Keepity Keep by Carole Lanham

Apologies, fae awareness troops, for not getting the drawings started earlier, but we had one last treat in store. Carole Lanham has kindly allowed us to reprint her marvelous fairy story, Keepity Keep, here at the blog. It’s one of my (Katey!) all time favorite fairy stories, much like the one we ran last month, so I hope you all love it like I do.


Keepity Keep
by Carole Lanham

It all begins and ends with a leather book, twenty-five significant pages asmudge with jelly thumbprints, pasted valentines, and knee blood. Childhood, if you will, saved on wrinkled paper. You know the stuff: the feathers you collected, the cigar ring the neighbor kid slid on your finger behind the snowball bush, that snotty smear that was once a frog’s heart… KEEPSAKES. That’s what the front of the leather book says, written in curly gold letters more flowery than flowers. Real gold letters, probably, and worth a small fortune each. Be it a shoebox, a hope chest, or a dresser drawer, one should always have a place to keep what must be kept.

The Turnbull brothers had a leather book.

Sure, a blue birthday candle had been taped in there, but the book held secret keepsakes too, ones even the brothers didn’t know about. The apple juice, for instance, that ran off the oldest one’s chin when he was pasting a dragonfly wing on Page Three. He didn’t see it, didn’t mean for it to splat there next to that little green wing. It got kept the same as everything else and much later, when the splat turned yellow-brown, everyone speculated about what it was. Why was it there? Who, they wondered, would keep a stain next to something as marvelous as a dragonfly wing?

Gage was his name, the one who was so sloppy with his apple eating, but Alban, the younger boy, dribbled things, too. A sneeze once, though we’ll not delve deeper into the particulars of that. Two drops of paint the color of sulfur. Spit from a kiss. And a full spring shower’s worth of raindrops, courtesy of the night he left the book on the windowsill. The point being: some things we save on purpose. Others aren’t kept by choice. Either can leave a splotch.

The story of Alban and Gage is about the importance of caring for our keepsakes, both the pearls of youth we choose to save on purpose, and the sneezes that sneak along for the ride. Page One begins in the garden, the day they first met Petaloo.

The Turnbull brothers, like most all brothers, were inclined to make things up. You might think they made up Petaloo, as well. That’s fair. Heaven knows, there were a lot of games that belonged solely to them. Nose Pins was theirs. Mipply Pipply and Bite the Hook, but they’re not recommended. Likewise, numerous inventions crowded their nursery walls. The lint-fetcher was a fine one. The shirt-buttoner was not. In any case, both boys were pretenders (fibbers?) and clever (sneaky!) enough to make up just about anything.

On the day they caught Petaloo having her bath in a leaf, Uncle Geoff dropped off the leather book as sort of a Sorry-I’ve-Been-Ignoring-You-While-I’m-Off-Seeing-The World gift. The book was new back then. No stains. No smudges. Just page upon page of clean, ice cream colored paper waiting for something to keep. Then came the leaf.

There aren’t many lads with the fortitude to look away from a girl in her tub, so let’s not blame them for that. Like the missing tip of Gage Turnbull’s second to last finger, seeing her was a sloppy accident. At nine, Gage was clumsy and a little bit round, still waiting to fit his height to his weight. Alban, a year younger, was trim as a willow whip and a great deal more graceful. He ran with the book into Daisy Chain Garden simply because Gage wanted so badly to see it. They hopped over Nipple Rock without incident and tore the heads off an entire patch of pinks, one boy chasing after the other, calling him dirty names. It was the roots of the hornbeam that ended things. Down went roly-poly Gage, bringing Alban along like a tapped domino. Off flew the book. It landed in the cuckoo flowers and a startled “Smeck!” escaped Gage’s lips when he peeled back a bloom and saw Petaloo.

Smeck is another Turnbull invention and not the sort that picks lint out of your bellybutton. Smeck, in all likelihood, is the most satisfying curse the world has ever known. For one thing, a boy can get by saying it almost anywhere at any time on any occasion because, until now, there has only ever been two people alive who know just how evil a word it is. For another thing, it is highly flexible in that you can combine it with other curses to make it even worse, like bloody smeck or smecking hell. Alban once told their cranky neighbor, Mr. Dangerbottom, to “go straight to smeck” and he didn’t even get a lash for it. Smeck was the handiest thing the boys had ever dreamed up. It was also the first human word ever spoken directly to Petaloo. “Would you look at that!” were the next to follow.

There, in the crook of a feltwort leaf, splashing under a drop of dew, was the teeniest girl they’d ever seen. Her hair was longer than she was tall and the same green as the feltwort. Her eyes were two pinpoints of sunlight with a violet smeck in the middle.

I mean, speck.

Of course, she had wings. This was why there was such confusion over what sort of bug she might be. Alban thought a cross between a firefly and a Mayfly. Gage claimed her for a freak beetle. It wasn’t until she stood up that they understood she was a miniature girl in every little way. “Holy smeck!” said they.

“I want her,” Gage declared right off. “I found her first. That makes her mine.”

“You can’t keep a girl,” Alban said, as he dabbed at the blood running down his scraped shin. “What would you do with her anyway?”

“Put her in a jar and stare at her.”

“If that’s as creative as you can be, you don’t deserve her at all.”

“I could make a saddle for Alistair so she can ride him like a horse.” Alistair was their three-legged titmouse.

“Alistair would tip over.”

Gage scratched his head. “I know! I could let her swim naked in a soda cap on my dresser.”

“Now you’re thinking,” Alban said. Their plans took on delicious life then. “Make her dance on my hand,” someone suggested. “Examine her thoroughly for the sake of science…”

“Science?” a little voice said. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

In perfect synchronicity, Alban and Gage looked at one another and plumbed their ears with their fingers, certain they’d not heard what they’d heard.

“Did she just speak?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Maybe it was a bee?”

“No,” the voice said, a little bigger this time. “It was ME.”

Alban looked closer. “What the devil?” he said. “Are you a bad omen?”

“I don’t think so. I’m Petaloo.”

“What’s a Petaloo?” Alban asked.

She giggled at this. “Don’t you know a Wingwee when you see one?” Goodness, what squeaky little snorts she made! “Hand me my Dress Upon from the stem there, will you? And tell me this, if you will; what in the fantong is a smeck?”

They blushed to hear a girl say such a coarse thing. “Don’t,” they cried, covering their mouths. “Oh! This is bad.”

“Well?”

Alban looked at Gage and Gage scratched his head.

“Never mind,” she said. “Just so we’re clear on this one thing, neither of you may keep me.”

“Then what can we do with you?” the boys asked.

“If, over time, you like me and I like you, we shall set out to become the best of friends.”

To mark this rather unexpected occasion, the boys declared that something must be found for their new book. “But what shall it be?” they wondered, as they poked around in snake holes and birds’ nests and mud in search of that right thing. Finally, it was decided. Along with a drip of blood and a drip of dew, they glued a Wingwee bathtub under the poem that appeared on Page One:

Skippily skip

A stone and a stick

A marble, a sunrise, a fly

Keep treasures close

That matter the most

And let all the rest skip by

****

Gage and Alban were the children of two modern-thinkers and, as such, they did what they wanted when they wanted. Their mother was a poet known by one name: Cicely. Even to them, she was Cicely. Their father was Henry Livingstone Turnbull. The Henry Livingstone Turnbull. Suffice to say, had their parents been normal parents, the boys should not have been allowed to read his work for another ten years. While Cicely and Henry paced the widow’s walk, smoking and looking to the treetops for inspiration, the two boys lost themselves in the garden without ever being missed.

This sort of freedom sounds magnificent if you’re a little boy, but, sooner or later, it will lead to broken bones or something much worse. In Daisy Chain Garden, there were a series of stepping stones shaped by God to look like daisies, hence the name. If Cicely and Henry’s parenting ideology were a daisy-shaped stepping stone, it would be the first in a series leading to disaster.

Petaloo, whose own parents had long since flown off to some other garden, took to meeting the boys each morning in the vesper flowers. The dark tunnels of their nostrils and their door-sized ears were as astonishing to her as her small acorn head was to them. She was exactly the same height as Gage Turnbull’s tip-less finger and just about as slender. Whenever she stood by this woe-be-gone stump of a digit, an amazing thing happened. Her hair was no longer feltwort green but rather a fingery hue. It went the same when she sat in a buttercup or hopped onto a freckled dapperling mushroom. Like a chameleon, her hair turned buttercup yellow or freckly brown, blending in quite decoratively. Puddles did wonders for her eyes.

As for the brothers, she was not about to let them wander about with any regular old hair either. Of Gage, she said his hair reminded her of the sable paintbrush a monk once dropped in the honey fungus while passing through the garden. “I use it to tickle my face,” she said. She flew on top of his head as she spoke, and tickled her nose with a bristle.

“And me?” Alban said. “What about my hair?”

Leaping onto the bent petal of a ragged robin, she thoughtfully considered Alban’s locks. “Well, you’re altogether different, aren’t you, Fidget?” She called Alban Fidget sometimes. “You’re not tickly at all. More like the pale wood of the spool I like to have my mint tea on.”

“A spool!” he spat, not thinking a homely spool to be nearly as good as sable.

And you have lily pad eyes,” she was quick to add, for he was pulling such a face just then. “I long to leap just looking at them.”

“Leap?” he snarled. “Where?”

“Why, right onto your Shoe Upon so you can take me on adventures.”

This, you see, was what Petaloo did to Alban and Gage. She spun the hours away for them, making mountains of their mole hills and changing colors on a whim. The next keepsake they stuck in their book was a single braid of hair with three different ribbons of color: paintbrush, spool, and, bruool, a woody/ticklish chameleon-like combination that made for a shade all of its own. Petaloo so completely took over their days, nary a game of Mipply Pipply was remembered to be played.

****

But maybe you still have doubts as to the reality of such things? Think back. If you were lucky enough to grow up with a sibling, perhaps you can remember some small joy you shared with no one else but them? Something too crazy to be explained unless you had been there from the start. Maybe you had a Petaloo too, and you’ve simply forgotten after all these years? People do that, you know. The early beauty of a thing will be destroyed and squeezed to the back of a person’s mind, if things take a turn for the worse later on. That doesn’t make the Wingwees of childhood any less real. To the Turnbull brothers, Petaloo was real as rain.

Useful, too. A winged girl can be wonderful at pointing out where to dig for bones and other dead things. Six pages of rotten stuff came to be collected that first summer alone. Cicely forbid them to keep the book downstairs, that’s how good it was. Petaloo had spent thousands of birthdays in Daisy Chain, so she could make her way around blindfolded and not stumble over a single pea.

“Thousands?” Alban said when she first revealed this to them. “How old are you anyway?”

“Four thousand and three and today is my birthday.”

“But you look so young,” Gage said.

“Oh heavens, no. Tomorrow, I’ll be four thousand and four.”

At that precise moment, Gage was carving a wine cork to make a boat. They intended to put Petaloo in the thing at Beatbones Rapid and watch her shoot the current. He blew a piece of cork fluff off the tip of his whittler. “You mean you have a birthday every day?”

“How else is a girl to celebrate life?”

Alban crossed his arms, feeling instantly cheated. “We do it once a year.”

“Once a year? That’s not nearly enough.”

“We got bicycles last year. Do you get gifts on every birthday?”

“It wouldn’t be a birthday without them.”

“And cake?” Gage asked, scooping out a little seat.

“Are you mad?” she said. “Of course there’s cake!”

Alban was standing knee-deep in the stream. He was to be the launcher. “Who gives you these presents?”

“Hopefully you. Every day, I show up with a jewel or a cat leg or a treasure map, but have I ever gotten so much as a Happy Birthday from you?”

“We didn’t know,” Gage said, jiggling his pockets. Most of her gifts ended up in the leather book, but some were too queerly shaped. He kept these in his pockets. Pen nubs, walnuts, shoe buckles…He made quite a racket when he walked. His favorite was the peach stone that looked like a bright red heart. Alban had insisted it might be secured in the book as easy as an abalone button, but, of course, it bent the pages and prevented the book from closing. Gage had taken to sleeping with it under his pillow and touching it in the dark.

Why would he touch an old seed in the dark, you might ask?

It was just some dumb peach stone, or so that’s what Alban said after it refused to lie neatly in the book. But Alban had forgotten what Petaloo told them when she first rolled it onto his foot. “It’s a Clingstone.”

“What’s it for?”

“For clinging, silly.”

Sometimes, Gage was terrified that Petaloo would change gardens like her parents did. Touching the Clingstone made him feel better.

“I have five quid,” Alban announced on the day of Petaloo’s four thousand and third birthday. “What shall I buy you?”

Petaloo had never bought anything, though she’d read about it in the adverts that tumbled by from time to time. Alban explained about Hibbert’s Tools and Fine Sewing Goods and Petaloo decided it might be nice to have a Fine Sewing Good. All thoughts of launching her were dropped at this point. Alban sprinted off, promising something remarkable.

Gage wrapped his fingers around the peach stone, tracing the ridges with his fingernail. If Alban bought something from Hibbert’s, what sort of present might he give? Not the cork boat, surely. Petaloo had only agreed to the cork boat in order to shut them up.

After much consternation, Alban gave Petaloo a lace ribbon and Gage gave her a little chair. The ribbon cost half what Alban had in his mason jar and made Petaloo shriek like a jackdaw. Gage knotted together hedge mustard to make the chair, the first of a hundred pieces of furniture he would build for her. She sat in it all afternoon.

There was cake too. Alban whipped up some frosting and spread it on an orange jellybean. Petaloo had never had frosting before. Smacking her lips, she declared it her new favorite thing, never suspecting that something so sweet would one day spell doom.

****

After the boys made the decision to have birthdays every day too, they aged very quickly. They shouldn’t have been surprised to wake up with moustaches or find grey in their sable, their lives were zipping so. In fact, if birthdays were stepping stones, they would be the next stone in the path. Without really meaning to do it, Petaloo grew them up fast.

Instead of watching her bob past cattails on a cork, the Turnbulls became locked in a competition to decide who was the most generous. Their treasures changed, too. No longer did they care about the shoehorn waiting to be unearthed by the garden gate.

“Here is the leftover twine from the rocker I made for Petaloo,” Gage might say, placing twine in the book where otherwise a nice spore of witch’s butter might have been glued instead.

“And here is the receipt for the thimble I bought off the High-Priced Items shelf.” Alban would brag, covering up the twine. Page Ten is a puzzle of left-over handiwork and price tags slapped in place around this very poem:

Dimily dim

By plot or by whim

A memory will oft lose its way

When one makes you grin

Pray, store it within

And you’ll grin yet another day.

Sadly, the boys weren’t grinning much, and if you take a magnifying glass to Page Ten, you might be able to pick out the faintly purplish, lightly lemon-scented tear of a Wingwee left to dry on a receipt for a ruby button.

Sharing one finger-high girl between them was growing more and more difficult. If Petaloo should sometimes prefer Alban’s high jinks to Gage’s dark, quiet ways, favorite toys would be stomped to bits. A head might be held under water, even. Similarly, if Petaloo dared to admire Gage’s ability to turn bedstraw into a working chest of drawers, miniature dining room sets would be sent flying. Petaloo began to prefer when the boys visited alone. There was peace then… for the most part.

****

When Alban came without Gage, great fun was sure to be had. He would sit her on the soft pink cushion of his palm and run like the devil, her long hair streaming between his fingers. Once, he tied her on his kite and flew her up to the sky. Another time, he fastened her to his shoestring and leapt off Hollar Rock. In these carefree moments, when the trees all blurred and warm skin made for the happiest of chariots, Alban was not competitive or cross or cruel. He was just Alban, falling breathless on his back in the flowers with his beloved Petaloo tumbling to rest on his stomach.

“Someday I’m going to marry you,” he promised her on one such glorious day.

Settling her bottom on the circle of his shirt button, Petaloo asked, “Could we have a cake made out of frosting?” Not long before this, she had found a napkin with a picture of a wedding cake on it and had made it her parlor rug. Petaloo thought wedding cakes to be one of the finest of all human creations.

Alban raised up on his elbows and bright purple stamens bowed and parted around the shape of him. “Do you love me, then?”

“I couldn’t darn your socks, I shouldn’t think, nor hang your washed clothes up to dry on a line. For that matter, I couldn’t wash them to begin with.”

“Hm,” Alban said. “I shouldn’t like to do all that for myself. But what about love?”

“I don’t believe in saying that word.”

“Why not?”

“It’s too powerful for Wingwee lips. It’s too powerful for Boy lips, too.”

“I won’t always be a boy.”

“Yes, but I will always be a Wingwee.”

Alban had not considered this, as he was not normally given to consider anything overly much. “Come on,” he said, scooping her up. “Let’s jump off Crooked Bridge and scream until our lungs bleed.”

****

On other days, a jingling jangling sort of romance bloomed, or so that’s what it sounded like to Petaloo. With Gage, there was no screaming until you hurt yourself. No wayward kites. No proposals of marriage. On these more somber, clatter-pocket days, wood chips whizzed past Petaloo’s head while she sunned herself on a geode and Gage built swings and canopy beds. He was taller now and stringy of limb. His hair hung in black, pointy quills that hid his eyes and there was no need to nickname such a boy as this, for the name Gage suited his contemplative soul as fittingly as Fidget suited his brother. She was grateful he did not speak of love as Alban did, though she’d often watched him roll the Clingstone between his hands in a way that made her fidget.

His voice was deep and hoarse and sad. “I built a chair for my father today, but it looked an awful mess.”

“I don’t believe it,” Petaloo said. “Your creations would be beautiful in any size.”

“No. I’m used to thinking small now. Perhaps I could make furniture for doll houses some day?”

“It would be a grand day for dolls if you did.”

He shrugged. “I wouldn’t like it as much as I like making things for you.”

“I could go to having human birthdays, if that would free you up a little?”

The wood whittles stopped flying. “What an awful idea. We mustn’t change things in the least.”

This was her dream as well. On every first star every night, Petaloo wished to stop time. “Give me your hand,” she said. Every so often, she felt compelled to do a test and stand herself next to his second to last finger.

“You’re shrinking!” Gage cried.

Tears, smaller than seed pearls, tumbled from her eyes. “No, I’m not. You’re growing. It’s what you humans do best.”

He rubbed his finger against her head and, for a split second, it seemed like seed pearls might fall out of his eyes, too. Then he thrust her back on the rock and took up his work once again, but not before he gripped the Clingstone and gave it a hard squeeze.

****

After a thousand birthdays, a new game came to be played between the brothers. It was called Petaloo Who? To play it, a boy was required to summon enormous indifference, if not all-out amnesia. It became the height of immaturity to admit to paying a visit to the garden. Much better, one should pretend to need some selfheal for a scratchy throat, if he was caught prowling around there.

Alban was better at this than Gage. If the name of Petaloo came up, Alban possessed the ability to look phenomenally confused, yet he still took a secret tramp through the garden daily to leave a crystal bead or a ball of yarn. Because self-preservation was at stake, the game of Petaloo Who? was infinitely more dangerous than Nose Pins would ever be.

One crisp, leaf-whirling afternoon, Alban stumbled into the garden with red-haired Edna Heat. Yes, Heat. It says so on her Baptismal certificate. Heat came to the garden and violets were rolled upon and brambleberries were squashed flat. Petaloo saw it all and even felt a bright green burst of something cold and hot explode inside her toothpick bones. It hurt so much, she limped for days after, certain Death was near. Despite confessing to her ineptitude with giant darning needles, she had foolishly imagined she could keep the boys forever in a cozy world of three. When Gage came clanking along hours later, she soaked his knee with her sobs, though she didn’t tell him why. The poor boy was so distraught, he built her eight new sofas.

Blowing her nose on a pant’s wrinkle, she looked up at him and knew beyond all shadow of a doubt that someday Gage would leave her, too. She climbed on his shoulder and rubbed her cheek against his, wishing, as she always did, to stop the hands of time.

But human nature is human nature, even if Wingwees refuse to cater to it. Party invitations replace saved candy wrappers on Pages Sixteen, Seventeen, and Eighteen in the book. And remember the kiss spit? Alban no longer dreamed of having a tiny wife. Miss Heat never flattened the brambleberries again, but a long list of others did. Alban had the sort of face every girl falls in love with. It would take a more special soul to pursue Gage.

Once, after both boys had stopped by on the sly ― Gage before school and Alban after ― Petaloo was watching a peppered moth soar past the garden when a triangle of paper came cart-wheeling through the dog rose to knock her on her head. Often such rude clobberings were the work of a mindless paper sack or a tobacco tin run amuck, but this particular piece of rubbish was so fresh-white, it begged closer inspection. Unfolding the triangle took Petaloo all of time. Fortunately, each new layer revealed something to keep her interest up.

The first corner opened to the salutation: Good Morning, Young Mister Turnbull. The next contained parts of four different sentences. And the next, tidbits of seven. The second triangle, for instance, looked like this:

…such a relief to hear you love me too…

…ever since and I can’t seem to get you out of my mind.

…it is unseemly for a teacher to fall prey to…

…therefore I must ask for the strictest discretion.

In this way, the letter was read by Petaloo, the beginnings jigging and the endings jagging, until it reached its end.

Faithfully Yours,

P

By the time she got to ‘P’, Petaloo had the whole thing spread in the grass, but I suppose you get the picture. The triangle was a love letter dropped by one of the young Mister Turnbulls. But which one? Petaloo only knew that she was losing them faster than her heart could stand.

****

At the time of the triangle, Gage (in human years) was sixteen and Alban a year behind. Petaloo knew nothing of teachers and what was allowed or not allowed to pass between them, but she had learned that boys of a certain age forget how to share. She understood that the note was meant to be a secret so she carefully re-triangled the paper and put it under the old boot that Gage had given her for rainy days. Sooner or later, she was sure the owner would reveal himself and then she would return the note.

If a day should pass without a visit from Alban, she would say to herself, A-hah! I knew it! Woman or girl, Alban charms them all. For certain, he is Young Mister Turnbull! But then it would happen that Gage would be very late or very distracted, and she would think, A-hah! So this is why Gage never brings girls to the garden! Oh, it was highly frustrating, to say the least. Discovering the truth was like opening a triangle one corner at a time

Just when it seemed a proper hint might never come along, Petaloo discovered Alban picking through the goat willow anxiously looking for something.

A-hah!

“What are you doing?” Petaloo asked, making him jump when she flew up behind.

“I’m going to make a sling shot so I can shoot Neville Pipping after school tomorrow.”

A likely story, the Wingwee thought, but she graciously offered to help find a forked stick. “What is school like?” Petaloo asked. “Do you and Gage have the same teacher?”

“School is boring. We have Miss Wilton.”

Petaloo checked a nutlet for projectile potential. “Is she nice?”

“Fairly, but everyone likes our religion teacher best. We’re learning about heathens.”

“What’s her name, then?”

Holding up a rather promising Y, Alban extended his arm and pulled back on an imaginary strip of rubber. “Mr. Seaton,” he said. “But everyone calls him Peter.”

****

Somehow, Petaloo had come to be the guardian of a secret so heavy that, although it was made of paper, she couldn’t budge it from its hiding place no matter how hard she tried. She wondered why humans liked to keep such bulky things. By her experience, they took up far too much room, leaving you to get soaked in the rain.

When asked about Mr. Seaton, Gage agreed that he was the favorite one. And Miss Wilton’s first name? Nobody knew. “Peter is more like a friend than a teacher,” Gage said of Mr. Seaton.

The next day, Petaloo was startled when two sets of feet nearly trampled her flat. She had not heard them coming yet there they were, Gage’s gigantic hobnail boots, alongside a scuffed pair of spectators. A man laughed and before you could say MIND YOUR STEP, a berry bucket came crashing down, caging her in darkness. Muffled talking and laughing followed.

Nothing makes one feel smaller than being trapped under a berry bucket at a moment such as this. You can imagine then how well Petaloo took it when Gage at last lifted the lid and, dumb as you please, said, “How did you get under there?”

“As if you don’t know!”

“I must have kicked it without realizing,” he said. Kicked it without realizing! She stormed off into the catmint and hid there until after he went home.

That night, she noticed Gage had left the leather book behind with a new footstool sitting on top of it. I’m Sorry, Petaloo, he’d written on a scrap pale blue paper. I brought the book so we could look at it, but I couldn’t find you anywhere. Perhaps tomorrow?

Petaloo tried out the new footstool. It was the nicest one yet. She thought of the forlorn sound his pockets made when he’d given up and left. For a girl used to having her baths in a leaf, privacy was hard to understand. Much as it hurt her to think of it, Gage was old enough to deserve his privacy. Any day now, he would empty his pockets and move on. Petaloo wasn’t sure she could bear to see the peach pit heart discarded in the weeds.

All night she lay awake, praying for young children to take the place of her two grown boys. The wishing star came and went in the sky. After serious thought, Petaloo arrived at a decision. Tomorrow would be her last birthday in Daisy Chain Garden. The time had come to move on. She worked a long time to open the book, and, with a sniff, placed Gage’s note between the pages for him.

****

Now then, it seems we’ve come to the frosting part of the story. As hinted at all those words ago when bird skeletons were still the height of good fun, this next part you’ll not like to hear. Even so, all books need an ending and the leather one is filled up now ― all but one final page.

Let’s turn to it.

Gage arrived the next morning, bearing a special present. “It’s real wedding cake,” he told her. “Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?”

“I’ve already forgiven you.”

“And the book?” he said. “Can we read the book?”

She smiled, thinking how relieved he’d be to get his love note back. He carried her down to Beatbones Rapid to eat cake and flip through the book with her. “Here it is,” Gage said. “The best page of all.” He opened to that old tub.

It was shriveled now but, thanks to the blood, you could still see its faint shape. “Remember the first time we saw you? I thought you were a beetle.”

“I’ll never forget it, book or no.”

“Me either.”

“What’s this?” he said, tapping his finger on a yellow-brown stain beside a shiny wing. “Who saved this?”

Petaloo felt so content, she only saw the wing. “Can we have some cake now, Gage?”

Get ready, because here it comes…

“Yes.”

Quiet as that, Alban appeared, and what do you think he saw? Petaloo licking a fluffy swirl of white frosting off his brother’s tip-less finger. “My favorite,” said the girl, licking Gage’s crooked finger until it was clean.

“Alban?” Gage said, looking up from her tongue. “Why are you wearing my boots?”

Alban squinted at them both. “I always wear yours in the garden. I don’t like to get mine dirty.”

Gage squinted too. “But they’re my boots.”

“At least I’m not sneaky like you, meeting by the rapids with wedding cake.”

“You don’t like to play in the garden anymore, remember?”

But Petaloo, for the first time, understood that this was not entirely true.

“You’re a rat!” Alban sneered. Gage put down Petaloo with the book and jumped to his feet. As a fight broke out between the two, Petaloo, quick as her size would allow, began flipping the keepsake-heavy pages in search of the note. It was Fidget’s triangle, she realized now. It was not for Gage to see.

“Let go,” Gage said as Alban’s hands plunged into his brother’s pockets and began to tear through them.

“This junk belongs to me, too.” Hateful words were shouted then, and fists were heard crunching jaws. Something red flew through the air. Blood, you might guess, but no.

While the Clingstone catapulted overhead, Petaloo turned to the note resting atop this last poem:

Sweepity Sweep

All that is cheap

For the years are quick to depart.

Keepity Keep.

The things that run deep

Save your best treasures inside your heart.

Then…shhhplunk.

Gage heard the seed hit the water and Alban spotted the note. With that, the hand of time, caught in its spiteful cog. Nothing breathed. Nothing bled. Nothing sunk.

Alas, time will have its own stubborn way in the end and it kicked and pushed until it got things rolling again. To compensate for the mix-up, it moved faster than ever. Gage jumped toward the current, set on rescuing that old pit. Alban, just a step behind, thought Gage was going for the note, and jumped toward the book. Petaloo thought Gage wanted the letter too, and leapt up on the page to push the note into the stream. You might think her incapable of handling something so big with any amount of real speed.

Sometimes, the littlest thing will surprise you.

She scooted the triangle across the page as both boys drew closer. Alban’s shadow reached her the same second she sent the note into the water. But his hand was already in motion, striving to hide something that was no longer inside the book ― his actions too swift to take into account what was. In other words, he didn’t see the Wingwee. He only saw his secret. And Gage, in turn, saw only that old stone.

In the tick of that epochal second, the Clingstone was snatched up, the note bobbed off in the current, and a wall of paper rose toward Petaloo, the words on the page growing larger and larger, before darkness came…

Keepity Keepity Keep.


Keepity Keep is part of the short story collection The Whisper Jar (Morrigan Books Oct 2011), available for sale through Amazon and featured as one of the prizes in the Fae Awareness Month Giveaway: https://faeawarenessmonth.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/giveaway/. The drawing begins today!

War for the Oaks Review by Meghan Brunner

War for the Oaks Review

by Meghan Brunner

Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks is often considered the founding work of Urban Fantasy (aka Modern Fantasy or Magical Realism), and it’s easy to see why. Aside from being a damn good read, it takes all the elements you’d expect from a fairy tale and weaves them skillfully with lovingly rendered descriptions of downtown Minneapolis. The places are real; you can visit them, they look and feel just as she says, and as a consequence you can very easily believe that everything Bull describes happened right there and just like that.

As the title suggests, the tale centers around conflict, in this case between the seelie and unseelie Courts for control of Minneapolis. (The oaks, however, are metaphorical; if any are mentioned in the book, it is only in passing. It’s not even certain that oaks are the predominant tree in Minneapolis, though it can easily be argued that “War for the Ashes” would have a far different connotation and “War for the Maples” just doesn’t sound as cool.)

The Fae’s primary problem is that, as immortals, they are notoriously hard to kill and often make war for sport. To ensure that both sides abide by the outcome of the battles, they must bind a human to the cause, thus bringing bring the power of mortality to the battlefield and elevating the dispute from the typical bloodless territorial squabble. Enter Eddi McCandry, out-of-work wannabe rockstar and reluctant hero drafted to a cause that, she hadn’t realized existed. Her life turns into a strange duality: under attack by the unseelie court, who are none too fond of this bloodshed-in-battle idea; under guard by a seelie phouka who is mischievous and eloquent by turns, all the while she’s trying to start a new band so she can do mundane things like pay the rent and buy groceries. The two aspects of her life refuse to stay separate, though. Try as she might, she can’t keep her friends free of the conflict, and not only does her musical life begin to seep into her interactions with the Fae, the Fae begin to creep into her band as well.

As one might expect with a book written about a band, there are a lot of descriptions of the music. It’s easy to start skimming the text as soon as someone picks up a guitar, but the subtle changes in description are the primary means by which the author conveys development in not only the dynamic between the band members, but in Eddi’s mood and newfound abilities. More distracting is the frequent dropping of song titles, which can be off-putting to anyone not familiar with pop hits of the 1980’s. Eddi’s original lyrics are rendered in full, but without the tune to go with them, they feel a little flat. (Thankfully there’s a cure for that: the author recorded them with the now-defunct band Cats Laughing, and through the wonders of Amazon MP3, they can be found on their album Another Way to Travel and are quite good. It’s easy to see why the Fae picked Eddi.)

There are also a lot of descriptions of clothing; nearly every character receives an account of what they’re wearing whenever they show up (or change clothes mid-scene). To those who are interested in fashion, this is a nice touch; to others it might seem excessive. In either case, most of the clothes are very dated, which anchors the tale firmly to the 1980’s. No airy “long-ago-and-far-away” for this story.

Where the author shines most is her description of magic. Her rendering of the denizens of both courts is wholly believable, and somehow she makes them seem ancient, yet not at all out-of-place in the modern setting in which they find themselves. With the host of legends at her disposal, Bull picks just enough detail from just enough different Fae creatures to lend a sense of the diversity of their ilk without becoming overwhelming. Nor are they the cute critters you’d find in Disney movies and romantic poems; at her first meeting, Eddi describes them as creatures with their roots in horror films… and those are the good guys. Bull also gives a good primer on the hows and whys of Fae culture; if you’ve ever wondered why you shouldn’t thank them or what you ought to require as surety before going alone to speak with the Queen of Air and Darkness, you’ll have your answer right from the horse’s (er, phouka’s) mouth.

Neither is her magic limited to the immortal members of her cast. The city itself is alive, and Bull’s descriptions of it are breathtakingly beautiful. You can feel the change in current of a place from day to night, imagine how one performance spot has an entirely different energy than another, smell the greenery of the Conservatory by moonlight. Even if you’ve lived there for years, reading her descriptions makes you see the city with new eyes. In her essay “Wonders of the Invisible World” in Double Feature, Bull comments:

Minnehaha Falls and Central Park are not interchangeable, in substance or spirit. Walking down Hennepin Avenue on a Friday evening calls up a different set of emotions and attitudes than walking down any given street in Manhattan. And the mix of attitudes and influences-parks and punks, the New Riverside Café and 7th Street Entry, a wildly active music scene in well-mannered, well-ordered metropolitan surroundings-only happens here. People outside the Twin Cities may say what they like. I can’t think why the high courts of Faerie would want to live anywhere else.

And after reading War for the Oaks, the reader can’t help but agree.

***Author’s note: War for the Oaks was translated into a screen play, which I believe is included in newer versions of the book. It was partially filmed with local talent and the trailers are on YouTube for the curious, although they’re very B-fantasy due to constraints of both budget and the technology of the time. It is perhaps a mercy that it was never finished, as special effects have advanced to a point where it could now be filmed in a style that’s much more true to the book’s lovely descriptions. Hopefully someone in Hollywood will pick it up and do it justice. With the recent popularity of fantasy in cinematography, there’s certainly the audience for it.


In 1994 Meghan Brunner auditioned for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival—and things haven’t been the same for her since. Over a decade later, with two books and a Unicorn Award*, she’s still picking up speed… and loving it.

*lifetime achievement award for entertainers at the MN Renaissance Festival

Find her free short story, “The Tithe”, earlier in Fae Awareness Month 2012.

“The Tithe” by Meghan Brunner

“The Tithe”

a short story by Meghan Brunner

That whole “faery tithe to hell” thing is bunk, a story humans invented to scare each other around their fires. I’d like to remind you that humans have sacrificed each other for millennia. First it was to gods, and now it’s to corporations.

Personally, I’d take this Hell they keep talking about. At least it’s honest. You don’t have to pretend to like it, and nobody tries to convince you that it’s as good as you can get.

You’ll be wondering, of course, what one of Themselves could possibly know about corporations. I’ll tell you: more than I ever wanted to.

It’s not what you think. I don’t live among you, disguising myself as a human except for a pair of poorly hidden pointed ears. There’s been some interbreeding over the years, sure, but we don’t pose when we do it. Why would we? You don’t run around pretending to be a monkey when you’re looking for a tumble, do you?

Maybe you do. I shouldn’t judge.

The reason I know about corporations, though, is that humans built one right on top of my forest, which they now claim they “manage.” In case you didn’t know, that’s a fancy way for saying they know better than nature when a tree ought to come down, and never mind who might be living in it. Why, my cousin’s had to move four times because of them, and it’s no good taking down their special yellow ribbons. They just put them back on.

After a while they built paths through my forest. They must’ve heard the old saying about how you have to stick to the road or you’ll be lured off forever. Not sure why they thought we’d want to lure most of them off; the people sacrificed to corporations usually aren’t the best and brightest that were offered to the gods, if you catch my drift. Perhaps they weren’t smart enough to find their way out without that hard black stuff under their feet.

Can’t blame them for wanting to see our trees, though. They are beautiful, and the faery mound is exquisite. They seem to have realized that, too, because they hold strange rites on top of it, playing odd games and chanting phrases in a ritual called Team Building. It’s led by a group called Human Resources, and I can see why. Seems like they treat their humans like any other resource they touch: use them up and throw them away. Even their high priestess is hollow-eyed, and between you and me, I think she must’ve angered a particularly cruel trickster spirit for her hair to look like that.

Or maybe just the master of the mound. He lives down there, you know, and he’s not fond of the noise.

The trails are good for people-watching when we’re bored, though. People in suits, women in strange shoes that not even a brownie with a hangover would be mean enough to cobble together. They go in groups, chattering and laughing about nothing. Sometimes they walk by themselves, chattering and laughing about nothing. None of the other humans look at these people strangely, though, so they must’ve been brought up with some manners.

Or perhaps such madness is too normal among their kind for them to take notice of it.

But once in a while you see one like Him.

He had thick spectacles, shaggy hair, his hands in his pockets, and clothes I wouldn’t be embarrassed to wear. If I wore trousers, that is, which I don’t. Still, they looked fine on him. He had a thoughtful way about him, and sometimes he’d stop and stare up at the clouds.

He looked like maybe he realized he’d been sacrificed.

I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for him, truth be told. And I was bored. So can I be blamed for wanting to play with him?

It wasn’t much at first. Making a bit of light or a shadow he couldn’t explain—just to see if he’d notice. Most of them wouldn’t recognize us if we jumped on their heads. We can drop all the nuts on them that we want (and believe me, we have) and they say things like “Must’ve been a squirrel.”

A squirrel!

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a squirrel. If you are one, that is. Which I’m not. But I have a couple good friends who are squirrels, so I don’t want you to think I’m prejudiced. Some people are. Just not me. It’s just that I’m not, actually, a squirrel.

And besides, everyone knows no squirrel has aim that good.

This one, though—he looked. He tried to find the source, and when he couldn’t, he’d get the strangest expression on his face, like the Old Ones do when they talk about the days when the humans that walked through our forest left us more for offerings than empty cups and food wrappers.

It was the first time I’d ever seen one of them look like that. Mostly they get scared and walk faster.

You can see why he piqued my interest.

I began to watch for him. He’d come every day when the sun was halfway between high-sky and long-shadows. I even learned which paths he’d take so I could follow him.

It was just a diversion, you understand. Nothing more. But I’d find myself looking forward to his visits, thinking about him at odd times.

I flattered myself to think perhaps he knew I was there and hoped to catch a glimpse of me. He did start walking closer to the trail’s edge, peering a bit more into the trees.

And then one day he stepped off the path.

My heart stopped.

He looked around—first left, then right, as if to see if anyone would be around to call him back.

I wondered if he wanted someone to. Was he just testing the waters? Playing with the idea of walking off into the dangerous, wild bits where he might not come back?

Maybe he didn’t want to come back. I admit, my breath quickened at the thought. We hadn’t had one to keep and play with for years—and that’s years in our time, not yours. And this one might adore us properly, might sing and play and tell tales. I don’t mind saying that we needed a bit of fresh imagination; every party (and we have a lot of parties) was always the same, and there’s only so much of that even we can take.

He reached to the front of his trousers, and there was a strange noise, and then he…

Well, he made water on the tree.

I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. The tree’s dryad certainly didn’t think it was as funny as I did, but can I be blamed? The look on her face as he stood there, and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it!

She was one of the ones who’s particularly full of herself, too. She had it coming.

I was especially looking forward to his visit the next day, wondering if he’d maybe do it again. When he stepped off the trail, I nearly jumped up and down and clapped in anticipation. He was nowhere near the previous day’s tree, but there were a few others in the area I wouldn’t mind getting the same treatment.

He didn’t disappoint me, though not for the reason I expected. He’d brought a flat, brown cake with him and placed it oh-so-carefully on top of a round, grey rock.

Then he stood, turned, and walked back to the trail.

I looked at the cake a long time, stunned and wary. It’d been so long since anyone left us anything… but I’d been smart enough not to tell anyone about my pet, so I had him all to myself.

Same with the cake.

It was really, really good cake, although maybe I should’ve saved a bit for later instead of eating it all at one go. Still, it did nothing worse to me than one of the fairy feasts—which is to say I waddled off to sleep for a few hours and felt fine after.

Can I be blamed for hoping he’d bring one the next day as well?

He did! This one was pale with brown spots. Just as good, though.

The third was square instead of round, and thicker, covered by a delightful, almost painfully sweet frosting.

You can see why on the fourth day I couldn’t sit idly by. There is magic to threes, you know, and one good turn deserves another.

I should’ve known better—but you have to understand, for folks like us that kind of feather isn’t stranger than something off a bluejay. Just prettier, all streaked with colors you don’t have names for. And the critters that drop them—I don’t think you have a word to call them by, and the one in my language wouldn’t mean a thing to you—they don’t mind if you have their feathers, so long as they’re done with them. Most of us have one or two in our pockets, so why would it be strange for me to leave one on the ground just before he walked around the bend?

He stopped, of course, and stared at it, set off so brilliantly against the black road, shimmering in what was left of the sun that faded fast now that the leaves had begun to fall and the deer had taken an interest in each other. I knew humans, and soon it would be too cold for him to visit. I wanted him to have something to remember me by.

I just sort of forgot what those sorts of feathers do to humans—when they can see them at all, that is.

He picked it up, twirled it between his fingers, stroked it in awe.

I smiled, well pleased with his reaction, and hoped perhaps he’d bring two cakes tomorrow.

And then he tucked it in his hat.

And for the first time, he really saw.

His eyes widened, and he stared around him in wonder. Didn’t say a thing, just let out a little sigh of contentment.

He stopped right at the trail’s edge, right at the corner where the shimmering faery-path crossed the hard, black one. He put his toes right to the edge and looked down at them for a long time, his breath making puffs of slow fog in the cold air.

And then he looked up at me.

And then, feather still in his hat, he stepped off the trail.


In 1994 Meghan Brunner auditioned for the Minnesota Renaissance Festival—and things haven’t been the same for her since. Over a decade later, with two books and a Unicorn Award*, she’s still picking up speed… and loving it.

*lifetime achievement award for entertainers at the MN Renaissance Festival

“The Tithe” is a bonus story offered on Meghan Brunner’s latest collection, the rest of which deal with her Faire Folk world.

© 2011 Meghan Brunner. All rights reserved.

ElfQuest: Fire and Flight

Elfquest: Fire and Flight

by KV Taylor

Wendy and Richard Pini first brought their elf-children* to the public in Fantasy Quarterly, spring 1978. It wasn’t long before they took publishing matters into their own hands, and WaRP (Wendy and Richard Pini, naturally) Graphics was born. They started at #2 and did a tri-annual run of the first 20 issues, otherwise known as the Original Quest. Believe it or not, I wasn’t born back then; I came to the quest a decade later when my Aunt Trish, who was working on a degree in graphic design at the time, gave me, my brother, and our cousins her collected edition graphic novels to read. And oh god, it was, and still is, like crack.

ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Fire and Flight is the first collected graphic novel. Getting the full-color version these days is nigh impossible, but there are newer black and white reprints still available if you know where to look. (I’d suggest the Wolfrider Shop, of course.) Don’t despair, though. When WaRP’s latest contract with DC was up, they started uploading all the ElfQuest comics online — and you can find every single one of them there for free. So for our purposes, Fire and Flight covers the first five issues.

After a little set-up as to how, exactly, elves came to live on this “world of two moons” (aka Abode), we’re taken straight into the action. The humans have caught an elf called Redlance, one of the Wolfrider elf tribe, and mean to sacrifice him. Young Wolfrider chief Cutter leads a daring rescue, but the human priest is so angry, he takes his revenge by setting the whole forest — where the elves live in their “holt” tree — on fire.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Cutter, impulsive but clever, leads his little tribe and their bonded wolf-friends out of the only home they’ve ever known and into the underground troll tunnels for safety — much to the chagrin of Picknose, a well-known troll-guard, and King Greymung. Pugnacious Greymung tells the annoying elves that he knows just the place for them to start over… and tricks them into a desert, then seals the tunnel behind them.

The little tribe survives the crossing, led by a lodestone the stargazing Skywise got in the tunnels — but not before they have to leave the still-wounded Redlance behind with his lovemate, Nightfall, promising to come back for them. Not long after, the tribe finds shade on a mountain side… and, luckily for them, discover cacti.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

To their shock and surprise, Cutter and his soulbrother (and occasional lover — there’s not much of a distinction) Skywise discover a village of elves on the other side of the mountain. They wonder at finding others of their kind, but Cutter has learned his lesson about trusting; he leads a raid on the village for water and supplies. But in the middle of the action, he’s stopped in his tracks by the sight of an elf-maiden. Taken out of himself by something, he grabs her, throws her over his wolf-friend Nightrunner’s back, and takes her to the little camp they’ve made. (Yeah. He’s a dick. It’s true.)

Obviously, the elf-maiden — who is peaceful but hardly passive — is pissed. And her sometimes-maybe lovemate, Rayek, the village’s chief hunter and resident badass, isn’t so happy either.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Eventually most misunderstandings are resolved. The villagers call themselves Sun-Folk, and they’re a peaceful, agrarian lot who welcome their wild, pale little brothers with open arms after a few discussions. The elf-maiden, Leetah, is a healer. Despite Rayek’s “orders”  to the contrary (or maybe a little bit because of them), and despite her intense dislike for her feral once-kidnapper, she goes with Cutter to rescue Redlance in the desert, healing him.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Rayek sees what we know by then — in spite of the unforgivable start, in spite of the fact that Cutter and Leetah obviously don’t like each other much, there’s something going on with them that neither can control. It’s our first look at the integral concept of Recognition.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

OMG! Luminous eyes!

Ahem. Anyhow, the Wolfriders settle down in the caves next to the Sun Village, slowly integrating into life there. They seem like “savage innocents” to the cultivated Sun-Folk, and the Wolfriders are in awe of the Sun-Folk elders, especially Savah, the Mother of Memory, who’s the closest to a “high one” (the first elves on Abode) that any of them have ever seen. Wolfriders live fast, die young, and leave good looking corpses, but even Leetah is already six-hundred years old, and she’s considered young among the Villagers.

The only real drama comes from her and Cutter. Ever led by his instinct, he wants to give in to Recognition and join with Leetah to end the torment — neither of them has been able to eat or sleep properly since it started. But — come on, the feral little jerk kidnapped her. No way Leetah’s going along with that, even if it kills her, though everyone in the village knows, by this time, that it’s inevitable. Though Leetah has already made it clear that she’s uncertain about him, too, Rayek challenges Cutter; though he doesn’t see the point, Cutter agrees.

And roundly thumps Rayek’s arrogant ass in the tests of body, mind, and heart, even saves Rayek’s life, just by being himself, really. (Uh-huh. Sure, buddy.)

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Rayek flounces off to brood in the desert, and Cutter thinks he’s won, but Leetah tells him he’s an idiot. It takes a long time for Leetah to agree to go with the whole Recognition thing; she learns about Cutter’s life and family, the Wolfriders save the village from a trampling, she comes to understand them . Finally, Leetah confides in Savah, and it becomes clear that she’s going to go for broke, if only to stop the torture.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

Recognition, we learn here, is not about love; it’s about reproduction. In spite of the generally free-love attitude of both cultures (relative to humanity, anyhow) elf-babies aren’t all that common, but this is a built-in mechanism to ensure that they happen.

And so Cutter and Leetah do as we suspect from the beginning they will. It’s not love, but hey, they end up having fun, I guess?

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

The two tribes are joined like two handfuls of water, but the once favorite son Rayek, one of the few Sun Folk to retain the magic of his ancient forbearers, takes off to sulk alone. His people have a whole tribe of hunters and protectors now, after all.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

This is, of course, just the prelude to the actual quest. A setup for things to come, much, much bigger things — Cutter’s great quest to find all of his people, the elves, scattered over the world of two moons. But that’s in the later books.

So, back in the day, the problems inherent in the later part of the story really didn’t occur to me. For one, I was ten. For another, wait, hang on. Woman briefly kidnapped by a dude she doesn’t like pretty much has to end up sleeping with him. Wow. So bad.

And yet, the forced bonding trope, as it was invented to, subverts the pain somewhat. I don’t know how common it was in 1978, but I’m willing to bet that trope was as prevalent in fantasy then as it is now. The issue is never one of gender, but of an impossible situation and two people dealing with it in ways that their own personality and upbringing dictate. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s meant to be.

That it does come out to a sort of Happy For Now ending is sometimes difficult, but Pini’s treatment of other, so often gendered issues, does pick up some of the slack there. Wendy Pini wasn’t just an artist — she was the artist on the project, her project, a more-than-equal partner in her own indie comics operation. Her characters, both male and female identified, cover the full spectrum from gentle to rough, fighter to lover, healer to killer. Cutter’s line of ten chiefs includes many women (next year’s review!)– their founder and savior, Timmain, comes into play later as a huge guiding force. Leetah and Cutter come at their problem from different angles, oftentimes being pushed and pulled in directions that made me wince by their advisors, but they’re on equal footing. And the next time the forced bonding of Recognition smacks a Wolfrider in the face… well, let’s just say it’s nowhere close to a HFN. But that’s another story for another time.

The story is extremely simple and linear, its main points now exhausted in the genre, but it is, at least, honest. Pini’s artwork  is beautiful and expressive, clearly inspired by manga, and yet uniquely her own, adding extra layers to the large cast of characters. Of course starting with our biggest heroes: Cutter, Leetah, and a few of the larger supporting cast like Skywise.

As the series go on, layers are added to the cultures and relationships within the tribes. But it’s a pretty, if simple start to something eventually complicated. And well worth the read, even if it wasn’t totally free. Which, like I said, it is.

From ElfQuest: Fire and Flight by Wendy and Richard Pini

*No, really. Wendy Pini is commonly known to fans as “Elf-Mom”.


KV Taylor’s first novel was Scripped, a dark fantasy from Belfire Press about mean Appalachian fairies. (Her Aunt Trish did the cover art.) Katey spends most of her free time reading awesome comics and listening to terrible music. She writes romance as Katey Hawthorne — this summer, she’ll have her first fae romance, too.

Bullet List of Awesome for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Today, please welcome Tracy Faul, who will give us a tour of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz… the book. And compare it to the movie. Oh, the interesting bullet list of awesome that occurs. And oh, how funny it is…


Bullet List of Awesome for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

(no, seriously. Go read the first couple of pages. It’s too long for a list like this, but OMG. It’s so very gray and desolate-sounding; and then it contrasts so mightily with the richness and glorious color words he uses to describe Munchkinland.)

  • It’s incredibly politically incorrect for nowadays, but it always makes me giggle a bit when Baum describes something as “queer” – for example, the Munchkins: “[S]he noticed coming toward her a group of the queerest people she had ever seen. They were not as big as the grown folk she had always been used to; but neither were they very small. In fact, they seemed about as tall as Dorothy, who was a well-grown child for her age, although they were, so far as  looks go, many years older.” {Side note: Notice Dorothy is the *same height* as fully grown Munchkins. Think what this says about her age. Now, think about the movie…}
  • ‘Silver Shoes’ are so much better – to me, anyway – than ‘Ruby Slippers,’ which seem rather impractical for a long-distance journey by foot over uncertain terrain.
  • Miss Practicality: Dorothy, before setting out on her journey, changes into her only other dress (serendipitously clean), washes her face, makes sure she and Toto are well-rested, fed and watered, packs a basket with fruit and bread, and changes into the apparently most practical Silver Shoes. Then she locks the door of the little one-room cottage and puts the key in the pocket of her apron. She LOCKS THE DOOR.
  • Baum liked things neat: all the farms she passes on the first part of her journey are picture-perfect little plots, with perfectly straight lines and picket fences. And everything – EVERYTHING – is painted blue.
  • If it has a mouth, it talks, and is sentient. (Except, apparently, Toto. But if I recall correctly, he actually *does* talk in a later book; and tells Dorothy that he never felt it necessary to do so before. Wise dog; we should all take a leaf from his book – except that then Twitter would be no fun at all…)
  • Dorothy says, “There is no place like home” on page 30 of my copy of the book. No clicking of heels, just says it. Of course, she’s not whisked away immediately; that would be too easy.
  • Miss Practicality, again: when stopping for the night, Dorothy insists on fresh water nearby, and walls and a roof to protect her. Serendipity, again, is looking out for her – she finds the Tin Man’s little cottage, although she doesn’t realize that till a bit later.
  • After meeting up with and liberating the Tin Man, Dorothy & her companions enter a sort of Forest Primeval, all overgrown and dark and creepy, and just to make it a little MORE creepy, Tin Man starts telling his story, in which he loses bits in service of luuuurve. Lots of lovely gore. And aborted romance. (Actually, this is important. A later book — #12, The Tin Woodman of Oz – reunites him with Nimmee Amee, his sweetie, and he has lots of adventures to try to win her back. I forget how it ends.)
  • Kalidahs! Baum had a genius for creating unusual beasts to populate his world, and providing descriptions that leant themselves to artistic rendering. “’What are Kalidahs?’ asked the girl. ‘They are monstrous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers,’ replied the lion; ‘and with claws so long and sharp that they could tear me in two as easily as I could kill Toto. I’m terribly afraid of the Kalidahs.’”Kalidahs
  • This next bit I love as it deviates somewhat from the movie (Yes, the book was better. The book is nearly always better.) Dorothy and her companions build a raft to cross a river. The Scarecrow and the Tin Man are poling them across, and the Scarecrow’s pole gets stuck {side note: I can’t seem to write this without giggling. Sorry. But not really.} They end up floating quite a way downstream from the Yellow Brick Road. A very kind Stork rescues and delivers the Scarecrow unto them from his perch in the center of the river. {*snicker*} Next up: The Poppy Field!
  • I think it’s worth noting that, in the movie, by this point the Wicked Witch of the West has been doing her best to eliminate our intrepid group of travelers. In the book? She’s had a mention, briefly, back when Dorothy first arrived in Munchkinland, and hasn’t been heard of since. The poppy field is entirely natural. However, the opiates are derived from the seeds, so simply smelling the flowers will probably NOT put you to sleep. But the mythology behind it is lovely. Anyway, the poppies put Dorothy & Toto to sleep, but the Tin Man and the Scarecrow are able to carry them out. The Lion is not so fortunate, so….
  • The Tin Man, who has by this point rusted his own jaw shut several times crying over accidentally stepping on ants, chops off a critter’s head and rescues a mouse. Coincidentally, she’s the Queen of all field-mice. Hmmm… This seems familiar somehow… could it be that the Queen mouse will be able to help the—Oh. Why, yes, the Lion *is* rescued by hundreds of teeny squeaky little mice. (Although I do have to admit, I always wondered why, since the Lion fell near the edge of the field, they didn’t just tear up enough poppies in a path around the Lion to allow him to breathe fresh air, wake up, and make his own way out. Granted, that would have taken a fair bit of time, but it’s not like they’re exactly on a strict schedule.)
  • In the forest, the Yellow Brick Road was poorly tended, pot-holey and torn up, but on this side of the river, it’s once again well-tended, and the primary paint-and-clothing color is veering toward the green, indicating we’re on the outskirts of the Emerald City. Finally. But after speaking with the locals, we learn that “No one has ever actually been permitted into the presence” of the All-Powerful Wizard of Oz. Oh, noes! How will we get our brains/heart/courage/travel plans now?
  • The Gate-Keeper to the City of Emeralds is a green-tinted man who fits all our traveling companions – including Toto – with spectacles locked on with a key, with green glass in the frames to protect the eyes from the glory of the city.   The Wizard of Oz
  •  Everything is GREEN in the Emerald City. Green marble, emeralds everywhere, green glass windows, green skin and hair… I asked my kids if they thought everything was really green, or if it just seemed that way to every single person because they all wore the green glass spectacles. We voted a solid 50-50 between the four of us. I have insider information, but I still voted for the green glass making everything look green, even if it’s really not.
  • Baum never really says why Oz decided to see Dorothy and her companions, but he does. And, essentially, orders them separated. He will only see one at a time, one per day. They are each shown to a room; Dorothy’s is described as having a closet full of dresses in rich fabrics, all green, and all fitting her perfectly. Creepy but very magical.
  • The Many Faces of Oz: To Dorothy, he is a giant, disembodied head; to the Scarecrow, she appears as a beautiful lady. To the Tin Man, he is a terrible Beast, nearly as big as an elephant, with a face like a rhinoceros with five eyes, five long arms growing out of its body, and five long, slim legs, all covered in thick wooly hair. The Cowardly Lion is faced with a giant Ball of Fire {and ZOMG now I have Jerry Lee Lewis singing in my head! EARWORM! Make it stop! *whimper*} and all four companions are exhorted that, if one of them will but kill the Wicked Witch of the West, who has enslaved the Winkies, they shall all receive their requested reward.
  • Note of the most mundane: after determining that they shall, indeed, travel to the land of the Winkies and attempt to free them from the dominion of the Wicked Witch {Dear Gods and Goddesses, now I have a dominatrix in green pleather and a tall hat strutting through my brain; what is *WRONG* with me!} they get a good night’s sleep in their green rooms and are awakened by a crowing green cock {Not gonna say it, not gonna say it, not gonna say it} and the cackling of a green hen who laid a green egg {Hey! Who invited Dr. Seuss??}.
  • They set off toward the West, where there are no roads, for no one wishes to go that way and be enslaved, but they’re assured that they’ll have no problem locating the Wicked Witch as she’ll surely enslave them as well. And after the green glass spectacles are removed, the dress Dorothy acquired from the Emerald Palace turns out to be white, rather than green. Whodathunkit? And, oh, goodies, here come the Witch’s outliers:
  • The Witch sends out a pack of wolves. The Tin Woodman and his axe kill all 40 of them while Dorothy sleeps.
  • The Witch sends a flock of crows; the Scarecrow wrings 40 crows’ necks.
  • The Witch sends deadly black bees. Somehow, the Scarecrow’s straw is enough to cover Dorothy, the Lion, and Toto sufficiently to keep them from being stung, and all the stingers are broken off on the Tin Man’s body, thus killing the bees. My, they are just leaving behind them a path of death and destruction, are they not?
  • So the Witch turns to her Last Resort – a Golden Cap with a charm inside that will allow her to summon three times the Winged Monkeys. She’s used them twice already: Once to enslave the Winkies, and once to drive the Great and Powerful Oz out of the West. Dorothy and her traveling companions are enough of a threat to make her use up this last summoning, and lucky her, it works – the Scarecrow is taken apart and scattered across a forest; the Tin Man is dropped to the bottom of a rocky ravine; and the others are taken to the Witch, who puts Dorothy to work in the kitchen and attempts to starve the Lion into working as a beast of burden (of course Dorothy manages to foil this.)
  • The Witch is, indeed, melted accidentally by a bucket of water. (C’mon, it’s not a spoiler. It’s one of the few things everybody knows that the movie actually got right!) She is also bloodless (“She was so wicked the blood in her had dried up”) and apparently afraid of the dark.
  • The Winkies, despite having been enslaved, immediately perk right up and suffer no ill effects whatsoever; they rescue the Tin Man and buff him up and lube his joints {OMG, yes, I *KNOW*}, then restuff the Scarecrow {with *STRAW*, people; they’re Winkies and yellow and they grow yellow things like straw and corn!! Sheesh! The dirty minds on you!} and then it’s back to the Emerald City and Oz to make him fulfill his promises. And for some reason, the Winkies have become so very fond of the Tin Man that they ask him to stay and be their ruler. I’m not saying he won’t be a good and caring ruler, I’m just saying we never really hear WHY they want him. And Dorothy finds the Golden Cap which summons the Winged Monkeys, and apparently thinks, “Oh, how interesting,” and carries it off in her little basket which she’s STILL toting around, WEEKS after landing in this queer fairyland.
  • Oh, guess what? They can’t find their way back – no roads, remember? – so they summon the Queen of the field mice. Yep, that’s right. The mouse they rescued on the other side of the COUNTRY has, I can only imagine, been following them around, for no sooner do they think of asking her advice than there she is. That, or she can transport somehow. I want that power. Oh, and the mouse Queen tells them that they’ve been going the wrong way! Does the sun work differently there, or do they none of them know how to tell direction from the sun?? AND the Queen just so happens to know about the charm in the Golden Cap, and suggests that Dorothy summon the Winged Monkeys to fly them back to Oz. And, of course, because she’s just that kind of girl, she listens to their sad story. Of course it’s a sad story; aren’t they all?
  • So, here we are, back in the Emerald City. The Wizard is exposed as a humbug, yet everyone *still* expects him to do for them – he even says himself, “How can I be anything BUT a humbug, when people will keep expecting me to do the impossible for them?” He cooks up a mess to be brains for the Scarecrow, involving many needles and pins; a satin heart stuffed with sawdust for the Tin Man {Build-a-Bear Workshop? RLY?}, and snakeoil courage for the Cowardly Lion. Then he builds a hot air balloon which, sadly, he can’t control, and he leaves while Dorothy Dear is stranded. So Dorothy calls again on the Winged Monkeys, who tell her they can’t fly her to Kansas because they don’t *belong* in Kansas. They suggest she go to see Glinda, the Witch of the South, for help, and oh, yay, we get to cross more of Oz and see more interesting people and possibly animals.
  • South is the Land of the Quadlings, just as Munchkins are East and Winkies are West, and their color is Red. North is the Gillikins and Purple; find yourselves a map sometime (they’re in all the MMPBs I’ve seen). Seriously, the man’s map is DETAILED. Jaw-droppingly. I would love to get it poster-sized.
  • Scarecrow’s brains make him the new Ruler of Oz as a whole. Yep. Pins and needles are what one needs to qualify as a ruler.
  • What fun things do we run into as we travel south? Well, first are the trees whose branches attempt to fling the travelers back in the direction from whence they came – The Tin Man and his axe intimidate them into submission. Next, they discover a high wall surrounding many acres of land; inside everything is made of porcelain, and much destruction and smashing of things is caused by Dorothy and crew. Then there is a forest wherein all manner of beasts dwell; everything except, apparently, a Lion. The Cowardly Lion is invited to kill the giant spidery beast which has eaten all the other lions in the forest. {Oh, ew, spiders! Also, Hagrid would be SO HAPPY here!} Of course, the newly courage-d lion easily defeats the creature and is invited to come and rule over the forest once he’s seen Dorothy to journey’s end. Finally, there is a hill populated by man-like creatures with flat heads and no arms, which can shoot their heads as a projectile at all comers. This sends Dorothy (finally!!) to summon the Winged Monkeys to carry them over the hill and to Glinda’s palace. I think you can figure it out from there. There’s no place like home, after all! {Ok, so that’s not EXACTLY how it happened, but it’s close enough.}

Every time I revisit Oz, I discover new layers to the narrative. I’m currently in the middle of reading the first book aloud to my sons, ages 7 and 8 (and occasionally the 11-year-old Girl-child will sit and listen as well). I don’t know if they’ll all watch the movie; the 8YO can be a bit odd about stuff like that. He plays Halo but won’t watch Harry Potter and called the Spiderwick movie a “horror” movie, but his little brother thinks that Voldemort is cool. L. Frank Baum wrote 14 books and numerous short stories, scripts and supplemental materials in the Oz canon, and at least half a dozen or more stories set in the same fairy universe (many of the characters from those “other” fairylands make an appearance in various Oz books as supporting characters; some over and over again.) And eventually, Dorothy is invited to live permanently in Oz, and is allowed to bring with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, who have finally been defeated by the reality of trying to eke a living out of farming in Kansas as a small-holder. Altogether, I’m finding myself drawn to the idea of re-reading as many of these books as I can, and looking forward to sharing them with my children. The rich descriptions and depths of the characterizations, even more than the Fairy setting, make these books set outside of Time, and thus timeless in their appeal. And they’re whimsical enough to amuse while being complex enough to challenge. Baum himself, in an introduction he wrote in 1900, stated that he had no intention of using his books to teach lessons; they were solely intended for the amusement of children. So many of the books of the time were of the “Elsie Dinsmore” bent; that is, they were designed to teach a moral lesson, rather than allowing the reader to escape into a world of pure fantasy, and they were more popular with parents and educators than they were with children. Yet, whether he intended it or not, Baum inserted gentle lessons on humanity, politics, manners and more into his stories, for, after all, if Dorothy seems in many respects to be a static character, she spurs those around her to growth and development, and we cannot grow or develop without learning a few things about ourselves and others.

A Tale of Two Stardusts

by DS Stephen

In 1998, DC Comics released a compilation of the four comics that comprised Stardust (Being A Romance Within The Realm of Faerie), as written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess. In 2007, a movie based on Stardust was released, directed by Matthew Vaughn. Both works are perfect choices for Fae Awareness Month, since they contain magic and mystical elements that imply fae influence. Herein lies a summary of the book and the movie. I promise not to fall into the trap of denouncing the movie for the book (although, a warning – denouncing the movie on its own merit is fair game).

Stardust (Being A Romance Within The Realm Of Faerie) by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

The book Stardust is the story of a young man, Tristran Thorn, and his adventures in Faerie. It’s set in England during the mid-1800s in a universe parallel to our own, in that the narrator name-drops a young Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens, along with photographs and the creation of Morse code. That being established, we’re told of a town called Wall, named for the actual stone wall to which it’s in close proximity. This wall is guarded day and night, and acts as a barrier between England and the Realm of Faerie, a land of nymphs and satyrs, trolls, gnomes, and witches, where fairy tales are just tales. However, every nine years a fair is held in the part of Faerie just beyond the wall, and all and sundry flock to Wall to get the opportunity to cross through the sole gap in the border.

Tristan is half-fae himself, the child of a somewhat hapless young man and a woman of the fae who is bound in servitude to a witch until “the moon loses her daughter, if that occurs in a week when two Mondays come together.” We first meet his father, Dunstan Thorn, who wins the promise his heart’s desire from a gentlemen he houses prior to the fair in Faerie. That turns out to be the bewitching enslaved woman from Beyond the Wall. The two meet up after dark and do the horizontal, and less than a year later a basket housing an infant Tristran Thorn is found near the wall. Fast-forward eighteen years; Tristran is described as a shy lad utterly besotted with a young woman named Victoria Forester. He goes over to the other side of the wall to retrieve for Victoria a fallen star, with the hopes that on his return he and Victoria will marry. Tristan’s father, who has married and has a daughter as well, views Tristan’s journey to the Land Beyond the Wall inevitable. After forbidding Tristran’s venture into Faerie during the fairs, Dunstan accompanies his son to the border before sending him on his way.

We are next introduced to the other players in the story: the brothers of Stormhold, the Lilim, and a star. The eighty-first Lord of Stormhold and his seven sons, named sequentially in order of birth, four deceased (as ghosts) and three alive (Primus, Tertius, and Septimus). The succession of Stormhold only goes to the sole surviving son, so as his sons weren’t able to whittle their ranks down the Lord of Stormhold declares whomever first procures a topaz that contains the Power of Stormhold will be the next ruler. He throws the topaz across the sky and falls dead (otherwise known as “pulling a Jean Grey”), and the three brothers depart. The Power of Stormhold, during its epic trek through the air, seems to knock a star out of the sky. The Lilim, three ancient witches, sense the star’s dislodgement and choose one from among them to pursue it and retrieve its heart. It seems that consuming the heart of a star will revive the Lilim’s youth, and the Lilim who leaves ingests the last bit of youth remaining in order to gain power for her journey. Last, we meet the star, a woman who, quite understandably (and hilariously), says “fuck.”

We return to Tristran, who runs into the “hairy little man” (“HLM” hereafter), a creature who had met Tristran’s father back nineteen years prior in Wall. The HLM immediately picks up something odd about Tristran’s heritage (“I was thinkin’ more of a grandmother who was a famous enchantress, or an uncle who was a prominent warlock, or a brace of fairies somewhere in the family tree.”) The two have a run in with homicidal trees, and Tristan’s newfound ability to find paths and locations in the land beyond Wall saves both their lives. Thankful, HLM gives Tristran new clothing, a chain made of “cat’s breath and fish scales, and moonlight on a mill-pond, melted and smithied and forged by the dwarfs,” and a candle that acts like seven league boots.

The journey on the road continues. Septimus proves his deviousness by killing Tertius by way of poisoned wine, brought to Tertius by a hapless chambermaid prior to a tryst. Primus is established as the more compassionate of the fratricidal pair when he makes sure Tertius’s body is returned to Stormhold before continuing on after the Power of Stormhold. The Lilim, on the other hand, proves herself to be a very bad dime indeed, transforming a poor boy into a goat to make a pair to draw her carriage.

The Lion and the Unicorn by Charles VessTristran lights his candle and travels leagues in second. He quickly finds the fallen star, an understandably bitter and angry woman, but he’s unable to get her to go with him before his candle putters out, leaving the two strained about six months of travel away from Wall. He uses the chain that the HLM gifted to him to bind her, and they end up walking (in the case of the star, having broken her leg, limping) towards Wall. During their walk they see a lion and a unicorn engaged in bloody battle, and Tristran, remembering what he’d always believed to be nursery rhyme, saves the unicorn’s life by locating the crown they were fighting over and giving it to the lion. Tristran unbinds himself from the star to go locate food, and it’s on the back of the unicorn that the star escapes.

The Lilim ends up setting up the means for the survival of Tristran and the star after running into the witch who enslaved the fae woman from the beginning of the story, Madame Semele. Madame Semele tricks the Lilim into sharing her knowledge of the fallen star and the youth that can be retained from consuming the star’s heart, and in retaliation the Lilim curses Madame Semele to not be able to perceive any part of the star and to treat her future guests with more respect. The Lilim’s act of vengeance sows her own failure later on, as we find out.

Tristran ends up traveling with Primus thanks to the intervention of a sympathetic wood nymph. They stop for the night themselves at an inn that was magicked into existence by the Lilim in order to capture the star, stymieing the witch’s plans. The inn is at a mountain pass, magicked into existence by the Lilim with the hopes of catching her and cutting out her heart. The unicorn uncovers the Lilim’s murder plot and warns Tristran, but not before the Lilim kills Primus. Tristran manages to salvage the dregs of his candle, thrusting his hands into a fire and badly burning himself before transporting him and the star out of immediate danger.

The candle escape leaves the two trapped in a cloud. Yvaine and Tristran meet the sky ship captain, Captain Johannes Alberic. Yvaine, the star, shares her name with Tristran for the first time. The two tag along with the captain and his friendly lightening-hunting crew for a bit, getting their respective injuries tended. When they depart the narrator relays in brief a number of adventures Tristran and Yvaine have along their way to Wall. They then run into Madame Semele and her multi-colored bird. Madame Semele, under the influence of the Lilim’s curse, doesn’t see or interact with Yvaine. Semele changes Tristran into a dormouse and transports him and unbeknownst to Semele, Yvaine, to Wall. The two have a close call when Semele crosses paths with the Lilim (who killed Septimus, the last remaining Stormhold prince), but the Lilim’s curse prevents Semele from acknowledging or speaking of Yvaine’s presence in her carriage and the Lilim cannot seem to sense the star.

It’s revealed that Yvaine must deliver the Power of Stormhold to its rightful owner, and that the multi-colored bird was the same woman who was bound to Madame Semele back in the beginning of the story. Tristran goes back through the Wall to his town, where he meets with Victoria. Victoria tells him she is engaged to Mr. Monday and didn’t think Tristran would leave Wall to look for the star. Tristran leaves her to her marriage and husband and then goes to reunite with his family. Yvaine speaks with Victoria on the other side of the Wall (“Your fame precedes you.”) and briefly contemplates suicide by transfiguration into stone (as stars that leave Faerie turn into a meteorite) when she thinks Victoria and Tristran are going to get married. But Victoria then introduces Yvaine to her fiancée with the announcement that “on [the Friday of the wedding breakfast] there will be two Mondays together!”

Tristran and Yvaine, having both met with the continued catalyst of the story and having realized they had a “meet-cute” for a reason, now come together and kiss. This concludes the final portion of Madame Semele’s slave woman’s rules for freedom, and she then announces that she is Lady Una, only daughter of the eighty-first Lord of Stormhold. Lady Una introduces herself to Tristran as his mother, tells him that he is the eighty-second Lord of Stormhold.

Yvaine runs into the Lilim, who is now a shriveled old woman now that she’s used so much of her power. It turns out that the Lilim couldn’t sense Yvaine because Yvaine’s heart was given over to Tristran. The two part with a kiss and go off on their separate ways.

Tristran and Yvaine decide to wander Faerie and have adventures for a number of years, leaving Tristran’s mother as regent until their return. Yvaine, being a star and quite long-lived, rules Stormhold after Tristran’s death. And the story concludes on a bittersweet note, with Yvaine standing on the highest precipice of Stormhold, looking up at her star sisters in the sky.

Stardust, Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Also: Wherein The Writer Apologies In Advance For Snark

Stardust Movie Poster
The movie establishes at the beginning by way of graphics and voiceover that belief in fae is not widespread (maybe that’s what the letter Dunstan sends to them is inquiring about? It’s not made very clear, perhaps an omen for the rest of the movie). The town of Wall is located in England, within some proximity to the stone wall from which it takes its name. The Land Beyond the Wall, Stormhold, is particularly intriguing to young Dunstan Thorn, who ends up running past a lone elderly guard into a bustling market. The contents of the market are wondrous (mini-elephants in a cage!), but Dunstan finds himself most enamored with a dark-haired woman tending a cache of crystal flowers for an older woman. The dark-haired woman announces that she is an enslaved princess, who cannot be freed until her captor is dead. When Dunstan asks how he can help console her, the woman takes him into her wagon with amorous intent (“if this wagon is a’rockin…” although one does wonder where the woman’s captor is during this interlude). Soon after (in movie-time), Dunstan is presented with a baby Tristan (because the extra “r” must have irked the studio) Thorn.

The older Tristan we meet an undetermined time in the future is comically awkward and unpopular, even though he’s movie star handsome. He gets relationship advice from his horribly aged father, who’s aware of Tristan’s infatuation with one Victoria Forester, and one would suppose that’s why Tristan ends up outside Victoria’s window with a picnic basket and a bottle of champagne in the wee hours of the morning. In a typical logic-less twist, Victoria goes from a girl who mocks Tristan to one who goes out to dine with him in the wee hours of the morning (pity-fueled midnight picnics?). It’s while the two are imbibing that they see a falling star, and Tristan pledges to bring the star back for Victoria if she’ll promise to marry him. Victoria agrees, and gives Tristan one week to return with the star in tow.

We also meet with the eighty-second Lord of Stormhold and his seven children (four alive, three dead), and three ancient witches. The Lord of Stormhold presents the Ruby of Stormhold, proclaiming that only the rightful heir can change the ruby back to its true form (rubies work better than topazes; who knew?). Only three of his sons (Primus, Tertius, and Septimus) end up leaving the Lord of Stormhold’s chamber in search of the star; Septimus is established as a bad mofo when he pushes Secundus out of a window to his death while the Lord of Stormhold laughs. Tertius meets his end in the palace before then even leave to hunt down the Ruby, poisoned by Septimus while Primus narrowly misses his own death. Michelle Pfeiffer gets screen time next in old crone makeup as one of the witches, speaking with a distractingly bad British accent. She de-ages herself with her sister’s approval and runs off to hunt down the star.

Back in Wall, Tristan goes to his father and tells him of his intention to leave for Stormhold after Tristan’s attempt to leave by way of the gap in the wall comes to naught (old guardian guy has apparently learnt martial arts in the eighteen plus years between Thorn escape attempts; old guardian guy has also aged tons better than Dunstan Thorn). Dunstan tells Tristan that his mother is enslaved somewhere over in Stormhold and that she left him gifts of a BABYLON CANDLE, a chain that can ensnare almost anything, and the crystal flower Dunstan had attempted to purchase all those years prior. Dunstan lights the candle and is immediately transported to the star, who turns out to be Claire Danes in a long blond wig.

Tristan and the star bicker off-and-on for a few scenes. There is a lot of bickering. It’s obvious they’re going to fall madly for one another. The formerly old witch with the bad accent (named Lamia) transfigures a cart led by two goats, and meets up with the witch that has captured Tristan’s mother. The witch, Ditchwater Sal, double-crosses Lamia, and gets cursed. Meanwhile, Septimus continues to demonstrate he’s a bad mofo and kills an old guy.

Tristan ties the star to a tree using the magic binding chain, then goes to find food. A unicorn appears from the forest and frees the star, and the two canter off into the forest. When Tristan comes back to find himself alone he’s more emo than ever. It’s established that Tristan knows the star’s name to be Yvaine because he yells it when he comes back and notices she’s gone. Tristan cries silent tears and curls up under a tree to sleep, but is awakened by the voice of a star who warns him that he must save Yvaine from Lamia. Tristan then has a “meet-cute” with Primus, and the two become travel-buddies.

Yvaine makes her way to Lamia’s transfigured inn-trap, unaware of the danger to her well being (and also her heart). Right before Lamia actually does the deed Primus and Tristan roll up asking for shelter. She then leaves Yvaine and goes to see to her new boarders, because the movie needs to build suspense. Things go as in the book: the unicorn uncovers the trap, Tristan runs in to warn Primus, Primus is killed by Lamia (bleeding blue blood, because I guess a fount of red fluid gushing from carotids would have caused the PG rating to change to a R?), Tristan transports with Yvaine into the clouds using the BABYLON CANDLE (which is apparently a big thing, because it’s been mentioned at least three times by various characters).

Captain WTFThen some editing intern gets his/her hands on the reels and splices in twenty-five minutes of a vaguely intriguing sky pirate movie into Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Stardust. That is the only way to explain the presence of Robert DeNiro’s transvestite Captain Shakespeare and his literally dirty crew of kind-hearted rapscallions. It’s like the only way they could get DeNiro in the movie was to heavily bulk up the role of Captain Alberic from the book, creating an effeminate fashionisto working though paternal issues. The more I ponder it, the more I see the idea behind a character like Shakespeare fascinating on a certain level, but the execution was often painful at best. It seems that the introduction of Shakespeare, in addition to being a vessel for Robert DeNiro to play a pirate in the spirit of Johnny Depp, is a long-winded montage-laden way to show Yvaine and Tristan that they shouldn’t hide who they are and/or their feelings for one another. However, the sky captain section became just that, the Sky Captain section. The little bit of story coherency, in my opinion, was lost to advance the plot (via montages) and the protagonists (one week deadline to make it back to Wall).

Shakespeare gifts Tristan with lightening before dropping them off about two days journey outside of Wall (not before a forgettable appearance by Ricky Gervais), which means they’ll get to Wall with just enough time for Tristan to find Victoria and marry her (Tristan has grown long hair and learned how to fight within five days). Dishwater Sal meets up with Tristan and Yvaine, changes Tristan into a dormouse, and takes them close to Wall. During the journey to Wall Yvaine confesses her love for Tristan. When he’s transformed back into a human Tristan at first seems like he might not remember Yvaine’s confession, but he does!

Then Yvaine and Tristan have sex. But the movie is PG-13 so it’s implied and occurs off-camera. It’s also implied that Tristan is amazing in bed, because Yvaine says she’s had her first night of restful sleep since reaching land. But it turns out she’s speaking to herself, because Tristan’s gone, having left a ambiguous message for Yvaine with the innkeeper telling her than Tristan’s going to Victoria and he’s found his one true love. Because the movie needs angst Yvaine thinks Tristan is leaving her for Victoria, so she heads off towards Wall. Not realizing that she’ll turn into a rock on the other side. Angst! Angst!

Tristan, after going to Victoria and showing her how much hotter he now is than her current boyfriend, also realizes that Yvaine will turn into a meteorite if she leaves Stormhold. Cue the slow-motion run of Tristan, Tristan’s mother, Septimus, and Lamia, towards Yvaine. Yvaine’s venture out of Stormhold is halted, there’s a skirmish at the border, Dishwater Sal is killed, and Tristan’s mom and Yvaine are taken to the witches’ home.

Septimus and Tristan join forces to storm the castle. Tristan meets his mother for the first time, she reunites with her brother Septimus, and they all gather together just in time for Lamia to torture Septimus to death in a rather grotesque scene. Cue boss battle: Lamia vs. Tristan. They fight, Lamia pulls a fake out where she says she quits, and she totally doesn’t quit. Yvaine kills Lamia after she and Tristan hug it out (I don’t even; I’m guessing the test audiences weren’t happy unless the baddie got her comeuppance). Tristan’s revealed as the heir to Stormhold, it’s voice-overed that he and Yvaine live forever (I’m guessing Tristan dying and leaving Yvaine all alone didn’t fly with test audiences either). And as a coronation present Tristan’s mother gives him and Yvaine a BABYLON CANDLE (she must have stockpiles of the things; also, didn’t Dishwater Sal say they were black magic? (Tristan’s mom = sekrit Big Bad!)

Cue credits.
The End

Vertigo’s Books of Faerie

by KV Taylor

The Books of Magic, a now-defunct DC-Vertigo comic series, sprouted from Neil Gaiman’s mystical miniseries of the same name, which I went on about at length in a previous post this month. The book on which I concentrated, Book III: The Land of Summer Twilight, details Timothy Hunter’s[1] journey with Dr. Occult through Faerie. It’s a particularly relevant book for the ongoing series (well, okay, they all are), and directly spawned the stories peopling The Books of Faerie: Auberon’s Tale and The Books of Faerie, still available in trade paperback collections[2].

In order to discuss these pretty little TPBs, I’m going to have to spoil Gaiman’s Books of Magic a touch. Not plot wise, but a single line from Titania that could be interpreted in several ways (imagine that!). It will by no means ruin your enjoyment of the GN if you pick it up, as it has zero bearing on the plot, but you’ve been warned.

The Books of Faerie: Auberon's Tale

While both collections consist of pure Books of Magic pre-history and side-plots, I’m sticking to the history stories — all of which were written by Bronwyn Carlton and drawn by Peter Gross (with Vince Locke in Auberon’s Tale). They amount to a kind of double fanfiction: stories based on Gaiman’s cryptic Titania from BoM, and stories based on a more directly Shakespearian concept of Oberon and Titania. The stories are bent to suit and explain the world of the ongoing BoM books, but stand alone as objects of interest to fae lovers.

I’ll start with Auberon’s Tale, to move chronologically — not in order of publication. It begins with Book I: The Regicide, in which King Magnus, a bit of a drunken idiot with a pureblood fairy superiority complex, insists that he compete in the tourney — against a lovable idiot of a troll. (Note that no one tries to stop him.) Obviously, this ends badly, and seeing as fairies don’t reproduce very often, the kingdom is left without an obvious heir. There is the king’s brother, Duke Huonnor, and there is the son of the king’s older sister, little Auberon. The king’s cousin Obrey and a courtier with a deeper connection to Magnus, Amadan, conspire to set Auberon on the throne as a puppet. You can see them talking in the shadows up there, as a matter of fact, in the doorway behind goofily grinning little Aubie, as his aunt and guardian Dymphna calls him.

 Page From Auberon's Tale - Art: Gross/Locke

Even before the sweet, liberal-minded boy can be installed, the machinations begin. Amadan tries to turn Obrey against Auberon, Auberon’s aunt Dymphna becomes engaged to Obrey, Huonnor goes to war with Obrey (who supposedly fights in Auberon’s name), and the whole thing becomes a sticky political mess worthy of the fae. As if it wasn’t enough, Amadan reveals that Magnus was trying to solve the fairy reproductive issue with what some consider less-than-savory experiments.

Anyone familiar with tales of the fae will guess that yes, humans are involved.

It’s a good read, and I think it highlights the slightly more human qualities of the fae here, as opposed to the frighteningly mercurial Gaiman Titania (though Auberon isn’t in BoM), and the sort of otherworldly yet simultaneously earthy fae Shakespeare envisioned. They certainly have the Shakespearean element of jealousy, though. Oh, and as a bonus, you get a really cute short about little Aubie meeting his friend, the magnificent little pink fotch he’s got on a leash on the cover up there.

 The Books of Faerie

Titania’s story, told in the collected The Books of Faerie TPB, begins with Book I: The Foundling’s Tale. There’s a sort of prologue, in which we see BoM frontman (frontboy?) Tim Hunter confronting a fully grown King Auberon and Queen Titania, claiming to be Titania’s son. Remember that thing I said about spoiling a single line of the Gaiman story? I said in my previous post on BoM that “…Titania’s parting words, for us alone, lead us to believe Tim will always be tied to Faerie in ways he can’t yet imagine.” Because what she said was, “And will you also hatch out worlds, my son?”

Take it how you like–and oh, Gaiman’s left it open–but Bronwyn Carlton’s backstory for Titania takes it literally. This goes one step beyond A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘s adopted Indian boy changeling, but it’s cool that the entire tale works as a nod to it, even as it fills in a gap in the BoM mythos. (The double fanfiction element strikes!)

The Books of Faerie Art: Gross

The story really begins with a little girl called Maryrose being led into Faerie in spite of her gran’s warnings. The then-queen of Faerie, Dymphna, takes her under her wing and keeps her along with her little elf handmaidens, and treats her as a daughter. And then, King Obrey, whose machinations only seem to have gotten more ridiculous (oh yes, Lord Amadan is still there, if in a slightly, ah, altered form), comes home from war… and falls for little Maryrose, never knowing she was once mortal.

It’s a more character-driven story than Auberon’s, Maryrose’s journey from innocent to fae courtier, and what she’s willing to sacrifice to be a queen. Almost the moment she achieves this goal, Auberon finally defeats his cousin, Obrey the Usurper, and returns to Faerie to reclaim his crown… and offers Titania a deal, in the name of peace and prosperity for his people. She accepts, and yet, she’s never happy, caught between what she is and what she’s trying to be. Even Tamlin the Falconer can only make her happy for a short time, and that, well, as the above panel implies, spawns a mess.

Titania and Auberon from The Books of Faerie Art: Gross

Naturally it’s more complicated than all that, full of ins and outs and political madness, but that’s the gist. Titania’s tale has that same, slightly more human aspect, which . She’s at once strong and willing to sacrifice, but also swings to vulnerability and regret. Her main conflict stems from the continued emphasis on the importance of fairy blood, and her lack thereof. In that way, it’s this sort of typical fantasy story about queenship, womb control, and domestic complications. She’s not the Titania I expected, but she’s satisfying, if problematic, as a character, all the same.

The other stories in these collections, the side-plots from the ongoing series, are very cool too–and there’s another TPB collection called The Books of Faerie: Molly’s Story (which I’ve not been able to find, but are beyond the scope of this post, anyhow, as they feature the BoM ongoing character, Molly O’Reilly). I like the art; it’s expressive and easy on the eyes, though not perhaps as otherworldly as Charles Vess’s original Land of Summer Twilight work. The covers, reproduced as full-paged panels as with most TPB collections, are uniformly gorgeous.

Covers (Titania's Book 2: The Widow's Tale and Auberon's Book 3: The Usurper)


[1] Boy with the potential to become the World’s Greatest Magician, hero of both Gaiman’s BoM and the ongoing comic book series, for those not playing along at home.

[2] Side note: these TPB Books of Faerie are how I discovered The Books of Magic in the first place. They were in the bargain bin at my local comic shop and I’m going, “Auberon?! I’m in!”

 

KV Taylor has been a staff member and contributor for Monster Awareness Month, Vampire Awareness Month, and Ghost Appreciation Month, and is very pleased to be on the job again with the fae. Her freaky Appalachian fae novel, Scripped, is forthcoming from Belfire Press this summer.

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