Monday, November 11, 2013

Once Upon A Time

By Lisabet Sarai


Do not believe what you hear of me. It was not to preserve my chastity that I was imprisoned here, in this amusingly phallic tower with its sealed entrance and single window. I have not been a virgin for years; even my father knows that. In the cesspit of hypocrisy that is his court, no one cares what goes on behind closed doors. Only appearances matter.

And appearances are what landed me here in this unorthodox prison. I'm confined to this aerie because despite all blandishments and threats, I refused to cut my hair.

In a society like ours, valuing external neatness and order above else, my wild auburn locks are an offense to public decency, or so my royal parents would like me to believe. My father's crown rests upon a bald pate, shaved daily. My mother and sisters wear pale helmets of curls that are clipped back whenever they grow beyond the earlobes. Every proper citizen plucks, trims, waxes and shaves to eliminate any hint of the hirsute.

Not I. I love my hair, not just the luxurious tresses that flow over my shoulders and down to the floor, but the rest, too: my unfashionably bushy eyebrows, the soft tufts gracing my armpits, the wiry tangle that hides my sex. My hair is a source of my power. My father suspects as much. An ancient prophecy says the kingdom shall one day be lost to a red-haired sorceress and he fears I am the fulfillment of that promise.

He need not worry. I care not for the sort of power he wields. All I want is freedom - to travel the world, to think for myself, to love whom I please. To my father, I am nothing but a bargaining chip in the game of alliances. For that role, my hair diminishes my worth - as do my forthright tongue and legendary temper. I'm pleased to note that I've successfully discouraged every suitor the king attempted to lure into taking me off his hands.

His ambitious majesty sent his minions to my room while I slept, to shear me by force. When one returned with a broken arm, the other soaked with blood from the scissors embedded in his chest, the king decided prison was the only way to deal with the threat posed by my independence. He spread the tale that the servants had been injured fighting off rapists. Under pretext of guarding his beloved daughter from ravishment, he locked me in this lofty turret and sealed the door from the outside.

*****

That's the start of my story “Shorn”, an erotic take on the tale of Rapunzel that appeared in Kristina Wright's anthology Lustfully Ever After: Fairy Tale Erotic Romance. My Rapunzel, as you may gather from this snippet, is no simpering princess languishing in her tower while awaiting her prince charming. She's more a kick ass outlaw, eager to rid herself of the constraints of her position. Oh, a prince does find her - a gentle, wounded soul who's as much an outcast as she is. And of course I suggest that they'll live happily ever after, because this was an erotic romance collection and because some people are under the illusion that fairy tales follow the same rules.

Not so. The original folk stories that we identify as “fairy tales” carried a thread of darkness and violence. The Brothers Grimm deserved their name. In the original fairy tales, evil sometimes prevails – and indeed, the evil might well reside within the hero or heroine as opposed to being externalized in some witch or ogre. Selfishness – stubbornness – laziness – petty cruelty – these are the sort of flaws that lead fairy tale characters to their sorry fates. Even when the protagonist triumphs, he or she is often wounded or diminished in some way. Consider the Little Mermaid, forced to renounce her beloved ocean and to live with the constant pain of walking upon two legs.

I like the original versions a good deal more than the sanitized Andrew Lang/Walt Disney treatments. I find them more honest.

Erotic authors have traded on the eternal popularity of these stories for a long time. An Amazon search in the Books category for “erotic fairy tales” yielded 1,189 results. Kristina's collection showed up on page 4 of 100 – not too bad, I guess. The top tales for erotic retelling seemed to be Beauty and the Beast (possibly my favorite due to its obvious BDSM echoes), Little Red Riding Hood (who doesn't have the hots for wolves?), Goldilocks (a natural for a group sex tale) and Snow White (likewise!). Alice in Wonderland shows up quite a lot (though I wouldn't categorize that as a fairy tale), as do Hansel and Gretel and Rumplestiltskin. There are renditions where both the prince and the princess are guys - stories with Cinderella dominating her wicked step mother - Hansel and Gretel getting it on together... you get the picture.

Although I can admire a skillful and arousing twist to an old plot, I'm more impressed by new stories crafted in the fairy tale tradition. Back in 2006, I contributed to an erotic fairy tale anthology edited by Sage Vivant and M. Christian entitled The Garden of the Perverse. I'm not sure my offering, “Cat's Eye”, really managed to capture the peculiar flavor and ethos of a fairy tale world. However, some of the other offerings in that book were incredible. In particular, I loved Remittance Girl's creepy and delicious “Pipe of Thorns” (which you'll also find in her Coming Together Presents volume). In fact her tale is not set in the domain of princesses and dragons, but in a city reminiscent of Victorian London. However, I found the sense of menace, of a dark fate made more or less inescapable by the protagonist's flaws, a perfect fit to my notion of what a fairy tale should be.

I should also mention Jean Roberta's excellent collection Obsession, which features several stories with fairy tale echoes, including a highly transgressive Hansel and Gretel yarn. Maybe she'll share a bit of one of those stories in her post next week!

Meanwhile, I guess I'll leave you with a bit of Cat's Eye, which seems to be the only other fairy tale I've written.

*****

Generally, the village people avoided Nimon. When he was a child, they used to call their own children inside, if he happened down their street. They would peer from behind half-closed doors and whisper among themselves. Now that he was a young man, they greeted him politely, but without warmth. They bought the marvelously clever carvings he hawked from door to door, utensils and ornaments, but no one invited him in to sit by the hearth and share a glass of cider.

With his tawny skin, jet hair and lithe body, he was a handsome man, and prosperous, too, by village standards. Nevertheless the village beauties never assailed him with flirtatious banter, the way that they did the other youths. They stood awkward and quiet, with eyes downcast, until he passed. No father had approached Grandma Moira, with whom he made his home, with offers of a dowry.

Simple people fear what they do not understand, and no one understood Nimon. The rumors had been repeated and embellished in the nineteen years since his birth. His mother Leileah, a fair virgin of good family, suddenly and inexplicably grew heavy with child. Disobeying her parents for the first time in her life, she refused to reveal the father. And when her time grew near, she shunned the attentions of the midwives, fleeing on her own to the forested hills. A week later she returned with her ebony-haired, green-eyed son.

The village folk, including Nimon's mother, all had hair the color of straw, eyes the color of sky. The babe was strange in other ways, too. He would stare at you for the longest time without blinking, his oval pupils huge and midnight black. His pudgy fingers were tipped with nails much longer and sharper than a normal baby's. He never cried.

After his birth, Leileah became as silent as her child. Her lovely flaxen hair grew long, tangled and unkempt. Her cornflower eyes sparked with madness. Within a month, she left her parents' home, moving into Grandma Moira's big, ramshackle house at the edge of the hills.

Her family pleaded for her to stay. Secretly, though, they were relieved to have their stranger of a daughter out from under their roof. It seemed natural for her to go to Moira, strange drawn to strange. No one saw much of Leileah or Nimon after that. The people normally didn't tend to bother Moira, unless they needed a healing draught for their cows, or a love potion.

When Nimon was two, the wasting sickness came to the village. Nimon's mother died early; her parents followed a few weeks later. Some folk said that Leileah was punished for taking a stranger to her bed, and her parents for rejecting her afterwards. But people always like to talk. In truth, many in the village died; were all of them transgressors?

Still, tales of Nimon's mysterious parentage were always popular around the winter hearth. The father was an Arab prince, some claimed, who had galloped by the village on his white stallion and ravished Leileah as she was working in the fields. Others said that he was the Lord of the Underworld, well-known for ruining innocent virgins and carrying them back to his subterranean kingdom. A forest demon, still others claimed.
Hadn't Leileah fled to woods to give birth? Didn't the child have animal eyes and claws? Then someone would laugh, and change the subject.

So Nimon grew to manhood, orphaned, raised by a wise woman whom most people called crazy, shunned by the village. For the most part, he didn't care what the people thought of him. He roamed the forest, slinking along trails that only he could see, bringing colored stones or wild herbs back to his adoptive mother. He ran through the fields, naked and glorying in his strength, laughing when the girls busy with the planting or the harvest blushed and looked away.

Some nights, though, as he lay on the ground staring up at a ripe moon, he felt a kind of emptiness come upon him. He didn't recall his mother's face, but he remembered her smell, the warm, musky smell of unwashed female skin. It seemed to engulf him on these nights, drowning out the fragrance of honeysuckle and fresh-cut hay. These nights his penis swelled up hard as the oak logs he used for his carving. Touching himself was simultaneously pain and pleasure. He grasped his erection with both hands, squeezing and pummeling his flesh, desperate to release the demons that seemed to be warring inside him.

He remembered the women in the fields, with their skirts tucked up above their knees and their bodices damp with sweat. He tried to imagine them without clothes. But the images of rounded limbs and rosy breasts kept slipping away. Instead he saw only a whirlwind, swirling shards of darkness that circled faster the closer he came to the climax.

*****
If you're interested, you can read the rest of the story on my website.

10 comments:

  1. so glad you shared snippets from your stories, Lisabet. i loved Garden of the Perverse & particularly RG's tale. as a child i devoured Andrew Lang, but i was relieved as an adult to happen upon Angela Carter...more later ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always wait eagerly for your posts, Amanda!

      Delete
  2. This reminds me that I've been a dreadful slacker the last few years when it comes to reading the stories in the contributor's copies I get. Now I'm inspired to rummage through the boxes in my closet and read all of your Rapunzel story.

    Amanda, since you seem to be planning on discussing Angela Carter, I'll leave her for you, and look forward to how you handle her--I recommend thorn-proof gloves. I have some other directions to go.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sacchi, i'm barely saying more than a few lines. please feel free to talk about Angela Carter :)

      Delete
    2. Sacchi - I have the same problem. Just too many authors copies... LOL. Guess I can't complain!

      Delete
  3. What enticing snippets of your work, Lisabet. I don't usually work in the fantasy genre, although folks dub much of erotica itself as fantasy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That may be why there are so many erotic take-offs. On the other hand, there are erotic take-offs on everything. Every month when I do the ERWA newsletter, I look at the adult movies section. And every single month there are new erotic parodies. Last month they had "Laverne and Shirley XXX". Jeez!

      Delete
  4. Amanda, I won't have much time to delve back into Angela Carter, so I won't say much, either. Just a passing mention.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Lisabet!

    Don't you just fairy tales? Aren't they great? I still read them and have about four or five collections of them. As you say its hard to find them in their older versions which would have been fairly shocking by Walk Disney standards. I haven't read it, but I've heard the first translation of the The Arabian Nights by Richard Burton was the most faithful to the original and was explicitly erotic in several stories.

    And of course there's the wonderful collection "The Bloody Chamber" by Angela Carter I turn to over and over. It sounds sexist, but women really seem to have the best hand at sensuous writing.

    And yours!

    I liked the Rapunzel extract especially and was reminded while reading that I find women's body hair powerfully compelling. I remember in Panama there were often women who rode the bus who never shaved their legs. It was hard not to stare. Or drool.

    Hope I'm not creeping you out.

    Garce

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I often find body hair erotic as well, Garce. I think it's because I grew up in the sixties and early seventies. When I learned that MEN were now going to salons to get their chests and even their genitalia waxed... well, THAT creeped me out!

      Delete