Monday, December 26, 2011

Sleeping Beauties

I've found out over the Christmas holidays that my niece's favorite Disney Princess is Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty.  Not because of any particular aspect of her story, but because she's the one who wears Pink.

Right inside those two sentences, there are a few topics for discussion, but not for this week.  This week, Sleeping Beauty is my favorite princess as well, not because she wears pink, or because all she needs is a kiss from the right guy to cure her, but because of the extraordinary example she sets and which I intend to follow, for at least a few days: 

Why wake up when you don't really have to?

All this to say, Heroines of Fantasy is on holiday this week, but before we let everyone get back to their beauty rest, let me just make a couple announcements: 

Please stop by Donna Brown's blog Book Bags and Catnaps to vote for our novels as part of the Indie Love contest.  It will only take a few minutes; just scroll down and click 'Like' underneath the thumbnail for EOLYN, FINDER, THE SONG AND THE SORCERESS, or THE NORTHERN QUEEN.  There are a lot of great titles, and you can vote as many times as you want, so 'like' away.  Voters have the chance of winning a $25 gift certificate from Amazon.  Thanks for your support!

Elsewhere, on my blog for EOLYN, I've posted my annual Christmas Reading.  This year's excerpt, by popular demand, is the 'Gingerbread House' scene from Chapter Two.  Ten minutes of a little story telling magic; I hope you enjoy it. 

Those are all the announcements. 

Starting next week, Terri Lynne-DeFino will be our MC for the spring.  Hooray!  She is bringing a great selection of guest bloggers with her; for names, links and dates please check out the right hand bar.

Also, if there are any particular topics you'd like to see us put forward for discussion in the New Year, please let us know!  You can write your suggestions in the comments here, or email us at women.writing.fantasy(at)

On behalf of Kim, Terri and I, I'd like to wish all of you a wonderful holiday.  Thank you so much for being part of our discussions and musings on Heroines of Fantasy.  We've really enjoyed this blog and very much appreciate all the insights and perspectives you have brought to the table.

Now, go get your rest, because next week, we'll be back at it!

p.s. -- Not to open yet another topic of discussion (because we're all supposed to go back to sleep now, right?), I wanted to mention that in searching for images for this post, it was almost impossible to find Sleeping Beauties that were NOT the Disney standard. It's amazing just how much Disney has, for better or for worse, co-opted our images of the classic fairy tales...

Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich

Monday, December 19, 2011

La Befana

La Befana walks the dark-night streets, leading her little white donkey. She raps softly upon the door of every house wherein a child lives, because she is polite and would never simply intrude; but no one answers at the hour she calls, and she lets herself in nonetheless.

She looks underneath the table, in the potato bin, and behind the woodpile, sighing softly, sadly. She sweeps the floor with her ancient broom. She leaves the sweets from her hamper, and sometimes coal if the children of the house were naughty. The offering of wine sipped, cheese and bread nibbled, La Befana lets herself out again.

In the yard, her little white donkey lifts his head from a bucket, sweet well-water dripping from his ghostly muzzle. He's already eaten the grain from the shoe, and is ready when La Befana calls him to her. Off they go to find the next house wherein children live, to search again for her missing babe, to leave sweets and to drink wine, until dawn calls forth the new day, and her night of wandering is over.

There are as many stories of La Befana as there are towns in Italy. This is the gist of the one I remember from a time when I didn't know what memories were. It obviously collected quite a few stories and put it into one--including the Mexican element of grain in the shoe for the donkey. La Befana herself comes out of Italy's ancient past, and not, as far as this Streganona is concerned, a mispronunciation of Epiphany. Even the story I know from my childhood is very Christianized, though the pagan elements remain for any who care to acknoweldge them: At the turn of the year, La Befana sweeps away the year's detrius, and leads her white donkey to the dawn.

Christian legend says the three kings of the magi asked La Befana for directions (men, asking for directions?) and though she gave them shelter in her home, she was too busy cleaning to join them on their journey. Later, she regretted her decision and went after them, and to this day is still searching. In her search, she leaves all the little children she comes across a treat, just in case one of them is the baby Jesus.

Another Christian legend says La Befana was a woman whose child had died. Hearing of the birth of the baby Jesus, she set out to find him, convinced he was her lost son. When she finally found the baby, she gave him gifts. In return, Jesus gave her all the children in Italy for one night every year.

At this time of year, in the northern hemisphere anyway, no matter the faith or culture, it is the celebration of light's triumph over darkness. What stories come out of your past? Your grandparents? Parents? Interesting neighbors? Share!

Glad Tidings of this Joyful Season, and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 12, 2011


Even Santa needs a break!
It's going to rain tomorrow.

Normally I'm not a fan of wet weather, particularly when said weather is also cold.  There is a reason why I live in sunny Southern California, where we all put on our parkas and scarves as soon as the temperature drops below 65.

However, at this point in the holiday season, I'm sort of looking forward to a shut-in, lazy sort of day, where "the weather outside is frightful, and the fire is so delightful."  December, in particular, is hectic.  I'm at the end of my semester, so I'm right in the middle of that last burst of grading.  My eldest has finals this week.  And there is still plenty of shopping, wrapping and baking, parties to attend, visiting, volunteering.  It's easy to feel like I'm caught in a whirlwind of color and noise this time of year, with barely any time to pause and reflect.  Never mind time to engage in one of my favorite leisure activities: reading.

Winter storms force us to pause and take a much needed break.  To reflect.  To relax.  To curl up on the couch with a thick blanket, shut out the outside world, and read.  Right now, I'm looking forward to finishing Terri-Lynne DeFino's richly woven A Time Never Lived, the incredible sequel to her first novel, Finder.  Next I'm going to resume reading either Tamora Pierce's Bloodhound or the ARC of Under the Never Sky, a forthcoming YA dystopian novel by Veronica Rossi.  Those are at the top of the towering pile of juicy fiction goodness stacking up next to my bed, but if those don't strike my fancy, I may pull out something else.  Whatever I choose, it will most likely be fantasy of some sort, either epic or dystopian.  It will provide me with a much-needed escape from the crazy day-to-day, for just long enough to recharge my batteries for the days to come.

As 2011 speeds toward its inevitable conclusion, I challenge you, gentle reader, to pause.  Pick a day.  Maybe it's a bad weather day, or a bad hair day, or even just an hour or two carved out between tasks on your to-do list.  Buy, beg, borrow, or steal the time if you must.  Forget about all of the musts and have-tos for just a little while, curl up in front of that fireplace, and lose yourself in a good book.  You'll be so glad you did.

So-- rain or no rain, what are you going to read next?

~ Kim Vandervort

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stories of Christmas Past

At midnight, the Christmas Tree becomes
larger than life; a climactic moment
in Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite 
When the first snow fell Mage Corey appeared, wearied from his journey yet infused with the energy of contentment that accompanies a true homecoming.  Upon his arrival, preparation for Winter Solstice began in earnest.
~ EOLYN, Chapter 23

I like Christmas.

In part, because the season and traditions are such a nice integration of my Pagan, German and Catholic roots.  Symbols that have transcended time, culture and religion abound – the Christmas tree, the Advent’s wreath, holly and mistletoe.  Song and celebration. The coldest night, the shortest day; death and renewal of the cycle of life. 

One could say the event we currently call ‘Christmas’ has outlasted many of the beliefs that have upheld its celebration; its origins date back long before the conversion of Europe to Christianity.  Even today, people often celebrate Christmas regardless of its contemporary religious significance.  For some reason, it simply makes sense this time of year to deck the halls and stoke the fire, to sit in cozy spaces with family and friends while sipping hot spiced wine or cider, munching on the traditional sweets and delicacies of the season, and retelling the beloved legends and myths that bind us as a family, people and culture.

Carl Offterdinger's interpretation
of Maria Stahlbaum.  A dark-haired
witch in the making?
Last year on my blog for Eolyn, I dedicated a December post to one of these timeless tales:  E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King. Every year when Christmas approaches my thoughts return to this story, one of the favorites of my childhood. 

When I was a young girl, it seemed Hoffman’s Maria Stahlbaum and I had much in common. Maria lived in Frankfurt, a city which I knew well, and which had been the childhood home of my own mother. Maria thrived on dancing and parties and adventure.  She got along well with her brother (except for the occasional dispute regarding ownership rights over the new action figure).  She loved her mysterious and eccentric Uncle Drosselmeyer, whom I could not help but associate with my own paternal grandfather (though in truth the characters of these two men were quite different; and unfortunately, my grandfather was not a toymaker).

Like many scenes, this moment between
Maria and her ugly prince is lost in
Tchaikovsky's famous ballet.
Over the years, the adventures of Maria (also called ‘Klara’ in the Tchaikovsky ballet interpretation, which is to Hoffman’s tale as Disney is to Grimm) have inspired me in countless unexpected ways.  With time, Hoffman’s complex little story blended with Tchaikovsky’s much simpler ballet, melding in the mysterious pathways of my own mind to become more than a children’s Christmas story: It became a tale of a young girl’s coming of age, of the discovery of the power of her own magic. 

The Chistmas Tree has transcended frontiers of
culture and religion to remain an enduring symbol
of life and warmth in a season of cold and death.
I bet few people see The Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King in quite the same way I do, but that doesn’t really matter.  What’s cool about all this is the way in which the stories we love as children can become an integral part of who we are as adults. 

That’s what I would like to celebrate this week: the Stories of Christmas Past; those wonderful tales that have stayed with us from earliest memories of childhood.  Tell me about them all, how they inspired you then, how they inspire you now. 

In the spirit of the season, I’m especially interested in the holiday legends, but if you want to share other stories as well, please do.  Let's rediscover the Children's Magic inside us all.

Wishing you a joyous holiday season, and many great stories besides.

~Karin Rita Gastreich