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Yuletide Recs

Posted on 2013.01.01 at 14:41
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I still haven't read anything like all the stories I might - indeed I haven't read any Fairy Tales or Mythology at all, except for ones tagged with another fandom as well, or ones where I was following someone else's rec. Nor have I necessarily yet read all the stories in any given fandom. Nonetheless, sneaking in before the reveal, my first rec set. Unless otherwise stated, these are all suitable for people who don't know the original fandom well / at all.

To start with, two stand-outs:

The Wanderer's Reply to the Seafarer - The Exeter Book
Forþon siþgeomorne      yfer saelade
langoð laecþ mec      mine lisse to secanne.

Therefore longing seizes me, journey-weary, to seek my rest across the sea-course.
Fanfic for The Exeter Book, written in the original Old English. Need I say more? Well yes, I should probably add that the helpfully provided English translation is beautiful and worth reading for its own sake.

Contagious fogs - Midsummer Night's Dream
He noted it all down. The district full of empty grey boxes. Shelves filled with dingy bits of string, each tagged with their own cataloguing number. Maps so big that they covered whole floors. The blooms of mould and the books that shed their covers in his hands, moulting for the winter. The paper on which he should have been writing his essay soon became smudged with the dust of leather, telling its own story on its own terms.
On the day before his tutorial Robin finally made his way to the very top of the library, a tiny reading room sitting jauntily on the roof of the New Pond. Its windows overlooked the spires of the pearly grey city. Robin peered through the drops on the pane, squinting through his fingers, but the shape of the city remained stubbornly indistinct, just beyond his grasp.

After the chill of the stacks, the reading room was unnaturally warm. No one at the issue desk, where a calendar showed a date nine months earlier. No readers at the long tables, where signs forlornly warned that books were not to be left overnight. They had been ignored. Although the shelves of the reading room were empty, its tables were piled high with leatherbound volumes, some no bigger than a hand, all of them with spines hanging loose, covers askew, crumbling away into dust. It seemed that the reading room was abandoned.

Robin yawned and curled up in a corner like a cat. Here there were no librarians to roust him out. Here all the books were written in alphabets that he couldn't read, artfully shaped characters freighted with an obscure significance. A book open on his lap, shedding companionably onto his corduroys, and he drifted off to sleep.

He was woken again by voices. Two people strolling slowly into the room, the swish of academic gowns. Robin crawled under the nearest table, screened from view by the stacks of books.

"It's a tragedy," said a woman's sombre voice. "I crossed India and all of the Orient collecting these books on behalf of the Pondeian, on behalf of this library. And now it's all being broken up and scattered, for no reason other than that he wants to demonstrate his power over me."

Another voice, older, male. "Is that what it is?"

"What else could it be? Reasons of sound scholarship? Modernisation?" She laughed bitterly. "No one has ever advocated modernity in Oxenfloode without having a powerful ulterior motive."
I confess I almost didn't read this, for college AUs and I do not get along, but this is a University AU, which is apparently quite different so far as my reading tastes are concerned. One of the best stories, possibly the best, of Yuletide this year, I think. Perhaps the last part is not quite up to the promise of the rest, but the rest is so good, and the last part suffers only by comparison. How I would love more of this, preferably novel length.

I was also very taken with a couple of other stories.

All the Old Knives - The Kalevala, Finnish Mythology
She said to the woods and she said to the water. She told them, I tell you, my name is Kyllikki.
Haunting and raw, with some beautiful lines and a lovely use of repetition.

Songs for the Jingwei Bird - Liáo zhâi zhì yì | Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
Then from somewhere above him came the sound of laughter, and the peddler craned his neck to see the Eight Immortals settled quite peacefully on a bamboo leaf that was bobbing precariously, even as small as they were. There was Lady He, carrying a miniature lotus and minuscule bamboo ladle; she appeared to be laughing at a scowling Iron-Crutch Li. The other six Immortals were still sleeping, their eyelids no bigger than a grain of rice.
This is the story written for me, and I think it stands quite well enough on its own to rec here, even though for me one of its great pleasures is seeing how the author took elements from the Tales, and from the traditions the Tales draw on, and put them together to create a different type of story: the same raw materials, many of the same themes, but a story recognisably in the Western tradition. I am fascinated by how stories are transmitted from storyteller to storyteller, period to period, culture to culture, and how the same story can be refracted in a hundred different directions depending on the context in which it's told.

As a Blind Man Gropes in Darkness - Swan Lake
He doesn't know what to expect when he sinks his shaking fingers into the pile of feathers. Bones, maybe, hollow and made for flying, or a stiffening body that rocks under his insistent hands. Perhaps he will bloody himself against the sharp edges of broken teeth. Perhaps there will be nothing there at all.
Disturbing and well written version of Swan Lake

Various other stories of various types:

Run Red - Rotkäppechen | Little Red Riding Hood
She took a few steps forward, then hesitated. For some reason, her pulse once again thundered in her ears. She looked closely at the man, at his dark hair and bright eyes, and his clean, broad face. Something – something was...

The woodcutter smiled. It was a wide smile, but it still did not seem to fit all of his teeth.
Interesting take on Red Riding Hood, playing around with story elements and fitting them back together in new and interesting ways, just as I like.

At the End of Your Name - Fairy Tales & Related Fandoms
He hears the almost-swallowed final syllable like a flame against his chest. A name he has not heard since he was a boy, when the birds used to gift his clothes with their feathers and the Winter seemed to breathe that loving word as sweetly as the family he used to have.
Long and unusual 'what happens afterwards' of The Firebird, featuring the wolf and the oldest brother.

Springtime Will Kill You - Greek and Roman Mythology
It was the hottest May anyone in Hollywood remembered, and I was feeling as rich as the sun was bright.

I'd just finished up a plush cheating-wife gig. Aging director, bathing beauty—you get the picture. He got the picture, too, just as quick as the film developed. I'd consoled the fellow by relieving him of two hundred dollars, and I was sitting with my feet propped on my desk, trying to decide whether to spend the cash or fan myself with it.
Here I don't think I can do better for a quote than the actual opening lines. This is Hades and Persephone (and Orpheus and Eurydice) done noir style.

Odinstattur - Norse Mythology
"Why Odin All-father, it appears you have lost your manhood – did you lose it among all your skirts?"
"I was waylaid! Set upon by a thief!"

"Foolish enough to seduce a witch," Rán countered.

"That wasn't a problem with the others," Odin said.
Both amusing and true to the more ribald moments of its source.

Two Study in Emerald fics this year, both worth reading if you're in the fandom; the first has some fine moments of horror even if you're not.

The Case of the Limping Doctor - A Study in Emerald - Neil Gaiman
These characteristics usually guaranteed safety, for the most part. John’s family followed these traits to the letter, though they had vanished into the many streets of London long before John’s discharge and return. He hoped that they simply moved and are living healthily if not happily, though he feared (knew) that one can respectable and safe up until the moment that an Old One’s interest is piqued.
Pray your gods - A Study in Emerald - Neil Gaiman
It was understood that regardless of what case Lestrade brought us in the meantime, when She sent her envoy, it would be my friend's new focus.

He slept feverishly that night, and I did not sleep at all. There were half thoughts, fringe memories of that flat mirrored lake and the slick of incomprehensible eldritch limbs against my skin. I gave up on sleep, made tea in the kitchen and doctored it with laudanum, serving the both of us.

Somehow - The Bagman's Gambit - The Decembrists
The man – Stanisław – laughed, a short exhalation of amusement, and put his fedora on, tipping it over his right eye. “I hoped you were a spy.” He picked up the briefcase that had been resting between his feet. “My first week here. Catching one would be an excellent start."

His enthusiasm was difficult to fault. “My apologies,” Francis said.
A vintage spy story.

The Winebearer - Classical Greece and Rome History & Literature RPF
Nicomedes watched. Caesar waited, his bearing military: he hardly swayed, despite the wind whipping Bithynia’s famous fine sand in misty swirls around him. Most visitors to Bithynia found the blue-green planetshine from the gas giant Bithynia X orbited unnerving; even jaded smugglers shivered when the sand screeched, banshee-like, against the sheer glass cliffs, as it did today.

And most smugglers did not crash their ships three clicks distant from Nicomedes’ compound, as Caesar had on his return.
As the author's summary says: Julius Caesar, emissary from Rome, brings wine to Nicomedes of Bithynia. In spaaaaaaaace!

A Quite Different Case of Identity - Hark! A Vagrant, Sherlock Holmes, Raffles
So comfortable was I that I felt myself very close to sleep. However, no sooner had I closed my eyes than a knock on the door startled me fully awake. I leapt up, knowing that we were expecting no visitors and presuming this person to be a client. It was only once I had opened the door that I remembered. I had sent Stupid Watson to buy a turkey.
I think the generally consensus in the comments is 'Poor Bunny'. Anyway, I imagine if you're already familiar with fandoms, which you would have to be for this one, you have already read it, so there probably wasn't any point in my mentioning it here, however, for completeness...

The Resurrection of William of Lanchester - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
Thomas, for his part, knew such entreaties would not work on the King, for he'd known the man in the brugh, and human kindness was no longer part of his character. He watched as the King's grave-diggers burrowed through the earth towards the corpse of their friend, and remembered how the pretty miller's daughter had wept at his grave three months prior.
Another one for fans of the book only, I fear.

this obsessive idea - Literary RPF (Baudelaire)
It is odd that Édouard should capture the half-forgotten memory of her so well, that Pigallese fille en carte. He has given her a name and a position, and an orchid in her hair that you are not entirely certain is actually present, or whether you have dreamed it repeatedly, but it is undoubtedly her. You are certain that if you could remember her more precisely, or perhaps see her again, the hazy memory would resolve in a face that is not Olympia, and not your Vénus noire, but another's face entirely.
This prompt was on my treating shortlist (until I came to my senses and remembered I'm not actually a huge fan of Baudelaire's poetry, certainly not enough to immerse myself in it long enough to write a story). But look! Someone else did it for me. Fever and opium dreams, probably, or perhaps how the world really is?

Best Served Hot Master Li and Number Ten Ox - Barry Hughart
There was a fetching creature at the door, her face only halfway concealed by the veil she’d drawn over her face and the hat that shaded her aristocratic brow.
“Describe our new client,” Master Li asked. “You are a fantastic judge of character.”

“It’s…it’s a woman,” I said. “She’s…not very tall," I managed.

“Well, Confucius tells us that the gods accept the blemished and unblemished cattle alike. Let the lady in.”
A nice, long casefic. (Well, that 's what I had in my notes, but I've just checked and it's only 5800 words, so a nice mid-length casefic?)

Vigil - Measure for Measure - Shakespeare
His faults are here also his virtues: he would not trust the night’s disguising blackness, but would listen for the voice, however little was said, would trace his fingers over her face to read her features, touch the hands he had already held and would not be deceived by an impostor.
An interesting take on the end of the play, looking at Isabella / Duke Vincentio and not going the obvious route of making it a disaster of forced consent and mismatched characters.

The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning - Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
It was a classic tale about a poor but clever lad. How clever? Well, clever enough to realize that being stalwart and good and noble was far more likely to win him a knife to the back than it was a pocket full of riches.
I think perhaps this one is just for people who have read Neverwhere, but it's an enjoyable read if you have.

Hearts of Oak - Robin Hood (Traditional)
“It rained quite often,” he said simply. “And I suppose you were very bored, in the castle. I didn’t think you would have taken up with someone like Robin, if you were very satisfied with how your life was.”

She gave him a considering look. “I always thought he was frightfully optimistic about your intelligence. But perhaps I was wrong.”

“He always said you and I had much in common. I always thought he was full of shite.”

“That he was.”
Nice characterisation of Will Scarlet and Maid Marian over the years, and their relationships with Robin.

The Ballad of Bold Teuber the Robber - Settlers of Catan
The word's gone out from the golden plain where the nodding wheat stalks grow
The word's gone up the mountain rocks where the sparkling freshets flow,
The word's gone into the forest, where the woodsman toils in the glen,
Of Teuber, Teuber the Robber - bold Teuber has moved again!
A Settlers of Catan ballad - whatever will they think of next?

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