Welcome to the third of my short story reviews for Once Upon a Time IX — the internet-wide celebratory blogathon of Fairytale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythological fiction — all culled from the great collection, RETOLD – Six Fairytales Reimagined.
by Michal Wojcik
Lovely Aurelia lives in the home of Mrs. Yaga (whom Aurelia refers to as “baba”, a holdover from childhood) behind a fence all topped with skulls, and who longs desperately for someone to sweep her away from all this. All this (if you’re au fait with your folklore, you’ll know already) is a small wooden cabin with the legs of a giant chicken. What you might not anticipate finding inside is the old black-and-white TV and the Apple Mac Classic, which both somehow work without a power line; nor Mrs. Yaga’s cell phone (which doesn’t need a wire, of course).
This is modern Canada, or at least a small town therein, and Aurelia is a young woman of Polish descent. She doesn’t dream of a prince at all; rather, of a boyfriend of some sort, one who maybe plays the guitar, or draws web comics, or makes her mix tapes — yet whenever she catches the eye of some new boy, her suitor finds himself confronted not merely with a gnarled guardian, clad in furs and bedecked with the teeth and claws of wild beasts, but also set a mythic challenge if he is to prove his worth: to venture into the thrice-tenth kingdom, and acquire…
…yet it doesn’t matter what goal each one is set, none succeed (or at least none ever returns to say hi), leaving Aurelia facing the likelihood of a long, sad, spinsterish future. Unless she does something about her future for herself.
Another Sunday short story, another striking cover, and another fun piece of fiction to go with it.
Michal Wojcik’s story is unlike those that came before (and those that follow) for being slyly humorous rather than solemn or portentous — it verges on being an outright comic tale almost right up to the end when we are presented with a sweet, satisfying conclusion. Not a cautionary tale, then, but certainly one with a lesson to be learned, as all good fairytales should have.
The set-up is not so much a twist on the traditional damsel in distress as it is a straight rephrasing of it. The peril (at least for Aurelia) does not take the form of a physical threat, she will not be consumed in some way, unless it is by a dull, loveless life — but the question of who needs to be loving who for a life to be a rich one is central to the story’s message. It may be predictable that the answer lurking is more about self-actualisation than landing a handsome prince, but that doesn’t make it any less true, or valuable.
This coming week I’m taking a break from books in order to strike off one of the other challenges in the Once Upon a Time IX project: computer game reviews. Tuesday through Friday I’ll be doing one review for each of the four categories, and I’ve chosen games which represent a mixture of what could be called past, contemporary and future scenarios. In addition to this, the titles all hail from the indie gaming scene, and an international creative pool ranging from America to Belgium to Brazil to Canada to Sweden — all that and gameplay too… And after they are out of the way, I’ll be back with the fourth story in this collection: The Mussel Eater by Octavia Cade. …B. C. N. U.