Midnight Snack and Other Fairy Tales

BOOK: Midnight Snack and Other Fairy Tales
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Midnight Snack

and Other Fairy Tales

Diane Duane

The Badfort Press

County Wicklow, Ireland

Midnight Snack and Other Fairy Tales

© Diane Duane 2012

Published by The Badfort Press

County Wicklow, Ireland

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be sent to:

Donald Maass Literary Agency
Suite 801
121 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001

*

“Blank Check” originally appeared in
On Crusade
, edited by Katherine Kurtz, Warner Books, 1998

“Cold Case” originally appeared in
Murder by Magic: Twenty Tales of Crime and the Supernatural,
edited by Rosemary Edghill, Time Warner / Aspect Books, 2004.

“The Dovrefell Cat” originally appeared in XANADU 2, edited by Jane Yolen, Jane Yolen Books / Tor Books, January 1994. 

“The House” originally appeared in 
Witch High,
 edited by Denise Little, Tekno Books, 2008

“Midnight Snack” originally appeared in
Sixteen: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers For Young Adults,
edited by Donald R. Gallo: Delacorte Press, 1984

“…Under My Skin” originally appeared in 
Mystery Date
, edited by Denise Little, Tekno Books, 2008

Affectionately dedicated to
the Three in the Upstairs Room
        …ἔστι γὰρ ἡμ
ῖν σήμαθ᾽ ἃ δὴ κανὶ νῶϊ κεκρυμμένα ἴδμεν ἀπ᾽ ἄλλων
Foreword
Fairy tales have been a big deal for me all my life. 
At first it was a matter of sheer enjoyment. As an early and frequent raider of the local library in the little Nassau County town where I grew up, the entire fairy tale section, with the multicolored Andrew Lang [Insert Color Here] Fairy Books, was very basic material for me, inhaled as soon as found, and often returned to over the following years

even when I hit the age when a young reader gets selfconscious about being seen in the children’s library. (Readers of
So You Want to Be a Wizard
will hear a familiar theme here.)
As a result, over many years the whole cultural and psychological region occupied by folklore, fairy tale and legend became far more familiar territory to me than the merely physically-real Long Island. I soaked up what we would now think of as tropes through my skin. The brothers Grimm, the Comtesse d’Aulnoy and the other great popularizers (including Lang of course) became my best buds. Long after my yearsmates had gone on to popular fiction

those of them who bothered to read, anyway

I was still deep in this material, hunting down anthologies of folkloric and fairytale material from cultures well outside of the normal European stomping grounds and steeping myself in them.
At no point during this process did I realize I had also been eagerly ingesting what would eventually prove to be a gateway drug. I can, however, clearly remember the long-ago evening when, as I was being put to bed, I asked my Mom a leading question about the fairy tale she’d just read me: “Why does it always have to be a Prince rescuing a Princess? Why can’t a Prince rescue a
Prince?
“ 
Mom kind of chuckled at me and told me that when I grew up, I’d understand. But when I grew up

well, got past eighteen, anyway

and revisited that memory, I was annoyed to discover that I
still
didn’t understand. In fact, the omission of routine relationship-and-rescue opportunities for same-sex fairy tale characters made it clear to me that something about the local storytelling system was broken. So, locally, I set about starting to fix it. I started writing the foundation material for what would later become my first novel, 
The Door into Fire,
 
around the time I went into nursing school.
It
 did take a decade or so to get that story sorted into a shape that was worth other people spending their time to read it. But what the restatement or reworking of that particular theme taught me was that fairy tales were not only my friends, but had opened a gateway to a whole new place from which to live my life. 
Those old tales matter to me in some nontraditional modes as welll.While in psychiatric nursing practice I came across a mode of psychotherapy that took as a given the idea that people adopt elements of fairy tales as life plans, and often spend decades or indeed lifetimes living them out, for good or ill, unless they find (or are shown) the spellbreaker or “magical” act necessary to bring all correctky to fruition. That particular form of therapy,
transactional analysis,
survived a period during which it was considered too weird or crazy to be useful, and has now been accepted into the heartland of what are now (in this psychoactive-drug-crazy era) often referred to as “the talk-related therapies”. And there are any number of pop-psych books of greater or lesser usefulness comparing patterns in modern human lives to patterns laid down in fairy tale, mythology, folklore, and other parts of the lands of archetype. The power of these old storytelling structures, introduced to (or indeed drummed into) so many of us when we’re too young to think analytically about them, is finally being acknowledged as something to be reckoned with, and something that can be turned to our own theapeutic advantage. 
But I have no patience with the idea of consuming fairy tales strictly because they’re
good
for you, like some kind of high-fiber additive for the soul. I also find them comforting, moving, and just plain 
fun.
This is why the bookshelves on my side of the bedroom have the Lang books racked up within easy reach, along with big fat fairy tale books in various other languages (the Swiss ones have pride of place, as readers of
A Wind from the South
will probably have guessed). And this is why fairy tales continue to underlie, or haunt, a surprising amount of my writing: because I love them. 
Occasionally when I’ve been asked to write short fiction, the fondness for fairy tale tropes comes out particularly strongly. In this collection are some stories I’ve written over the last twenty years that reach back most clearly to folkloric roots (or in some cases, to these tales’ close cousin, the ghost story… a good theme for this time of year). 
I hope you have fun with what lies ahead! Because I did. 

Diane Duane
  County Wicklow, Ireland
  October 2012 
About “First Readthrough”

Every writer who considers retelling a fairy tale, in whole or in part, will occasionally come up against a story that makes you wonder what the heck you’re supposed to do about it, because there’s just something about it that refuses to convert smoothly… or at all. Occasionally this has to do with events or character actions that made sense when the story was first told, but fail to make any sense to a modern reader. Other times a story may have still embedded in it elements from an earlier, more brutal version. Or there may simply be interactions among the characters that, when you look at them outside of the dream-logic of the oldest fairy tales, just make no interactional sense at all.

For me “The White Cat” is one of these stories. Having recently reread it while doing some research, there came a day when (after having just come out of a very heavy-duty story meeting on a film project, one of those meetings that makes you question not only your sanity but that of all those around you) I found myself thinking, “It’s a really good thing you don’t have to cast and storybreak fairy tales the way you have to do with regular stories, these days, to get them made…”

And then this happened.

First Readthrough

The meeting room was an anonymous place like hundreds of others all over town, featuring a couple of framed Miro prints on the wall, a rug in a color that made spilled coffee impossible to detect, and a big long blond wood table bearing a couple of conference-call phones, along with a couple of thermos jugs for the coffee. Sitting down at the “good” end of the table, over by the blackboard and away from the door, were a king in a Brooks Brothers suit, and three princes—one in punk leathers, one in jeans and a crewneck sweater, and one in a polo shirt and chinos. Down at the “bad” end of the table were a producer, a director, the guy from Standards and Practices, and a story consultant, all intent on keeping this thing from turning into another Sheep-In-Boots.

Haven’t heard of that one? You bet you haven’t. We’re the reason why.

“Does anybody know where she is?” said the producer. He glanced around to see everyone shaking their heads, and let out a sigh. He was the guy responsible for getting the clearances for “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Master-Maid”, a famous face in the industry; the saggy jowls and the heavy brows appeared in headshots in all the trades at least once a week. Today, though, he had added bloodshot eyes to the mix—a late night spent finishing the casting on “Till Eulenspiegel”, but at long last that one was safe in the bag. You’d think he might have taken the day off, but here he was anyway, professional as ever: doing what mattered to him more than anything: casting. It’s not anything that the reading public knows about, but for a long time now, no fairy tale has been able to “take” until its casting’s finished. The wrong characters cast in a story can condemn it to eternal anonymity; the right ones can make it immortal.

The problem is that the characters all too often have ideas of their own.

“So let’s begin,” the producer said. “There’s a lot of narrative in this draft; the dialogue will kick in in the next one.”

The king unbuttoned his suit jacket and shrugged it into a more comfortable configuration, leaning back; the princes sat there looking noncommittal, all but the youngest one. The Standards and Practices guy didn’t even look up, just started making notes on that seemingly inexhaustible yellow legal pad. He was the S&P staffer most often assigned to our team—a little thin man, thin-lipped, thin-voiced, with little narrow glasses and pale hazel eyes behind them. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t dislike him: he’s just doing his job. But his job,
that
I dislike. It’s not anything I can say while we’re all in that room together, mind you. It’s not the story consultant’s job to have opinions like that.

The producer picked up the script, glanced around to make sure everyone else had theirs. “Here we go,” he said.

He had a wonderful reading voice. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why he’s so good at getting the clearances: it takes pretty hard-hearted talent to resist the desire to be in the story the way Sal’s telling it. “Once upon a time,” the producer said, “there was a king who had three sons, who were all so clever and brave that he began to be afraid that they would want to reign over the kingdom before he was dead.”

“Nobody told me this was going to be a political thriller,” said the King.

“It’s the ‘B’ story,” I said. It was my job to be the neutral voice in this session: the director would act as “bad cop” when he had to, while Sal would be the good cop.

“Now the King,” the producer said, “though he felt he was growing old, did not at all wish to give up the government of his kingdom while he could still manage it very well. So he thought the best way to live in peace would be to divert the minds of his sons by promises which he could always get out of when the time came for keeping them.”

“Okay, dysfunctional family,” said the Standards and Practices guy, making a note on his pad. He looked up. “Any sign of a mother in this story?”

“Unfortunately, no,” I said.

“Yet another single parent family….” the Standards and Practices guy said, scratching away at his pad.

“It’s going to work,” the director said, “trust us.”

The Standards and Practices guy looked dubious, and shook his head, but he stopped making notes for the moment.

“So the King sent for them all,” the producer said, “and said to them, ‘You’ll quite agree with me, my dear children, that my great age makes it impossible for me to look after my affairs of state as carefully as I once did. I begin to fear that this may affect the welfare of my subjects—therefore I wish that one of you should succeed to my crown. But in return for such a gift, it’s only right for you to do something for me.”

“Here it comes…” said the first prince, the one in the artistically ripped leathers.

“Now, as I think of retiring into the country, it seems me that a pretty, lively, faithful little dog would be very good company for me. So, without any regard for your ages, I promise that the one who brings me the most beautiful little dog shall succeed me at once.”

The first two princes looked at each other. The punk-leathered prince was tall and handsome in an angular and peculiar sort of way, though it was hard to see this clearly, because as usual he was insisting on wearing his sunglasses indoors. The second, the one in the crewneck sweater, had the straightforward boy-next-door good looks of a studio “contract star” of the last century; yet there was something missing, a lack of depth in the eyes. “I see where this is going,” he said. “He’s going to have them assassinated.”

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