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Trick Or Treat Letter

Posted on 2015.09.14 at 11:28
The Buried Moon (Fairy Tale)
Characters: The Moon

The moon, wrapped in a dark cloak, stumbling through the bog: deep, muddy sinkholes on every side, and no safe footing ... A broken branch sticks up sharp above the bog, remnant of a drowned tree, a safe support and handhold amidst the swallowing mud ... The branch twists like a living thing, but cold, cold and rough and dead, though it still moves, twisting round her wrist, pulling her down towards the mud... Read a summary on Wikipedia or a longer version here.

Trick: There's a fair potential for horror, from the moon's point of view: getting trapped, struggling free to save the passing man, being caught again, and buried. Indeed, some versions suggest the moon actually dies. Or you could do something from the point of view of one the bog creatures. What is it like being e.g. a will-o'-the-wisp?

Treat: Well, the moon does get free in the end, and goes back to shining brightly to keep the way across the bog safe. Presumably that's pretty satisfying and pleasant for her. Or what about the man she saves - does he join the party that rescues her, and what is his life like afterwards, as a man who has got so close to a deity?

Les Contes d'Hoffman
Characters: Any [Hoffman, Giulietta, Muse|Nicklausse, Dapertutto, Peter Schlémil]

Stolen reflections and shadows, an irresistible woman and her probably demonic patron, a faithful friend who may be just a friend or may be an old adversary of the devil, poison gone astray, a meditation on the competing claims of art and life... Read a summary on Wikipedia, the libretto on Project Gutenberg or find any number of recordings on YouTube.

The whole stolen reflection/shadow thing is pretty creepy, right? But more generally anything more about Giulietta, Dapertutto or Schlémil, singly or in any combination (or with Muse|Nicklausse or Hoffman), would be great. Or alternatively, forget about Act 3, and just give me more about Nicklausse - always the Muse, or a real person the Muse impersonates or possesses? Or Hoffman's relationship with Nicklausse and/or the Muse.

Reynardine - Traditional Ballad
Characters: Reynardine, the young woman

And it's day and night she followed him, his teeth so bright did shine.
And he led her over the mountain, did the sly bold Reynardine.
Read a summary here or lyric variants here. Listen to a recording here or (less traditionally) here.

Personally, I tend to prefer an ambiguously supernatural Reynardine, rather than a plain outlaw or a definite monster, but there can never be too many versions of the story, so if you prefer one of those readings, go for it. (For that matter, if you'd prefer Reynardine to be a woman, or the young woman to be a young man, that's absolutely fine with me - it's the situation I'm interested in, not the genders.)

I guess trick or treat for this one depends partly on tone, and partly on what happens next: perhaps Reynardine's intentions aren't that bad, or they are but the girl escapes - it's not as though there aren't plenty of at least bittersweet even if not outright happy human/otherworldly stories, and plenty also of quick-witted humans getting one over their otherworldly enemies. Or, of course, his intentions may well be that bad, and she may not escape.

Sir Orfeo - Traditional Ballad
Characters: Any [Orfeo, Heurodis, Fairy King]

A nightmare, a vanished queen, a king wandering alone in the woods for many years, a fairy kingdom (rather beautiful, but quite possibly the land of the dead), a triumphant return to a kingdom that has almost forgotten them... You can read a synopsis on Wikipedia, or a modern summary can be found here.

Trick: Heurodis’s dream - what was it that caused her to awaken so distressed? Why did she at once believe the dream to be true, and that she had no choice but to obey? What is life really like for her in the fairy realm? What sort of creature is the fairy king, and why does he act as he does? How does it feel for Sir Orfeo, facing him with nothing but his harp to win his own freedom and that of his wife? How might Heurodis have been changed by her sojourn at the fairy court?

Treat: Does Orfeo find some satisfaction in his simple life as a wandering harper, or Heurodis some pleasure in the other world? Is the fairy king satisfied with the way things turned out? (Perhaps Heurodis’s time in the otherworld and Orfeo’s dedication and heartfelt music earn them some gift he wanted them to have, or perhaps he was keen to hear the best music the world had to offer?) Or, if you’re going with sex, you can pair any two of them up, or all three.

Liáo zhâi zhì yì | Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio - Pú Sônglíng
Characters: Any [Scholar, Monk, Ghost, Fox Spirit]

Pictures that come to life; hornets and ants that are also beautiful women; ghosts and fox-spirits living in happy harmony, or waiting in the shadows to destroy the unwary and the over-trusting; the supernatural impinging always on the mundane, and never quite the same way twice - now monstrous, now benign, and no sure way to tell the two apart. This collection of short tales of the bizarre, the supernatural and the out-of-place is available from Penguin Classics in a selected translation by John Minford. A much earlier translation by Herbert Giles is available online, but keep in mind it’s from 1880 and is heavily bowdlerised. There's also the recent six volume complete translation by Sondergard. I wasn’t sure how best to nominate characters, since there are so many separate stories, but in the end I went with four character types that recur throughout. I'd be equally delighted with a new story featuring any of the four, or your take of any of the original stories.

Scholar: I used ‘scholar’ as short hand for any of the young literati gentlemen who spend so much time getting entangled with foxes and ghosts or having the illusory nature of reality demonstrated to them by Taoist priests (or losing their most prized possessions to them).

Monk: Monks and priests wander through the tales, giving away an ungenerous merchant’s pears under cover of illusion here, thwarting fox spirits there, presiding over a monastery where you might seem enter heaven through a wall painting, or creating a myriad of other illusions, beautiful or terrifying. From their point of view, what we think of as reality as just another illusion.

Ghost: Many of the ghosts in the tales are not terrifying monsters, but ghosts of young women, capable of great love (albeit sex with a ghost may turn out to be deadly), or ghosts of men driven by ties of friendship and obligation. The Tales covers everything from the happy three-way human/fox/ghost relationship of Lotus Fragrance (Minford)and the friendship of the unwitting ghost in Friendship Beyond the Grave (Minford), to the horror of Biting a Ghost (Minford) and the man who returns briefly from the dead to take his wife with him in Dying Together (Minford)|Mr Chu, the Considerate Husband (Giles).

Fox Spirit: Foxes feature in so many different ways, from villains meriting death, through a variety of ambivalent roles, to admirable heroines. Stories with admirable foxes include Grace and Pine (Minford)|Miss Chiao-No (Giles) and Lotus Fragrance (Minford); more ambiguous and dangerous foxes can be found in The Laughing Girl (Minford)|Miss Ying-ning (Giles) and Cut-Sleeve (Minford)*; outright evil creatures in Bird (Minford), Fox Enchantment (Minford) and The Merchant's Son (Minford)|The Trader's Son (Giles) (although only in the last is there no trace of sympathy at all for the foxes).

* In the past, I’ve summed up Cut Sleeve as 'Dearest cousin-in-law! What fond memories I have of our affair in my past life - the one where you consumed my Yang until I fell sick and died. Which reminds me, there's this official who's bothering me - I was thinking, maybe you could go seduce and kill him. What do you mean, you don't want to?’

In General

Things I like (provided only as indicative of my taste, not in any way as particular requirements of your story): established relationships, clever and competent characters, witty banter, slash (incl. femslash), moral ambiguity, apparently simple conversations with a great deal going on under the surface, angst if done with restraint, metaphor, clever use of literary allusions. Let's see, what else? Fierce loyalty (the tear the world apart for you variety, not the sit here passively putting up with anything variety), complicated love/hate relationships with lots of backstory, unflappable characters, arrogance if the party concerned has the requisite ability to back it up, committed partnerships between people who see the world at the same angle (even if they aren't always on the same side) ...

Things I’d prefer you avoided: I’m not terribly keen on mpreg, watersports & scat, humilation or stories told in the 2nd person, and I do have something of an embarrassment squick. Oh, all right, I also don't tend to like issuefic, but I'm not sure that's something people generally set out to write - one person's issuefic is another's searingly honest portrayal.

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