06 November 2018
Posted by Simon McCormack
West Howe Writers 6/11/18
& just when our maiden had got
good & used to her isolation,
stopped daily expecting to be rescued,
had come to almost love her tower,
along comes This Prince
all the wrong answers.
Of course she had not been brought up to look for
originality or gingerbread
so at first she was quite undaunted
by his tendency to talk in strung-together cliché.
‘Just hang on and we’ll get you out of there’
he hollered like a fireman in some soap opera
when she confided her plight (the old
hag inside etc. & how trapped she was);
well, it was corny but
he did look sort of gorgeous
axe and all.
So there she was, humming & pulling,
all the pins out of her chignon,
throwing him all the usual lifelines
til, soon, he was shimmying in & out
every other day as though
he owned the place, bringing her
the sex manuals & skeins of silk from which she was meant, eventually,
to weave the means of her own escape.
‘All very well & good’ she prompted,
‘but when exactly?’
She gave him til
well past the bell on the timeclock.
She mouthed at him, hinted,
she was keener than a TV quizmaster
that he should get it right
‘I’ll do everything in my power’ he intoned, ‘but
the impossible (she groaned) might
take a little longer.’ He grinned.
She pulled her glasses off.
‘All the better to see you with my dear?’ he hazarded.
She screamed, cut off her hair.
‘Why, you’re beautiful?’ He guessed tentatively.
‘No, No, No!’ she
shrieked & stamped her foot so
hard it sank six cubits through the floorboards.
‘I love you?’ he came up with
as finally she tore herself in two.
By Liz Lochhead (The Grimm Sisters, 1981)
Today our group read the above poem by Liz Lockhead, and launched into a discussion on the clash between the fairy-tales we tell our children and our experiences as adults. It’s a poem in which real life intrudes on a fairy-tale (or fairy-tales), where the main characters struggle to find the right words and the right actions to make their happy ending. The everyday ‘corny’ magic of the fairy-tale becomes new again in the magic tragedy of the everyday.
The poem lead us into a discussion of the sign-posts, or tropes, that we see in fairy-tales; how the introduction of a ‘glass slipper’ or the ‘chimes of midnight’ or a ‘red cape and picnic basket’ are shorthand for a particular type of story. We talked about how these tropes can act as doorways between the everyday and the magical, how a character with ‘ruby lips, jet black hair and pale skin’ will always be on the edge of a fairy-tale, and how the reader will automatically be on the lookout for a ‘wicked step-mother' or a ‘red, red apple’.
We listed as many of these tropes as we could think of using characters as a starting point, but soon spreading out to settings, ‘the woods, a tower’, and dangerous animals, ‘dragons, wolves’.
We then wrote an everyday story but injected these tropes in where appropriate and let the magic take us where it lead.