Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Fairies and The Volsungs

Fairy tales are important. I recognize that, and understand it, particularly as snapshots of cultural ideas and, similarly to Mythology, a kind of "what the people we came from were like" manner. But, I don't love them. Much like Arthurian Legend, there's just something about the idea of them that kind of turns me off. I fully acknowledge this as a defect of my character -- as someone who loves and studies mythology, I really SHOULD love Fairy Tales, too, precisely because there are ways in which Fairy Tales intersect with myth, legend, and Saga, and if I don't read and enjoy them, these are connections I'll miss.

So imagine my surprise when I started reading BEYOND THE GLASS SLIPPER: Ten Neglected Fairy Tales To Fall In Love With, and on the third fairy tale, I got smacked in the face with the familiar story of a woman who can only be won through the accomplishment of an impossible task -- an echo of Brynhild and Sigurd from the Saga of the Volsungs. 

Kate Wolford's annotation is what woke me up to it, in the included tale "The Three Pennies." She says:
The prophecy of the princess marrying a man who comes to her in a leaden boat is in keeping with stories about sleeping beauties behind deadly briars, princesses set upon glass mountains, and girls locked away in impenetrable fortresses and towers (p 58).
It isn't even that the annotation was telling me something I didn't know. Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite Disney movies, after all, and I loved Tangled. Disney didn't shy away from using these same tropes. (You could even say it exists in Frozen, for that matter, when Elsa creates her ice-castle.) But something about the phrasing finally tipped me toward the realization that this isn't limited to fairy tales. It's a HUGE part of the Norse Sagas, too. 

In the Saga of the Volsungs, for example, Sigurd first comes upon (a sleeping) Brynhild in the midst of a battlefield, where he falls in love with her for her wisdom and general awesomeness. They promise to marry one another (though Brynhild warns him it will end badly and they shouldn't exchange any vows) and after they part, she hides herself away behind impossible trials of magic in order to prevent herself from being married to anyone BUT Sigurd. Sigurd is then tricked by his supposed friends into accomplishing these trials, disguised as his brother-in-law (he was tricked into marrying, too), who covets Brynhild, and through this deceit, wins her and gives her over to the other man, who she is then honor bound to marry because she believes he met the impossible circumstances she had sworn to uphold. 

Now, the difference here is that Brynhild was her own boss, and we know she set those impossible tasks herself to limit the pool and more importantly, uphold her vow and promise to Sigurd (who has since failed to keep his side of the bargain -- but I won't get into that, because frankly, Sigurd is a fool, and it makes me want to beat my head against a wall.) We have no such understanding when it comes to the woman in The Three Pennies. In fact, it only says:
"Beyond the sea there is a princess of whom it was predicted that she would be married only to a man who should come across the sea in a leaden ship (p 57)."
But there's something else these two stories share in common, too -- the man who intends to win the lady can't do it alone. He requires the supernatural aid of his friend. In the case of The Saga of the Volsungs, the supernatural aid comes from Sigurd, in order for Gunnar to win his bride. In The Three Pennies, it comes from a ghost, who is helping a poor Soldier make his fortune, after the soldier rescued his body from grave robbers.

So my question is this: Which came first? The Sagas or the Fairy Tales? Or did they share these elements back and forth, back and forth, as the oral traditions became written stories? Or! Could they have each developed this trope independent of one another?

The Saga of the Volsungs is dated back to events in the 5th century, though what we have today was not written down until the 13th. We'll probably never know how old The Three Pennies is, or how many generations told and retold it before it was written down and preserved for us today, but as a Danish tale, geographically, it's very likely that this story wasn't told in isolation from the Sagas. And maybe all my consideration is pointless -- maybe both the sagas and the fairy tales pulled this trope from something lost to us which predates them both. But it sure is fascinating to me, to think about. Much like the parallels between Fairy Tales and Greek Myths.

More on the Saga of the Volsungs:

Semi-Related: The Nix of Tiveden

Friday, February 21, 2014

On the Subject of Ragnarok

The Eddas tell us that it is Heimdall's duty to blow the Gjallarhorn to signal the start of Ragnarok -- some guy dressed in viking garb just isn't going to cut it, in my book(s). BUT, for those of you who may be concerned, let me put your mind at ease with the distraction of discovering FATE OF THE GODS! (Thor will keep you safe!)

For this Ragnarok-y weekend only, the e-edition of FORGED BY FATE is on sale for just 4.99 (at Barnes and Noble, too!), and FATE FORGOTTEN is also discounted, and available for just 5.99 (Nook it up, as you do)! So, go grab yourselves a copy and give yourself (or a friend!) the peace of mind of knowing that Thor is with you, and as the god of the Everyman, he'll for sure be keeping us all safe and sound. (There's even some Ragnarok action in Fate Forgotten!)

Fate of the Gods! so cool even the BBC wanted to hear about it! Or um. Something.

(And if you're in the habit of celebrating the supposed end(s) of the world(s), enjoy your faux Ragnarok parties!)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Honor Among Orcs Cover Art!

I am so, SO excited to share my cover art for Honor Among Orcs with you today!

long time readers of the blog might remember me talking about this book under a different name -- Orc Romance -- and ever since those early days, this book as been one of my absolute most favorite manuscripts. Don't get me wrong, I love Fate of the Gods too (and Thor! so much ThorLove!) but Honor Among Orcs surprised me in so many ways, and as a writer, I think writing this manuscript was one of those "level-up" experiences that helped me to grow.

Basically, I'm really proud of this book. And I'm just as proud of the cover art, created by Melissa Stevens, who somehow, someway, reached into my brain and produced Bolthorn EXACTLY the way I had imagined him, all the while being an absolute dream to work with.

So, let me drag this out a little bit longer with some Cover Copy first--

Tolkien meets Beauty and the Beast in this new romantic fantasy by Amalia Dillin, author of the Fate of the Gods trilogy. 

After nearly a decade as the king’s whipping-girl, Princess Arianna has no intention of going quietly into marriage to some treasonous noble, or serving obediently as the king’s spy until her death is more convenient. When she discovers a handsome orc, chained and trapped inside a magic mirror, Arianna cannot help but see a lasting freedom from her father's abuse.

Left to rot inside a mirror by the king, Bolthorn never imagined his prayers would be answered by a princess. Nor did he ever expect to meet so worthy a woman after knowing her father’s cruelty. He needs her help to escape the mirror before the king marches against the orcs, but all he can offer Arianna is ice and darkness in exchange for her aid.

If Arianna can free the monster behind the glass, perhaps she might free herself, as well. But once they cross the mountain, there will be no return, and the deadly winter is the least of what threatens them on the other side.

Fans of Kristin Cashore's FIRE and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings will appreciate the collision of romance, adventure, and epic fantasy -- all with a new adult edge -- in Honor Among Orcs.
And finally, the art itself!

Created by Melissa Stevens, The Illustrated Author

And with this reveal, let me also say -- I'm looking for around 20 advance readers for Honor Among Orcs, to read and write reviews (in advance of release on Goodreads, and on release day, April 1, on Amazon/Barnes and Noble) to help spread the word about Bolthorn and Arianna! Advance reader copies are e-only (though there will likely be some goodreads giveaways of a print version, too) and available as epub or mobi files. If you're interested, shoot me an email at amaliatdillin(at)gmail(dot)com and let me know your preferred filetype!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Token Female Character

Scroll down for a SNEAK PEEK of the cover art for Honor Among Orcs!

I grew up watching a lot of cartoons -- it was the golden age of Saturday mornings and After School television, in my humble opinion, with shows like Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and Gargoyles and Biker Mice from Mars. I was such a sucker for those beastly male bands and their solitary friend in the outside world, who was, it seems sometimes, ALWAYS a woman. April O'Neil, the lab assistant turned reporter. Elisa Maza, the police detective. Charlene Davidson, the mechanic.

It's easy to consider, and even treat these women as throwaways. The Token Female Character in a male-dominated world. There just to pretend like they were considering girls as an audience, or at least not ruling them out of possible co-existence. But these women served a valuable, even indispensable role in the story. They were the connection with the rest of the world, the protector and keeper of the secret of their existence, the partner in their continued adventures. Sometimes they needed saving, sure, but mostly they provided a lot more benefits to the team than the team gave them back. And not only that, they were the lens through which we saw the reasonable acceptance of the other. They were the stand in for all those little boys who imagined discovering the sewer lair of mutant-monsters-who-fought-for-good.

Think about that. For a period of time in the late 80's and 90's, it was totally legit story telling to allow a woman to be the lens through which we, as the audience, experienced something new. Imagine if it still were! Imagine if the live action Transformers movies had, in place of Shia's hapless Sam Witwicky, included a street-smart female mechanic as the main character through which we met and befriended these strange aliens (and not just the love interest and sexual object for Sam).

Oh, we still see it sometimes -- Jane in the Thor films, for example -- but often times, instead of the woman being a bridge for the Other, instead of being a capable every-man lens through which we're watching the film and experiencing something new, she's now relegated to the role of love interest, or T&A for the male audience. And we're INTENSELY critical of her character. Why is Thor interested in Jane Foster at all? Who needs Lois Lane when Superman could be with Wonder Woman? Or worse, we see books and movies where, because that lens through which we experience the Other is female, the entire story is classified and sold solely to a female audience -- as if men could not possibly have any interest -- or even, never made at all because "no one wants to see an action movie with a female lead."*

But why? Where did this idea come from? If we were all raised on these cartoons "for boys" with April O'Neil and Elisa Maza, and those cartoons certainly had no lack of success, why should the same formula not be totally legitimate now in modern film, television, and movies? Why do we need Sam Witwicky when we could have Charlene AKA Charley the Biker Mice From Mars Mechanic? Are we more accepting of the Lady-as-Lens when she's facing off with an OTHER which is so strange we can't imagine any feelings beyond friendship? And if so, why? Or is it just that now we're more accepting of a Lady falling in love with a Beast/Monster/Mutant, and so the Lady-as-Lens isn't safe anymore, because of some potential idea of sexual attraction? But why does that matter, either? Why does a romance invalidate female characters as capable everyman stand-ins?

I'm not going to lie, one of the things I wanted to see MOST in Gargoyles was Elisa and Goliath finally getting together. I would have had no problem seeing April pair off with one of the Ninja Turtles, either -- though I'm not sure about the mechanics, for either pairing. But I also didn't have any problem with women and men as friends, creating and building community between them that had nothing to do with sex or romance. In fact, I think it's underrated, and we could use a lot more of it in our television, films, and books.

But of course, I say this as someone whose next book, Honor Among Orcs, is another beauty and the beast story** that doesn't shy away from the romance. And speaking of which -- Tune in THURSDAY (Thor's Day!!!) for the fabulous and fantastic Cover Reveal for the first book in the Orc Saga! And check out this sneakiest of peeks in the meantime!

*There are exceptions to this too, characters like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, for example, which is definitely a property that's geared to appeal to a male audience, in spite of the protagonist's gender. But look at how Hunger Games is marketed. Would we be merchandising with cover girl if Katniss had been a boy? If Peeta had been the protagonist instead? You could change the perspective from which the story is told -- send Gale to the Arena instead of Peeta, and written from Gale's Point of View, and still have told the exact same story.

**TMNT, Biker Mice, and Gargoyles are ALL 100% beauty and the beast stories, imho. What is more OTHER than human sized mutant animals, or mythological monsters?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Talking in Circles: Using North American Myths in “THE DEVIL IN MIDWINTER”

I'm happy to have Elise Forier Edie on the blog today, talking about her novella in our A WINTER'S ENCHANTMENT anthology -- as regular readers of the blog know, I am VERY fond of hearing about how other authors use and play with mythology in their work, and how myth has influenced their writing, and Elise was kind enough to provide a guest post on the topic, which for her novella, involved a heaping dose of North American Myth (something I'd really like to dig into more, personally, one of these days!)

Amazon | B&N
A long time ago, I supported my writing career by teaching English and Drama at a boarding school in Colorado.  The student body included a number of Native American youth, and one year the school hosted a faculty in-service training that focused on how, as classroom educators, we could better serve this population.

By then, I had already been to a lot of in-service trainings, and they were all pretty much the same.  They were usually taught by men, featured a Power Point presentation, with appropriate paper handouts, followed by (if we were lucky) some hands-on activities.

The workshop on teaching Native American students did not follow this tried-and-true model at all.  We sat in a circle.  Our female guest speaker laid out a dizzying array of objects, all over the room, in a lovely tableau—pieces of wood, leaves, bowls of blossoms, herbs, statues, fetishes, musical instruments, photographs, even costume pieces.  We sat in a circle while she burned sage to clear the air.  Then she stood up and started talking.  I remember she started by telling us about her family history, her grandparents and parents and her tribal relations.  And then she proceeded to continue telling stories for the next eight hours, with one break for lunch.  There were no handouts.  There were no bullet points.  There were no activities, except for a moment of prayer and singing and more sage burning at the end of the presentation.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

More on Eve! Inspired by BBC4's BEYOND BELIEF.

When you've only got 5 minutes to convey the entirety of Eve's purpose in a novel retelling her story, including why you decided to retell it, you don't have a lot of time for the extras. Fortunately, I have a blog! So let me share some of the things that DIDN'T make it into my 5 minutes of BBC fame--

One of the things about Genesis 2 which seems to get overlooked time and again in this interpretation of Eve as somehow lesser, or lacking morality, or as "the problem" is the fact that Eve, by all accounts within the text, is created as Adam's TRUE equal. Not to mention the fact that Adam is standing right next to her when she engages with the Serpent -- he knows exactly what fruit she's handing him, because he was right there with her, declining to comment. If Eve is in fact a flawed being for what took place in the Garden, a truly literal approach SHOULD recognize it is a flaw she shares equally with Adam. Unfortunately, that isn't the prevailing interpretation.

Eve Eating The Apple, Rodin
(photo by me)
Instead, Eve as sinner/temptress, is so often used as a convenient scapegoat for, if not outright architect of, all the woes of man, which itself is problematic (not unique, mind you, as Helen of Troy is another example of a woman put into this same position, we just haven't based the entirety of western culture upon her "mistakes"), but it becomes a very troublesome interpretation when it is compounded with a more literal and conservative approach to Biblical Myth, which places Eve as the archetype of all women, painting us all with the same brush and giving us all the same perceived "weaknesses" as a result. Even all these supposed generations removed from Creation, Eve's sins become ours, along with all the blame for the sins of men.

It's this troublesome interpretation of myth and scripture which is at the heart, I believe, of the political debates surrounding women's access to health care (so often, those seeking to defund programs which support women's healthcare justify their position with their Christian faith. No one is trying to pretend otherwise.) There is this pervasive, if unvoiced, idea that women cannot make these choices wisely for themselves, and so government must, and, sometimes it seems, even an undercurrent of resentment that anyone BUT the woman herself should have to pay (financially, emotionally, etc) for the so-called mistakes which might lead her to a clinic -- as if women's healthcare and access to birth control, abortion, etc is another Tree of Knowledge which we women mustn't be trusted not to eat from. It's conveniently forgotten that Adam made an informed choice too, and reading the text, it's obvious that Eve wasn't seducing, charming, or otherwise boondoggling him into anything.

In opposition to this idea of Eve as the source of sin and scapegoat for the fall of man, I would argue that Eve as savior and protector seems to be a far more natural extension of her very literal Biblical role as Mother of Life. As we retell and reinterpret Myths, placing women in the position to help shape the world, creators of Solutions instead of presenting them as Problems-to-be-Solved, is just as natural. Just as women have become leaders in reality, they should be leaders, too, in our myths, and who better to start with than Eve? Particularly when Biblical Myth plays such a large role in the western world!

Myth is, after all, a living thing, meant to evolve over time. It should be told and retold, made relevant to our modern perspective and understanding even as it is a reminder of our history and the shared culture of our past. New interpretations don’t and shouldn’t REPLACE the traditional, but they certainly have a place alongside them. And before we recorded these stories -- when they were still oral traditions, passed on from mother to daughter and father to son -- you can be sure that evolutions and variations took place! In fact, I might even argue that RECORDING myth the way we have, and giving the textual result such a high position of authority has disrupted a lot of that natural process of change and growth which kept myth relevant as society and culture and our understanding of the world around us evolved.

In the end, FORGED BY FATE and the Fate of the Gods trilogy is just fiction. But it's my hope that in reading it, we might be willing to consider the value in retellings, even of the myths we hold most sacred. Even when it comes to something as foundational as Adam and Eve and the Biblical story of Creation.

More on Eve:
Fate of the Gods: Regarding Eve

More about my BBC4 appearance at World Weaver Press
And you can download the podcast of Beyond Belief, here!