I want to thank Nathan Leslie and Maryland Literary Review for publishing “The Girl without Hands.” This is a work of fiction. While my growing up in north Edmonton certainly had an impact on place, everything and everyone here is fictitious.
This story has been rejected more times than I can count, and I’ve seriously considered changing the title a number of times. The story is part of a larger collection that I’m hoping to turn into a novel in stories at some point.
Having a story rejected a dozen times seems part of the process—at least some of the time. It can get harder and harder to maintain your belief in a piece when journals keep turning it back. I even had one editor tell me the ending “errors gravely”—they encouraged me to revise the ending and resubmit the story. I almost did. An additional character, Aubrey, comes into the story at the end. The editor thought this character needed greater play, and that introducing this character, without resolving what emerges between Audrey and the father didn’t work.
On the one hand, I thought I could just remove the reference to Aubrey, and it wouldn’t matter. On the other hand, I thought having this character present, if only in name, allowed for something implied in Bethany’s character. Clearly one editor didn’t agree.
Which actually leads me to the name of the story.
Such titles, The Girl—insert preposition, , insert noun phrase—have been very popular in the last decade. But if you know your Grimms’ fairy tales, then you can guess I took the title from the story of the same name. My story isn’t a revision or rewriting of the Grims’ “The Girl without Hands,” but it does inform my story, and there were aspects of the Grimms’ tale I wanted to include in mine, particularly around the relationship between father and daughter.
So I kept the title—and I never really wanted to revise the ending, anyway. In the end, I didn’t have to because Maryland Literary Review stepped in and published the story. So thank you again to MLR, and enjoy.
George MacDonald is one of those Victorian authors whom people dislike, don’t understand, or simply have never heard of. I love The Princess and the Goblin, but try reading At the Back of the North Wind, which is Dickensian in its depiction of London, or The Princess and Curdie, which is a baffling and disturbing sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, written ten years after the first book. More baffling still are his fairy tales. These are not the beautifully written and finely drawn fairy tales of Oscar Wilde. MacDonald’s fairy tales can be dark, strange, and metaphorically jarring.
Here’s a passage from “The Golden Key” that will give you an idea:
“The sun was now set, and the darkness coming on, but the child thought of no danger but the bears behind her. If she had looked round, however, she would have seen that she was followed by a very different creature from a bear. It was a curious creature, made like a fish, but covered, instead of scales, with feathers of all colours, sparkling like those of a humming-bird. It had fins, not wings, and swam through the air as a fish does through the water. Its head was like the head of a small owl.”
MacDonald, George. “The Golden Key.”)
George MacDonald worked as a clergyman, but left the church to pursue writing full-time. He knew Charles Dodgson—yes, Lewis Carroll—and was a fan of the Alice books. People often think British fantasy for children gets its start with Lewis Carroll and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But it doesn’t.
MacDonald is a father to British fantasy in the way that Daniel Defoe is the father to the survival story. Virtually every survival story, from Coral Island to Gilligan’s Island to Survivor, can be traced back to Defoe and Robinson Crusoe. As for MacDonald, people may know about him, but they probably haven’t read his books, and they usually don’t know how profoundly this writer influenced the development of fantasy in the twentieth century, particularly for such writers as C. S. Lewis.
If you want to know more about MacDonald, his life and influence, check out this truly fabulous online exhibition,
George MacDonald: The Forgotten Father of Fantasy Fiction.
The canvas was created by Live Life Aberdeenshire in conjunction with the BBC. It includes prints, photographs, and everything you will ever want to know about MacDonald. Just remember to read one of his books as well.
I have a story out this month. This one is a fairy tale, “The Bronze Egg.” I’ve written fractured fairy tales, and what I call apocalyptic fairy tales. But this one is an honest to goodness folktale—published this month in a collection of original fairy tales called Fantasia Fairy Tales. You can find the eBook here.
When my kids were small, we told stories at bedtime. I tried getting print-braille books for us to read from the CNIB library, which I did, but they came so infrequently that I needed to find another way to satisfy my children’s appetite for stories. I found an old anthology of stories from my first children’s literature course. I then found books of fairy tales and retold them to my kids. When I ran out of stories I had learned, I made them up; and when I was too tired to make them up, I cobbled them together out of anything and everything I’d ever read.
My interest in fairy tales has never waned. They appear in my courses, and I talk about them with students. I continue to write them, and I love to read them.
They are, even now, a guide to living—at least metaphorically:
1. Don’t wander off the path.
2. Avoid strangers who might want to eat or enslave you.
3. Be weary of seemingly helpless old people who want to lock you in a cage or a cupboard.
4. Beware of those close to you who suffer excessive jealousy.
5. and always—always always—be kind to animals.
Here is something from the blog archive. I write more than one kind of fairy tale. My fractured fairy tales are for kids, but my apocalyptic fairy tales are for adults. You can find “Hansel and Greta,” one of my apocalyptic fairy tales here. Enjoy!
February 26 is National Tell a Fairy Tale day. If you aren’t prepared to tell a story, then read a fairy tale to anyone who will listen—your kids, your mom, your dog. Or just curl up with a copy of Hans Andersen or the Brothers Grimm and get lost in the magic. There’s no better way to keep the frigid weather at bay.
If you want something more adult, check out my apocalyptic version of “Hansel and Gretel,” published in July, 2018, in Feast Journal. My story is called, “Hansel and Greta.”
If you want something to listen to, check out this 2014 recording from the TALES Festival, Daughters of Destiny. I was telling stories in the beautiful St Michael’s Church in Ft. Edmonton Park. Enjoy!
A couple of years ago, I was rereading some Grimms’ fairy tales, and I wondered what these stories would be like if they were set at a time when society had collapsed. IN other words, what if I took these stories and put them in an apocalyptic context. Then, I wrote “Hansel and Greta.”
I’ve written this sort of thing before. In the early days of this blog, I wrote a collection of fractured fairy tales that offered new ways to look at older tales, such as “Red Riding Hood, Again Revisited” and “Mr. Wolf and The Seven Kids, An Urban Fairy Tale.” That collection is called Fractured and Other Fairy Tales. These stories are aimed more at kids, and I had my own daughters in mind when I wrote them.
In retelling Grimms’ stories as apocalyptic fairy tales, I have a different audience in mind. These are not stories for children; they are bleak and often violent, and, well, grim in the strictest sense of the word. Having said that, I’ve tried to maintain the spirit of the original tales, in as much as I’m able.
“Hansel and Greta” is the first of these stories to find a home. I must have sent it to a dozen journals before Laura Mansfield and Feast picked it up. Feast is an eclectic online journal about food based in Manchester, UK, and the latest issue is called Consuming Children. Thank you to Laura and the people at Feast for publishing the story. I’m especially grateful that Laura saw the piece as something she could include. Enjoy the story, check out the rest of the journal, and, as always, post any comments.