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Author Spotlight: Gwyneth Jones

I very much enjoyed this fairy tale—somewhat modernized and occasionally humorous. What fairy tales do you like best, and did any particularly influence this story?

I love fairytales, myths, and legends. I read the Andrew Lang and the Oxford collections over and over when I was a child; I’ve also always liked Hans Christian Anderson stories, because they are so cruel. If I name a favourite, it would have to be the story sometimes called “The Seven Swans,” but originally (I think) from Morocco, and called “Wudei’a Who Sent Away Sudei’a” (The Girl Who Sent Away Seven). It’s the one about a little girl who believes she’s an only child, until she discovers at the age of twelve or so that she had seven brothers, but owing to their childish bad behaviour when she was born (something about being sent to the well for christening water, and breaking the jug), her father cursed them and they flew away in the form of Seven Crows. It’s my favourite because my father used it as the base for the epic, serial fairytale he told us over years when we were small. “The Grass Princess,” and other stories in the collection Seven Tales And A Fable, were influenced by several English twentieth-century fairytale writers, maybe not so well known now: Eleanor Farjeon, Barbara Leonie Picard, and particularly the melancholy, ironic, slightly sinister tales of Nicholas Stuart Grey.

You can find out more about my fairytale backstory online here:

Why grass? Does that have some symbolic meaning?

Grass is ordinary and relentless, like the domination of the family and the rules of everyday life. It ties things (and princesses) down, with countless tiny, tough threads, a mass of them, almost impossible to sever, and even if you break free, these tiny threads leave scars.

You state that “nobody ever found out” why the grass claimed the princess, but do you have an idea who or what was behind the magic, or are you happy to leave it as a mystery?

In the story, I’m happy to leave it as a mystery. In the light of what I think the grass means (see above), I suppose “nobody ever found out” is ironic. The people who “never found out” are the people who form that relentless imprisoning net of ties that bind, without ever being conscious of what they’re doing.

I noticed that no one in the princess’s kingdom is specifically named, not even the princess herself, while minor characters in other realms seem to have more of a solid identity. What was your thinking behind this choice?

I first wrote this story a long, long time ago: I’ve revised it since, but some of the original features (like this odd absence of names) seemed like they shouldn’t be changed. I think probably the answer is that this is Damien’s story. Characters in his adventures get names. Characters in the framing story, like “The King,” “The Magician,” “The Queen,” and even “The Princess” don’t get names.

Despite the title, the story revolves around Damien. He’s tricked into futile-but-lucrative quests by a greedy magician, and only coincidentally saves the princess after he’s badly hurt and has given up. He doesn’t even want to claim his “reward.” But both the princess and Damien are equally scarred at the end. What are you saying with these contrasting ordeals?

Nothing too complicated. Just that the fairytale hero who has all the adventures and the fairytale heroine locked in a tower all her life (or similar) may not be as poorly matched as they look. Likewise, the fairytale heroine who loses her lover and has to take on the Glass Mountain challenge, etc. (in different versions of the Cupid and Psyche story), and the prince who stays at home, deceived by villains, until she wins him back in the end.

At the end, the princess says the story is only beginning. Do you have any idea what happens next, and would you consider writing that story?

I have no idea what happens next, or whether the princess and Damien were even happy together. I would not consider writing their story. What I’d hope for them is that, whatever happens, both of them always remember that moment (the eucatastrophe, as Tolkien calls it) when everything seemed right.

Are there any projects you’re working on that you’d like to share with our readers?

I’m looking forward to seeing my novella “A Planet Called Desire” come out in Gardner Dozois and George Martin’s Old Venus anthology next year. I’ve just finished re-editing my pseudonym Ann Halam’s backlist of ghost and horror stories, which are now available as ebooks, including the Children Of The Night award-winning The Fear Man. That was a lot of fun. There’s also a new book in the Bold As Love world in the pipeline, but this time for Young Adults. Right now I’m preparing a pre-show talk on The Time Machine, for a local theatre, and then I’ll be getting started on a story for Lynne Jamneck and S.T. Joshi’s Lovecraftian anthology.

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Laurel Amberdine

Laurel Amberdine

Laurel Amberdine was raised by cats in the suburbs of Chicago. She’s good at naps, begging for food, and turning ordinary objects into toys. She currently lives in San Francisco where she works for Locus Magazine. Find her on Twitter at @amberdine.