#FaeFriday: Queer Faerie Fiction pt. 3

Surprise! My alternate titles from the previous post make total sense now, right? Some of the characters in these fictional texts are legendary — Maeve, Oberon, Mr. Grimm — and I guess I can see how “queer” would translate to quarterly? Jury’s still out on Composer Dashboard, though…any thoughts?

Anyhoo, in the continued spirit of April Fools Day, today’s #FaeFriday prompt is:

Who are your favorite mischievous characters?

For me, it’s the consent-seeking folk — both human and Fae — in Steve Berman’s modern faery tale anthology. I’ve reviewed the first two-thirds of the book here and here, and will now present my final thoughts on part three and on the book as a whole.

Just a reminder that this book, and by extension this post, is

NSFW

My hand is holding So Fey Queer Fairy Fiction, by Steve Berman, in front of a wall hanging made of metal butterflies in shades of red, gold, and green.

Steve Berman, ed.  So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction. Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe Press, 2009 (originally 2007 by Haworth Positronic Press).

Final section rating: 4 out of 5 ways you and your bluebell-scented Mountie Sergeant girlfriend dance around each other, so tantalizingly close to burning down the Yukon with your undeniable chemistry.

Overall book rating: 3.9 out of 5 characters who would set their Facebook relationship status to “Complicated AF” if they could.

Playlist:

  • “Magic Man,” by Heart
  • “Queen B****,” by David Bowie (some of these literal Faerie Queenes will definitely screw around with your sanity)
  • “Castles and Dreams,” by Blackmore’s Night
  • “Hypnotized,” by tUnE-yArDs
  • “What Does the Fox Say?” by Ylvis
Close-up of one of the metal butterflies.  Its wings are painted bright red-orange at the center and gold on the edges.

The consent issues have substantially improved (with the exception of “Exiles,” by Sean Meriwether) and the romantic tension in my favorite stories is much more delightfully angsty rather than cringetastic. Even in stories like “Exiles,” with very Unseelie Fae, the Fae themselves are not the love interests and are meant to disturb rather than enchant us.

My favorite ships in this section were:

  • Theodore Winkle and Morning Glory from “Attracting Opposites,” by Carl Vaughn Frick.

Winkle is a changeling who was lucky enough to be raised by a pair of open-minded Unitarians. Still, he drifts through life, lonely for someone who would truly understand rather than merely appreciate his uniqueness. When a human friend invites him to a “faerie” gathering at an abandoned farm, Winkle is disappointed to find out it’s nothing more than a human hippie retreat.

But perhaps one of these mere mortals is more than he seems. Perhaps Winkle will find his way back to the glittering, super-natural existence he’s been dreaming of after all.

The sugared cherry on top of this sweet story is, of course, that Winkle’s idea of paradise is a glittering, rainbow-tinted beach.

Butterfly close-up.

Nicholas Cantier and Peasecod, from “The Faerie Cony-Catcher,” by Delia Sherman.

Nicholas fancies himself a very savvy guy — no conventional beauty can seduce him out of his money and dignity — but even he can’t resist the charms of a more uncannily alluring damsel on a lonely country road. And when he finds himself in the hall of the honest-to-Spenser Faerie Queene, Nicholas has to barter his way home.

Of course there’s an extra catch, but it may turn out to be more of a blessing than a curse — for the Faerie Queene may be cold and calculating, but she has a way of opening one’s mind to new pleasures and worldviews.

The first time I tried reading this, it was far too late at night and my very foggy brain couldn’t handle the flowery AF Elizabethan prose. Good thing I tried again in the daytime, because Sherman, as usual, spins a very satisfying love story that subverts the old folkloric tropes. She imagines a non-bittersweet romance that stretches beyond one magical night, with both characters fully accepting and honoring each other for who they really are.

Butterfly
  • Laura Kane and Gwen Morrigan from “Laura Left a Rotten Apple and Came Not To Regret the Cold of the Yukon,” by Lynne Jamneck.

In true Hallmark fashion, a bestselling author ditches the overwhelming crowds of New York for the much more breathable vibes of a small town in the Yukon. The cold never bothered her anyway and all that. πŸ˜€ And the second she steps off the plane, Laura is greeted by the “absurdly alluring” local mountie, who knows a kindred heart when she smirks at one.

Still, both women are the take-it-slow type and can’t quite bring themselves to broach even first base. That is, until a hike in the woods nearly turns fatal and The Morrigan has to race to keep her mortal beloved solidly on the mortal coil.

In my mental movie version, Laura is played by Candace Cameron Bure, and my headcanon is that her character Lauren in Christmas Under Wraps, which is set in a small Alaskan town, was intentionally written as a more reluctant version of Laura.

  • Mei and Lian from “Year of the Fox,” by Eugie Foster.

This one’s more of a star-crossed romance that only half-defies the original trope. Mei is a shape-shifting fox faery who — along with her brother — vows to avenge their mother’s senseless death by punishing all humans for their innate cruelty. But then she meets Lian, a humble, peaceful woman who refuses to conform to Mei’s expectations, and Mei soon finds her worldview shifting toward true enlightenment.

But a vow is a vow, and Mei’s brother is not nearly as flexible or forgiving as she is.

Again, not exactly a cozy love story, but it’s still lovely if you’re in the mood for a good melancholy sigh.

  • Michael and Piaras from “Ever So Much More Than Twenty,” by Joshua Lewis.

Jane may be seventeen, but she still begs her father for faery tales at bedtime. Her favorite is the bittersweet tale of his summer romance with a strange boy in the woods near his family’s lake house. Every day with the green-haired, acorn-eyed Piaras was a dream — perhaps literally, because Michael hasn’t been back to the house in several decades and has had no contact with his supernatural sweetheart.

Now, recently divorced from a mortal man who never seemed to outgrow his own wild youth, Michael is resigned to a melancholy descent into a mediocre midlife. That is, until Jane convinces him to re-purchase his childhood summer home and spend a few weeks rediscovering the region. That is, until he sees Jane wandering into the woods, day after day, her distant silhouette joined by another oddly familiar form.

That is, until Jane finally sits him down and reveals that her daily disappearances are not what they seem — and that her secret companion is not what he seems.

I love the message that faery tales can mature with their readers, and that maturity doesn’t have to mean losing one’s love for the irrational and surreal — that, on the other hand, magic can be more rational and sophisticated than we give it credit for.

Close-up of a different butterfly with green and gold wings, next to a small red flower.

So! That was part three, and it was overall the most aww-inspiring section. The love interests are much more likable and more familiar with the concept of asking, and the endings are more generally sweet than bitter. It did still have a few proofreading and formatting errors, but nothing annoying enough to drop my rating more than half a point.

The other lost half-point is for the one very non-consensual scene in “Exiles.” Again, I get that it’s supposed to be repellent and it doesn’t involve the actual love interest, but that kind of dark faery tale just isn’t my cup of sparkling wildflower tea.

Re: the book as a whole: as morally complex as many of the characters are, I do think So Fey is worth a read and I’m very glad to have started my Tsundoku Chalenge here. It has gender-fluid Selkies, extreme magical makeovers, Jazz-Age Faerie Kings running bootleg operations, hinted-at romances between “William” Grimm and “Christian” Andersen, and plenty of aww-dorable meet cutes and happy endings to balance out the sadder or more chilling tales.

I do feel like this book was rushed too quickly, un-proofread, to the press, but the stories were compelling enough to make up for the occasional errors. Maybe there just wasn’t an adequate budget for a thorough copyeditor.

Side Note: Berman’s website is cheeky and surreal, with his self-descriptions as “Almost an Andre Norton Award Winner / Not quite a Shirley Jackson Award Winner / Actually a Lambda Literary Award Winner!” (emphasis his) and his mock-excerpted list of “Lost Queer Cinematic Characters” from “Films of the Fantastic and Feared” (yes, I did Google them and yes, the only references were to Berman’s website). πŸ˜†

Oddly, he doesn’t list So Fey in his bibliography. His other queer speculative collections sound intriguing, though.

GIF image that zooms in on Alan Rickman's face in Harry Potter.  He is in his Severus Snape form and his curiously stroking his chin with his fist.  The caption says Consider me intrigued.

How about you, Bookwyrms? Who are your favorite mischief-makers, magic or mortal? Do you prefer Hallmark-style romances, delightfully doomed relationships, or something really complicated in between? How morally likable does a love interest have to be from the start, or are you ok with steep learning curves? Know any more LGBTQIA faery tales I should add to my list — or any unofficial ships from the traditional tales I should add to my headcanon?

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Credits:

Consider me intrigued GIF from tenor.

2 comments

  1. I like smart mischief-makers who outwit their opponents. I know I’ve read fairy tale versions of these but can’t think of any right now. Characters like Eugenides in The Thief and Locke Lamora in The Lies of Locke Lamora are my favorites.

    • Ooh, I just scanned the Wikia pages for both stories and you can consider me Very Intrigued! The Thief sounds mythic indeed, with its Ancient Mediterranean vibes, and I can see why you’d like a story about attempted necromancy going wrong even in the preparatory stages. πŸ˜†

      Also, the fanart depiction of Locke makes me think he’d be delightfully interpreted by Benedict Cumberbatch.

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