Speaking of animals....

The Beastly Bride, edited by Datlow & Windling

Many books for young readers have explored the common childhood desire to run wild with the animals, from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book to Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are -- but even better  The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kiplingthan dancing with the wolves would be to have the power to become an animal oneself.
T. H. White tapped into this fantasy in his Arthurian classic, The Once and Future King. Here, Merlin educates the young Arthur by transforming him into a badger, a fish, an owl, an ant, etc., and Arthur must learn to live as they live, gaining knowledge, even wisdom, in the process. This isn’t a standard part of the Arthur myth, but White hasn’t made it up from whole cloth either. He’s drawn on a worldwide body of tales even older than Arthur mythos: tales of shape-shifting, therianthropy (animal-human metamorphosis) and shamanic initiation. Animal-human transformation stories can be found in sacred texts, myths, epic romances, and folk tales all around the globe, divided into three (overlapping) types:

First, there are stories of immortal and mortal beings who shape-shift voluntarily, altering their physical form at will for purposes both beneficent and malign. The second kind of story involves characters (usually human) who have their shape The Once and Future King by TH Whitechanged involuntarily—generally as the result of a curse, an enchantment, or a punishment from the gods. The third type of story concerns supernatural beings who are a blend of human and animal; they have the physical and mental attributes of both species and belong fully to neither world. Animal bride and bridegroom stories (in which a human man or woman is married to an animal, or an animal-like monster) can fall under any of these three categories: the animal spouse might be a shape-shifter, or an ordinary mortal under a curse, or a creature of mixed blood from the animal, human, and/or divine realms.

The Beastly Bride is an anthology of original stories and poems (for teen readers and up) inspired by animal transformation legends from around the world, retold and reimagined by Christopher Barzak, Peter Beagle, Jeffrey Ford, Gregory Frost, Hiromi Gotto, Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Lucius Shepard, Delia Sherman, Midori Snyder, Jane Yolen and many other fine writers. The charming cover art and interior decorations are by the always-wonderful Charles Vess.

"Animal" is defined rather loosely here, for in addition to stories of bears, cats, rats, deer, and other four-footed creatures there are also birds, fish, seals, a fire salamander, a yeti’s child...and yes, a beastly bride or two.

"Any glimpse into the life of an animal quickens our own and makes it so much the larger and better in every way."  - John Muir

So true.

If there's a shawl lying on the floor, even if it's for photography purposes, I claim it as mine

Beastly Bride cover art by Charles Vess This volume was published as the fourth installment of our Mythic Fiction anthology series for Young Adult readers, each book dedicated to a different aspect of world mythology: The Green Man: Tales of the Mythic Forest, The Faery Reel: Tales of the Twilight Realm, The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, and The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People. It's available in hardcover and ebook format from Viking Children's Books. 


Perched by Kelly Louse Judd

From the Introduction to The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People, a YA anthology I edited with Ellen Datlow:

"Contemporary writers use animal-transformation themes to explore issues of gender, sexuality, race, culture, and the process of transformation...just as storytellers have done, all over the world, for many centuries past. One distinct change marks modern retellings, however, reflecting our changed relationship to animals and nature. In a society in which most of us will never encounter true danger in the woods, the big white bear who comes knocking at the door [in fairy tales] is not such a frightening prospective husband now; instead, he's exotic, almost appealing. 

Two prints by Kiki Smith

"Whereas once wilderness was threatening to civilization, now it's been tamed and cultivated; the dangers of the animal world have a nostalgic quality, removed as they are from our daily existence. This removal gives "the wild" a different kind of power; it's something we long for rather than fear. The shape-shifter, the were-creature, the stag-headed god from the heart of the woods--they come from a place we'd almost forgotten: the untracked forests of the past; the primeval forests of the mythic imagination; the forests of our childhood fantasies: untouched, unspoiled, limitless.

Book and Tiger by Julia Morstad

"Likewise, tales of Animal Brides and Bridegrooms are steeped in an ancient magic and yet powerfully relevant to our lives today. They remind us of the wild within us...and also within our lovers and spouses, the part of them we can never quite know. They represent the Others who live beside us--cat and mouse and coyote and owl--and the Others who live only in the dreams and nightmares of our imaginations. For thousands of years, their tales have emerged from the place where we draw the boundary lines between animals and human beings, the natural world and civilization, women and men, magic and illustion, fiction and the lives we live."

Bitch by Fay Ku

Images above: "Perched" by Kelly Louise Judd (Kansas City), two prints by Kiki Smith (New York), "Book and Tiger" by Julie Morstad (Vancouver), and "Bitch" by Kay Fu (Brooklyn). Please follow the links to see more of their work. Further reading: "Into the Woods: On British Forests, Myth and Now" by Ruth Padel.

Arthur Rackham

I'm out of the office until Monday...but before I go, I want to say thank you to everyone who contributed to the multi-post, multi-blog converation on madness and art (which needn't end, by the way, just because I'm not here -- do feel free to carry on the conversations in the various comment threads without me. Just close the door and turn out the lights when you're done.)

I also want to say thank you to Grace Nuth for this post at Beautiful Necessity, which made me cry. (And she's right: Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris were fans. I never quite thought of them that way before...but it's absolutely true.)

Have a good weekend, everyone.

The "Beastly Bride" Author Interview Series


HJ Ford 1


Charles Tan has posted more of his excellent interviews with the authors in the Beastly Bride anthology -- providing real insight into the pleasures and challenges of writing mythic fiction:

Lucius Shepard ("The Flock")

 Richard Bowes ("The Margay's Children")

Nan Fry ("Rosina")

Johanna Sinisalo ("Bear's Bride")

Shweta Narayan ("Pisaach")

Ellen Kushner ("The Children of Cadmus")

Stewart Moore ("One Thin Dime")

A snippet from the interviews:

Charles Tan: What's the appeal of the Beastly Bride concept for you?

Shweta Narayan: Oh, it's such a wonderful concept! Shapeshifter stories in general speak to me -- not only because of my [inter-cultural] marriage but because I'm a third-culture kid, an Indian who grew up almost everywhere but India, and I don't fully share a culture with anyone I love. So characters who can pass as members of a culture, while being something else entirely inside, give me a thrill of recognition that no other archetype does. And in the Beastly Bride(groom) stories, they get to try out living with someone else, and they let *us* get at, and think about, all the anxieties and joys of loving and living with someone from a different world.

Stewart Moore: I'm very interested, in my professional life as a student of the Hebrew Bible, in borderlines, border crossings; in how, when and why we decide who's in and who's out.  The Beastly Bride at one and the same time incarnates the border between human and animal, reality and fantasy, and, by her existence, negates it, denies it is a true border at all. It turns out to be a zone of contact, a place where possibilities multiply, and the Beastly Bride   is both our guide in this zone, and the first, best guardian of it.

Links to the other interviews can be found here. The Victorian fairy tale illustration above is by H.J. Ford.

The "Beastly Bride" Author Interview Series




Charles Tan has posted more interviews from the authors who contributed to The Beastly Bride, providing an interesting, behind-the-scenes look at the writing of mythic fiction. 

Midori Snyder ("The Monkey Girl")

   (Read this one in tandem with her previous essay/memoir on the Monkey Girl folktale, which is available online here.)

Steve Berman ("Thimbleriggery and Fledgelings")

   (More on "swan maiden" legends can be found here.)

Carol Emshwiller ("The Abominable Child's Tale")

Hiromi Goto ("The Hikikomori")

     A snippet from Midori's interview:

Charles Tan: As a folklorist and writer, what is it about fairy tales and myths that appeal to you?

Midori Snyder: Oh so many ways to answer this question! But here are two thoughts: First, fairy tales and myth are a cherished collective resource of story telling of narratives, iconic figures both human and fantastic, the language flat in some ways to allow the personality of teller to infuse her own creative flourishes, yet studded with richly evocative imagery that captures the emotions of the listener or reader. They center mostly around the areas of greatest social tension in a community -- and those conflicts have not changed over time. We still go through rites of passage, changes in identity, deal with birth and death. And though some of these tales are more than a thousand years old, they still hold us sway -- we are still talking to them, incorporating them in contemporary works, still returning to them like a deep well of inspiration. And second, I love the tension that comes from pairing the real and the fantastic together in myth and folktales-- it creates a unique storytelling experience. It used to be said that the success of fantasy required a "suspension of disbelief." But I have never bought that argument. The success (and indeed the historical durability of such tales) lies precisely in knowing the difference and experiencing the tension that vibrates between the real and the fantastic images. That's where the real story lies -- in making sense of the impossible -- and isn't that akin to task of growing up? Of penetrating the mysteries of love, marriage, children, death -- all the big moments? We listen to the words, or we read them -- but we feel them with our senses, our emotions --made more aware by the seemingly incompatible presence of real and fantastic imagery.

     Links to the rest of the interviews can be found here. The art above is by Harry Clarke.