eSpec Books interviews Bernie Mojzes, contributor to Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine, http://tiny.cc/GandG.
eSB: What was your favorite faerie tale growing up and why?
BM: Had to be the stories my mother used to tell me about Baba Yaga. I was too young then to remember details or plots or anything, and I’m certain that the stories I was told varied wildly from the “canonical” renditions. The stories I heard as a child were a mashup of things, so I got many different versions of familiar fairy tales, often with Baba Yaga standing in for the witch or grandmother character, and with the endings sometimes not working out so well for poor Hansel and Gretel.
This might actually explain a lot about me. Thanks, mom.
eSB: What is your favorite faerie tale now and why?
BM: I don’t really have one in particular. I tend to prefer the ones that are about reversals of fortune due to skill or character, rather than nobility or sexual desireability (Pay attention, Cinderella, I’m talking to you). Far too many of the stories reinforce concepts of social class being determinative of all other characteristics (intelligence, beauty, character, ability). If a poor girl is beautiful, well, she’s probably the daughter of nobility being raised by evil and brutish step-parents, and her reversal of fortune will be to be discovered as who she is and returned to her real parents or married off to some worthy prince. If a poor boy is smart and skilled, well, he’s probably Soon-To-Be-King Arthur, or some such thing. Again the reversal of fortune is to be discovered as not being truly one of those nasty commoners at all. Conversely, when a king or lord is cowardly or sadistic or just plain bad, it’s usually because he’s not the rightful king.
Sadly, much of the fantasy genre, particularly but not exclusively those following the footsteps of Tolkien, continue to reinforce the myth of royalty and social class. Tolkien himself challenged it to some extent, by having the protagonist of his epic be an ordinary middle class bloke who, along with his trusty sidekick, manage to do what all the kings and queens and princes can’t. But he never escapes the every-person-in-his-proper-station concept, and Frodo is successful precisely because Sam fulfills his role as a loyal servant. Much (though not by any means all) of the high fantasy that follows Tolkien doesn’t manage that level of subtlety, and it’s all about the royalty, rightful kings, and whatnot.
This is why I enjoy retellings of fairy tales. It’s an opportunity to turn a royalist ideology on its head, to recast who are the heroes and villains, and to reframe the story. To take the bones of a story and rethink the context. To challenge the preconceptions (marrying a prince is a good idea; princesses need rescuing; the world will go horribly awry if anyone steps out of their social station; etc.).
eSB: What is your favorite faerie tale retelling…and why?
BM: This is really a tie, though the stories achieve a very different effect. Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose is a brilliant and haunting retelling of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), set in and around a German extermination camp in WWII Poland.
Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” sticks to the time period of the original, but turns the story on its head. It’s one of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read.
eSB: Tell us about your favorite non-European faerie tale.
BM: What are the lines that divide fairy tale from folklore from myth?
I’m fond of trickster tales, whether it’s Coyote or Hyena or Hare or the Monkey King. Br’er Rabbit is of course an African tale that hopped an ocean and ultimately found himself transformed into Bugs Bunny, Bugs Bunny, who, in an early episode, echoes an iconic scene in Cinderella in a way that shows it for the scam it is, fake leg and all.
eSB: What faerie tale did base your story on and what challenges did you face ’punking it up?
BM: The Goose Girl is interesting insofar as so many important pieces are missing. Why does the princess let the maid start bossing her around? Why would the maid leave the princess alive after subduing her and taking her place? Why would two women, one of them a princess, be sent to travel with no escort or guard to a far off land with sacks of treasure? When the princess is given to the goose-boy for his plaything, why does she allow that? Something clearly is being left out, and that’s where the real story lies.
The challenge was trying to figure out what was missing. Once you realize it’s one kingdom suing for peace with a hostile neighbor, and that the land traversed was a negotiated no-man’s-land between warring factions, all the pieces fall into place, and the maid transforms from villain to tragic hero, and the happy ending turns out to be not so happy at all. Turning a magic talking horse into a steam-powered horse-soldier revenant was the easiest part of writing this piece.
eSB: Faerie tales are all the rage in TV and movies right now, do you have a favorite and why?
BM: I find most of them fairly uninspired, or at least uninspiring. Grimm has its moments, particularly the first season, in that it challenges the idea that the monsters are monstrous and the humans are the good guys all the time. Sometimes it’s the humans that are monstrous.
eSB: What interested you in working on this project?
BM: Fame. Glory. Fabulous riches. The hand of the king’s daughter (I have the perfect place to display it, and will donate it to the Mutter Museum upon my death).
eSB: Have you written/created anything other faerie tale retellings? Please tell us about it.
BM: “The Collector” in Dead Souls (Morrigan Books) is a Baba Yaga story, mingling the idea of her as wicked witch, the three fates, the maiden, the mother, and the crone, with us for our birth and for our death. It’s one of the first pieces I sold, but I still kinda like it (though of course, there’s the compulsion to fix all the beginner’s mistakes every time I look at it). If you go to the amazon page for the book and click “look inside,” you can read the whole thing. (I encourage you to pick up the book, because there’s some fantastic stories in there.)
“The Taste of Gold” in Big Pulp’s Ape$#!+ anthology is less a retelling but more playing with the Monkey King, the trickster god of Chinese mythology, and pitting him against other tricksters (Fox-Woman, Anansi, Puck, Loki, Br’er Rabbit) in a rollicking quest for the perfect beer.
Another not-quite-retelling is a Rusalka story in Circlet Press’s What Lies Beneath, called “From the Shallows, Cold as Death.” The Rusalka are in slavic mythologies the vengeful spirits of girls who were murdered in the water. This is 1) horror, and 2) erotica, so probably best avoided by those who prefer to keep their thrills and chills in separate bowls.
eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?
BM: Sadly, this past year and a half has been almost entirely eaten by my day job, so there’s been very little free time for both writing and editing. Most of that free time has gone into editing and publishing Unlikely Story, an online zine. Unlikely Story has been around since 2011, but we’ve just put out our first anthology, Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix, which we’re quite proud of, and would of course be thrilled to have you check out. Work has eased a little bit to allow a bit of time to work on my own fiction (да куцнем у дрво), and I’m hoping to get a series of superhero stories completed, and finish up one of my novels-in-progress.
eSB: How can readers find out more about you?
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