I just read a story on Standard Issue by a woman who was worried about how becoming a mother would affect her writing. How, when she was very pregnant, a fellow (male) writer gestured to her bump and blathered about ‘the pram in the hall’ debilitating her creative output. I also heard Amanda Palmer worrying about this issue on a podcast recently. Creativity is something that received wisdom tells us disappears when a woman has a baby. I’m not even sure if I want children, but even I can’t stop hearing these worries and discussions.
With this in mind, then, I move onto the second collection of ‘modern fables and ancient tales’, The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2. It’s published by the independent Mother’s Milk books, who aim to celebrate femininity and motherhood in writing. Many of the stories in here celebrate motherhood, or another female pursuit that has been degraded in some way; women who are shamed for being “too” into looking at themselves in mirrors, for instance.
To take a closer look at some of my favourite stories here, then: ‘Trash into Cash’ by Becky Tipper celebrates motherhood in feminist ways, when a mother tries to stop a man stealing her baby. He says he’ll back off if she can guess the word that he’s thinking of and she’s told that she’ll ‘never guess’ it. But the bond between herself and her child helps her enormously.
‘Lilasette’ by Ronne Randall is wondrously graphic: when an evil queen rips out the womb of a woman who claims to have had her son’s baby, the lilac tree was attacked beside ends up doing amazing things to protect the child. The goriness of this story is great. I was unsure what would happen in this story, which is rare because such stories tend to be quite conservatively structured.
‘Lilasette’ also makes important use of a mirror, as do the stories ‘Mirror Mirror’ by Laura Kayne and ‘How Women Came to Love Mirrors’ by Hannah Malhotra. I think it’s interesting that, exploring fairy tales from a feminine point of view, we are very concerned with the way the world sees us. As seen in my post about a make-up exhibition here, women have been chided for vanity for hundreds of years. But, as one line in ‘How Women Came To Love Mirrors’ has it, ‘perhaps she dreamed of a day when women would not need the mirrors.’
My favourite stories are ones which subvert classic tales or do something unexpected with them. Marija Smit’s ‘Little Lost Soul’ is about a futuristic dystopian world in which a young woman is being abused. I loved this story because it manages to add some psychological reasoning, some interior monologue, which fairy tales often lack. ‘Little Lost Soul’ also manages to give the reader a little shock, too, with the story taking an unexpected turn.
So, The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 didn’t disappoint. It is more than a simple collection of fairy tale retellings. I think that we are told that things closely associated with femininity, such as birth, appearance and being the emotional support for others, are not related to Serious Creative Writing. But it’s important to remember that fairy tales are the oldest literature we have and they were told, for the most part, by mothers to their children. It’s very easy to read this as a collection of stories by themselves, so don’t be put off by my overthinkings if you just want to read a collection of other-worldly stories. Or, if these issues appeal to you, there is a lot to think about here that is revolutionary.
The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2 is available to buy here.