just something about those big, shiny brown eyes.  With her cool Medieval rasta locks and that great gingerbread-gone-wrong fairy tale house, she was my favorite character.  Plus, she’s the one who gives Valerie that awesome red cape.  How kind is that?

As snow falls and a dangerous Blood Moon approaches, Valerie is left to figure out the identity of the wolf while fighting to end up with the man she really loves.  It’s a mystery AND a love story, and those are two great tastes that taste great together.  Much suspense, passion, and beauty follow and the conclusion is heartbreaking and unexpected. 

Red Riding Hood

I really have only two gripes with this film.  It’s unfortunate that the actors who play Valerie’s parents are given trite lines as a substitute for character development, and that these lines are meant to swiftly sum up their otherwise interesting histories.  It’s also a shame that the two actors in love with Valerie (Max Irons & Shiloh Fernandez) come off a little wooden in the face of Seyfried’s luminous, glassy-eyed performance.  These small missteps aside, if you appreciate fairy tales, pretty things, and the spell of a beautiful red cape, you really ought to give it a look.  I thought it was just lovely.


Carole Lanham is the author of the short story collection The Whisper Jar (Morrigan Books, Oct. 2011) and a contributor at Storytellers Unplugged.  You can find her book at amazon.com and learn more about her work by dropping in at carolelanham.com and horrorhomemaker.com

Into the Woods Review by Meghan Brunner

Into the Woods

by Meghan Brunner

Into the Woods

“Once upon a time… in a far-off kingdom…”

It’s the beginning of every fairy tale, so why not the beginning of a musical about all of them? While the narrator of Into the Woods starts off the way you’d expect, and the tales do follow the expected course (if you go by the original, bloody stories instead of Disney’s prettied-up versions), they prove that there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that the reader never hears about.

For example, did you know that Little Red Riding Hood knew Jack of beanstalk fame? Or Rapunzel had older brother, who grew up and inherited the family baking business (guess where Riding Hood gets her rolls)? That Cinderella’s remaining shoe was more valuable than she knew (though not for the reasons you might think)?

The story begins for all the characters with a single statement that rings through each tale: I wish.

Riding Hood (who is actually kind of a snot) wants to bring some bread to her granny in the woods. Cinderella wants to go to the ball. Jack just wants his pet cow to give some milk so he won’t have to sell her. His mother wants a son who’s not such an idiot. The witch who took Rapunzel all those years ago wants a reverse to the curse that was laid on her when the Baker’s father stole magic beans from her garden. This requires a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold – and she can’t have touched any of them. So she put a curse of her own on the Baker’s family when he was just a boy, and so now he and his wife must find the items before midnight in three days’ time to get their wish: a child.

And so into the woods everyone must go to seek their heart’s desire, crossing paths and helping (and occasionally hindering) each other as they go. More than most musicals, this one focuses on character development. The songs are simple – often stark – and thoughtful, without much in the way of dancing that would detract from the words.

The first act ends with a happily ever after (for most – these are the original tales), and could have easily ended there. However, the second act addresses the consequences of the characters’ seemingly innocent actions. The witch locked Rapunzel in a tower to keep her safe, but have you ever thought about what isolation for sixteen years will do to a girl’s head? Cinderella has her life of ease, but now she’s bored. The princes won their dream girls, but as one later points out, they were “raised to be charming, not sincere” and go looking for their next conquests. The baker and his wife have one child, but babies are a lot more work than the baker bargained for… and his wife wants another. And a bigger house. In the tales we’re told to root for Jack – but did you ever stop to think that he’s a thief and a murderer? What happens when the wife of the giant he kills comes looking for justice?

With a giant who has lost her glasses on the loose, the royal family makes a journey through the woods to go into hiding… only to find that they’re no more safe than the peasants who are doing the same (and/or trying to address the issue). The characters are divided among who is at fault, everyone certain, of course, that it’s not them. The witch (Bernadette Peters – if you didn’t love her before, you will now) takes the more pragmatic approach that it doesn’t matter what’s good or nice; she’s just right, and if they don’t listen to her, they’ll all be dead. It’s a very real threat; you’re reminded that this is no children’s tale as the body count climbs, and it’s pretty indiscriminate.

The show closes with the ends mostly tied up… but are they? The Baker begins to tell their story to his infant son with the lines the narrator used to open the show, leaving you to wonder if perhaps the entire tale was his telling as the final song encompasses all that the cast has learned:

“Careful the wish you make, wishes are children.

Careful the path they take, wishes come true,

Not free.

Careful the spell you cast, not just on children.

Sometimes the spell may last past what you can see

And turn against you…

Careful the tale you tell. That is the spell.”

Into the Woods is a wonderful, thought-provoking show, and the Broadway version is brilliantly acted. Even those who don’t like musicals often like this one, and those who do will fall in love.

Meghan has been telling stories for as long as she’s been able to talk and will continue doing so until there is no sky left to hear them. In 1994 she auditioned for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, and it wasn’t long before the world of Renaissance entertainers fell subject to her pen. More than half her life, three books, and a Unicorn Award* later, she’s still picking up speed… and loving it.

*lifetime achievement award for entertainers at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival

The author may be contacted through her website at: http://www.faire-folk.com

The Fae are back in town!

It’s here, once more it’s time for Fae Awareness Month! The other awareness months have admittedly faded a little over the last couple of years but not the fae, the tricksy little (or not so little) mites…

I’m half inclined to put it down to them, the others, those in the limbo lands, the inbetween but I guess it comes down to the person at the helm, none other than author of the extremely dark fae novel, ‘Scripped‘, KV Taylor, who has made sure that this year is as fun-packed, nay, even more fun-packed than last, with the regular: movies, reviews, articles and giveaways, written by a whole host of talented writers, bloggers, fans, etc.

We start today with The Wizard of Oz, and what better way to open than with one of the best films of its or any other genre in fact, a true masterpiece of cinema, pretty much the only musical I will watch, based on the idea that apart from the seminal ‘Over the Rainbow’, sung by Dorothy at the farm, all the musical numbers are in a dream/fairytale world and not actually real…(rather than other musicals where my suspension of disbelief is tested to the full when car mechanics suddenly burst into a song and dance routine in the middle of a working day!)

The films and first episodes of our chosen TV series are available on Dropbox. If you’ve got it, let us know and we’ll add you to the folder, if not then create yourself an account and find yourself the proud owner of 2GB of free storage!

What more is there to say for now, except to get ready for an excellent month of film, literature and blogging goodness that will give you new insights into the world of the fae and might even lead you to realize that they are actually amongst us…


The Brothers Grimm

by Sue Penkivech

The Brothers Grimm

Nearly anyone who’s old enough to have been told a fairy tale or to have seen a Disney movie is familiar with the Brothers Grimm, whether they realize it or not.  A pair of German linguists, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first collection of fairy tales in 1812, titled Children’s and Household Tales, which included such stories as “Rapunzel”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Rumpelstiltskin”, and “Sleeping Beauty”.

What many people don’t realize is that the Brothers Grimm’s initial work wasn’t especially well received.   While titled “Children’s Tales”, many of the stories the book contained weren’t appropriate for children.  Instead, they were a byproduct of the brothers’ research into German folklore, transcriptions of often macabre legends that were further annotated by the brothers themselves.  Later editions addressed these concerns, with some stories removed and replaced by others, but the  fairy tales read by children today lack certain elements of the original stories.  I know the “Cinderella” story I read to my daughters definitely didn’t mention the stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet so that the glass slipper would fit, or their eyes being pecked out by pigeons, dooming them to live the rest of their lives as blind, crippled beggars.

What does all of this background have to do with the movie “The Brothers Grimm”, directed by Terry Gilliam in 2005?  Both a lot, and very little.

The main characters of the movie are Jake and Will Grimm, played respectively by Heath Ledger and Matt Damon.  Jake is, indeed, a collector of fairy tales, but that’s where the similarities end between their lives and those of the original brothers.  The Brothers Grimm in the movie are con artists, who send their friends ahead to villages to bring old legends to life so that they can come in and save the day.  And, coincidentally, collect a large fee for their services.

All that ends when General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) demands that they solve the apparently supernatural disappearances of young girls from the town of Marbaden, and Jake and Will find themselves in the middle of a fairy tale.  Except this one is real.

So, if the movie isn’t a biographical account of the lives of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, what does it have in common with them?

Their fairy tales, of course!  The movie starts off with Jake Grimm exchanging their cow for magic beans instead of the medicine he’s been sent off to get, and goes on from there.  “Hansel and Gretel”.  The gingerbread man – who in this rendition, devours the child before running away.  The wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood”, now one and the same as the huntsman who killed him.  And most importantly, the witch from “Snow White” – now transformed into a centuries old Thuringian Queen (Monica Bellucci)who lives in a tower reminiscent of Rapunzel’s, whose beauty exists only in her magic mirror, and who seeks to regain her youth by drinking the blood of twelve young girls.  Throw in some great acting and awesome special effects, and…

If that isn’t a story worthy of the Brothers Grimm, I don’t know what is.

Sue Penkivech is a bookfair merchandiser, a former school librarian, and an aspiring writer.  Her work has been published in Barren Worlds, “Fantastic Pulp Magazine”, and her short story, “Zombie Elves”, received first place in the 2009 Spec The Halls Contest.  She’s prone to rambling about what she’s reading to anyone who’ll listen – which might be why she has so much time to read!  Visit her on the web at suepenkivech.wordpress.com!

Onions and the Color of Sigourney’s Hair

Since we had two fairy tale themed movies last night, we get one review this morning and one this evening. This morning, we were lucky enough to convince author Carole Lanham to stop by and dissect Snow White: A Tale of Terror. Having seen her forthcoming collection The Whisper Jar, I can say for certain that she has more than a passing familiarity with the fairy tale — both the good and the wicked side.

Onions and the Color of Sigourney’s Hair

by Carole Lanham
Snow White: A Tale of Terror
I just finished Snow White:  A Tale of Terror and I found it to be rather like flipping through a book of beautiful paintings.  Every single scene is tinged with a fairytale glow.  Cobwebs shimmer like wedding veils.  Apples and leaves and drops of blood are all the same delicious red.  At one point, Sigourney Weaver walks through a golden kitchen where auburn onions hang from the ceiling in clusters around the auburn waves of her hair.  it was just lovely.
The story it’s self gets off to a wonderfully grim start by strapping you in a carriage that is hurdling end over end through a wintery wood.  Things do not end well, and soon enough you’re watching as a loving husband is forced to cut his unborn child from the belly of his dead wife.  I’m here to tell you, blood spilling across snow never looked so pretty.
LilliSkip ahead a few years and we learn that the child is our Snow White.  Lilli, let’s call her.  And what sort of fairytale would this be without a young girl, a desperately adored father, and a highly questionable new wife?  Snow White:  A Tale of Terror has all three, but in this case, I liked that the new wife seemed kind of nice, if not a bit peculiar.  Lilli doesn’t want her father (Sam Neil) to remarry, of course, and she’s actually the difficult one in the beginning, making life miserable for the new step-mom, played to perfection by a slowly simmering Sigourney Weaver.  Lilli quickly grows from a young black-haired, blue-eyed Taryn Davis into a teenage black-haired, blue-eyed Monica Keena, who shows up to an important party one night in her dead mother’s gown and unwittingly shocks her step-mother into giving birth to a stillborn son.
I was fully along for the ride up to this point.  I really wanted to love this movie.  Gosh.  There’s a covered bird cage with something scary inside that you can’t quite see.  There’s a big wooden cabinet with big wooden fingers that latch together whenever the door is shut, and unlatch whenever its opened.  And the cabinet hides a magic mirror.  But for me, things got murky after the stillborn baby.
Wicked Step-mother, anyone?The step-mom flips her wig and decides that she wants Lilli dead.  She feeds what she believes is Lilli’s heart to her husband and then paints her throat with some left over blood and dances gleefully around her bedroom while a search party hunts for the missing girl.  It wasn’t the smoothest of transitions but I was still on board for the most part, admiring the enthusiastic way Sigourney chows on the heart meat, and wondering where I can get one of those flattering mirrors for myself.   It’s the guys who form that group of miners formerly known as the seven dwarves who start to make me scratch my head.  They aren’t very nice (Not to mention sneezy or happy) and most of them aren’t even small.  But that isn’t my beef.  What gets me is the way spunky Lilli suddenly can’t seem to find the wherewithal to break away from these guys, even following them into a mine when they go to work rather than trying to find her way back home, despite being almost raped by one of them and sneered at and mistreated by the rest of them.  She is afraid of them and reviled by them and then, quick as you please, decides she likes them for no better reason than the fact that the script says she does.  She especially likes the cute one who has a scar on his dirty, sulky face.
For me, things went from bad to worse after this.  There was still a lot of beauty to admire – a dropped cape floating away in a stream, a stained glass coffin, a windstorm of yellow leaves.   There was also some very cool stuff like a bird trapped in an hour glass and a creepy baby hand.  It was the story that lost its way.  Like the yellow leaves, it seemed to blow around in countless directions without anything much to support it.
Nice Apples!Sigourney Weaver got an Emmy nomination and a Screen Actors Guild nomination for her performance.  The film got Emmy noms for Makeup and Costume Design.  I can understand why on both counts.  This was such a visually satisfying film that it was worth seeing, regardless of it’s problems.  It’s cool and it’s fun and I’ve always hoped for the opportunity to watch it.  It’s too bad the story is like biting into a pretty apple and finding out it’s made out of wax.  If you like your fairytales gorgeous and creepy, you might want a bite all the same.
[All images link to source articles.]

The Forest of Discarded Hearts by Cate Gardner

When I think modern fairy tale, I think of one person: Cate Gardner. Cate’s been kind enough to allow us to reprint one of my favorite stories of hers here. And for the record, if you like what you see, this story is available in print and ebook along with several other weird, wonderful, scary tales, in her collection from Strange Publications: Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits.

The Forest of Discarded Hearts

by Cate Gardner

On a Tuesday morning in October, Ruby Ash discovered it is possible to disappear overnight; that all it takes is someone willing to wish you away.

At first, she thought the mirror in Jerry’s hallway was malfunctioning. The truth was it simply didn’t see her.  A meow drew Ruby’s attention away from her non-reflection. Freckles stole by without a glance, followed by Spice, who always ignored her. The troublesome pair moved at full alert with fur, ears and tails set at startled.  As she followed them into the parlour, Ruby’s skin prickled.

Jerry Spurlock had not only wished her away, he had replaced her. The girl’s laugh tinkled like icy rain on glass.  His guffaw threw miniscule balls of spit across the room. One hit Ruby in the nose.

Ruby’s scream should have shattered the glass vase, the television, and Jerry’s oversized skull. Instead, it didn’t even disturb the tassels on her grandma’s old lamp. Her hands clutched her knees as she gasped for breath and tried to make sense of the situation.  Several seconds later she realised there was no sense to be made of it.

The girl, who was not her, sat down on the sofa and flicked through a magazine as if she was accustomed to being there. As if it was her rightful place and Ruby had not filled the space the day before.  Her scent clung to the furniture, and Ruby knew if she were to return to the bedroom, it would mingle with the sheets.

Ruby wondered how long she had been sleeping.

Jerry’s right eye twitched, as if he caught a glimpse of her just in the corner.  An annoying gnat he believed he had swatted away.

“Do you bare a scar on your chest?” she asked the girl, though in truth neither party heard her. “Did he slice you open and rip out your heart? Or was he gentle?” She looked up at Jerry. His shadow climbed up the wall, crept across the ceiling and loomed over her. She asked, “Can I have my heart back, please? It’s not an unreasonable request and you can keep the lamp.”

He ignored her.

She thumped her hand against her empty chest, the echo resonating within her shell. It sounded as if he had also removed her lungs. Either way, she was finding it hard to breathe. Gasps of air exploded with a half-dozen questions per breath. She pushed back panic, aware it would suck her down into the carpet pile.

“So what would you like to do today?” He asked the girl who was not her.

The walls shuffled forward as if Jerry wanted to trap her within them like a souvenir. The skirting boards scurried like mice.  Ruby ran for the door as cats, a rug and the coat stand tried to trip her up, as the house attempted to swallow her.

“Did you hear something?” The girl asked.

“No,” he answered, as Ruby slammed the front door.


The world half-noticed her.  Dogs sniffed at her ankles, a pigeon took flight as her footsteps vibrated through the pavement, and a blonde child leaned out of her pram and offered her a lick of a heart shaped lollypop. Ruby pressed her hand to her chest. The skin ached from where he’d removed his heart, his stitches crude and uncaring. She supposed he’d drugged her wine the previous night and then performed the operation. She wondered if his new girlfriend had lain beside her and waited for him to place his heart in her chest. Perhaps he’d drugged her too. She thumped her hand against the stitches. The sound echoed. At the least, he could have given hers back.

She needed a drink.

A hand painted sign, propped against the frosted window of the Weeping Widow Tavern, asked – Do you feel as if the world has forgotten you?  She wanted to scream yes, yes, yes. She stole into the tavern and sat at a stool located beneath a spotlight. As you do. The bartender, a stooped fellow with yellow teeth and nicotine-stained hands, placed an empty glass in front of her.

“I’m guessing you’re having that kind of day,” he said. “Would you like some advice?”

“If you think it will do any good.”

“If you’re on the telephone and you hear a door opening, don’t assume the sound is coming from the other end.” He threw a stained bar towel over his shoulder and dislodged a few inches of dandruff. “Though I’m sure you’ll agree, beware of men wielding sharp knives is more appropriate advice.”

“If a little late,” she sighed.

“My mother always said, ‘don’t come weeping and wailing to me if he cuts your heart out and then stomps all over it.’”

“Wise woman,” Ruby replied.

“Not that wise, she thought I was gay and tried to set me up with a surgeon who had his own platinum engraved set of scalpels.” He filled her glass with a light blue concoction that gave off a radioactive glow. “So, now you’ll want to know how to get your heart back.”

She nodded.

“Well it’s a lot easier than you’d expect, but also harder than I am making it out to be.  Ever heard of the Forest of Discarded Hearts?”

If she still owned her heart, it would have sunk to her shiny shoes. “Yes.”

“It’s not a fable.”

“I guess I knew that already.” Her sigh rippled through the blue liquid. She pressed the glass to her lips.

“Drink up. The only way there is through this bottle.”

Despite being small-boned (with no hips, as Jerry often bemoaned), she knew no amount of squeezing would force her into the bottle. Even her lost heart wouldn’t make it through the slim neck.

She sipped the drink – it tasted like rusted metal on a frosty morning. Something wriggled at the bottom of the glass.

“You’re not very bright are you?” he said, refilling her glass. “Never mind; all will be revealed. Drink up, drink up, unless a timepiece will prove sufficient tick for you as it did for the Tinman in Oz.”

After about her third glass the world began to tip, with her fourth or fifth the blue liquid darkened to a forest green, and that was when she knew the truth. Or at least she knew the location of the Forest of Discarded Hearts.

It’s amazing what you can find at the bottom of a glass, Ruby thought as she landed on a patch of damp leaves.

A thump-thump-thump echoed like a distant drum beat through the thick forest. Her heart. A shush-shush shivered through leaves, causing them to tremble. A bush picked up its roots and shuffled across her path.  The bush coughed.  Ruby took a step back, but then realising that her journey would be futile if she didn’t actually journey, she walked around it. Her mother was right—obstacles did get in the way in matters of the heart. Could she really find her unwanted heart here?

Three children, a boy and two girls dressed in sepia coloured clothes, sat on a beat-up trunk.  They watched her as she stumbled towards them.

“We know what you’re doing here.” Steam billowed from their mouths, and wisped toward Ruby. They spoke as one.

“The same as everyone else who wanders through, I expect,” Ruby answered. She wondered why her own breath did not mist. “What’s in the trunk?”

“Cobwebs and lustful things.”

The lid creaked as they tore it open. The same white mist fogged and obscured the contents. Curiosity did not propel her forward; instead, it urged her to take a few steps back.

“What are you afraid of? Someone ripped out your spine as well as your heart?” The boy spat.  “Go on, take a peek, you never know what or who you might discover.”

“She’s scared… She’s scared,” they whispered among themselves. The sound of rustling paper issued through the forest as they rubbed their hands together. “She should be; we’ve seen who is inside.”

The trunk began to buckle and rock. The distant beat of her heart drummed louder and more persistent.  A windstorm swirled within her empty chest. Ruby hated to admit it, but she was scared and wondering why she hadn’t asked for the route map home. Without intending to, she had stepped closer to the trunk. The earth buckled beneath her feet. Worms wriggled over her exposed toes, slithering under the yellow leather.  Ruby slipped out of her shoes and stepped onto the writhing ground.  Bile pushed up her throat.

A man crawled out of the trunk. Sandy hair glistened with sweat and slime and a grey pinstripe suit hung loose on his bony frame.  Saucer-shaped eyes looked up at Ruby, as a dry tongue licked black teeth.

“Isn’t he a handsome fellow?” The children giggled, and then they pushed the lid of the trunk back down and sat on it with their arms folded. “Jeepers, look who I brought home, ma. Wilcox Fisk.”

The man crawled along the path, stopping only to cup his hand to his ear.  From the way he was inching along the forest floor, Ruby wondered if someone had ripped the muscles from the man’s legs

“Oh Mr. Fisk hasn’t lost anything.” Their crisp voices unnerved Ruby. “If you take a closer look he has a scalpel in his hand and a rose in his buttonhole. We believe that gentleman is out to woo.”

“Where’s he going?” she asked. “What is he about?” They couldn’t mean to offer him her heart.

“Better be quick, he’s almost there.”

Wilcox Fisk was gone. A trail of slime led into the thick of the forest. Jerry often accused her of being slow on the uptake, today she would agree with him. Trees stretched their roots to trip her up, branches grabbed at her clothes and leaves fluttered about her eyes and scratched at her hands. It was a conspiracy.

Thump-thump-thump pulsed louder with each step. Ruby picked up her pace. Just as it seemed she would never find a clearing, she fell into one.  She spat out slime and dirt, wiped the back of her hand across her mouth and picked herself up.

Ahead of her, Wilcox rapped at the door of a log cabin. Yellow light issued from a window to his right.

The door jerked open.  A thing with purple hair, sagging breasts and a beard looked at the man with distaste.

“I have nothing to sell to you.” The thing said, and then closed the door.

Wilcox rapped at the door again. Slime oozed down his back, and lay in a puddle at his feet. He cleared his throat. As the door opened for a second time, Wilcox lodged his foot in the gap.

“Go away. I’m closed for the holiday season.” The man/thing’s finger scratched through its beard and picked out a dead bee. “Okay, your persistence has won me over. I give in. Stand well back though. I’m afraid my aim isn’t good over short distances.”

Having decided that the thing was a man, Ruby watched as he pulled a bow and arrow from between his breasts. They emerged with a pop and his chest deflated.  He then held the middle finger of his right hand up, then he shook his head and slapped his forehead. Without further hesitation, he turned and disappeared into the cabin.

Ruby ran up to the cabin. Wilcox didn’t move, or blink, or show any comprehension that they shared the same adventure.

She cupped her hands to the window.

An arrow tapped against jars that contained pulsating hearts. Stuck to each jar were labels that curled to conceal the owners’ names.  She rested her hand against the window, feeling their irregular beats. When he picked up a jar and withdrew a medium sized heart, Ruby knew it was her own.  He skewered it onto the end of the arrow. Pain pierced her empty chest. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

As the door of the cabin opened, she cried out. “Please don’t.”

Wilcox opened his shirt to reveal a hole in his chest. He dug his fingers into the hollow and plucked out his heart, passing it to Cupid, who placed it on the step.

Cupid twanged his bow and fired. She fell to her knees as the heart, her heart, pushed its way into Wilcox’s ribcage. Ruby pulled herself up with aid of the wall. Cupid picked up the man’s discarded heart.

“I don’t think so.” Ruby shook her head as he aimed.


Ruby Ash felt something wet hit her in the back as she fell. It felt like a sodden sponge ball and it was creeping under her clothes, headed for her breast.  She looked out towards the playing fields. Where on Earth? A man wearing a pinstriped suit held out his hand to help her up.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“I feel a little dizzy,” she replied.

“I think you need a shot of caffeine.  There’s a café across the road. Oh, and my name is Wilcox Fisk.”

“The Forest of Discarded Hearts” first appeared in Three Crow Press.