Today I Read…Midnight Snack and Other Fairy Tales

Today I read Midnight Snack and Other Fairy Tales by Diane Duane, a collection of rewritten and modernized folk and fairy tales. Midnight Snack

Since anthologies are really hard to summarize, the following story descriptions are from Diane Duane’s ebook website.

The stories in the collection include:

First Readthrough: How you do the casting for a fairy tale… and what can go wrong while you do.

The Dovrefell Cat: Your pet polar bear may sometimes be a problem… but there’s one night of the year when he shines.

…Under My Skin: Some first dates just don’t work out the way you think they will: not at all.

A Swiss Story: Lots of people from that part of the world have something from “during the War”. But not many have anything like this…

Blank Check: A most unusual client turns up at one of the world’s oldest banks with an impossible request… which nonetheless must be fulfilled.

Don’t Put That In Your Mouth, You Don’t Know Where It’s Been: A would-be worshipper of the Triple Goddess has her upcountry ritual disturbed by something very odd.

The House: A school project examining gingerbread as a structural element turns into something way more personal.

Cold Case: A cop who won’t take no for an answer meets a murder victim who’s even more stubborn than he is.

The title work, Midnight Snack: “Dad came down with the flu that week, so I had to go down to the subway and feed the unicorns…”

And completing the collection, a full-length feature film screenplay, Dead & Breakfast: a ghost story with computers.

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I’ve always been fond of fairy tales, and I love rewritten versions. The basic stories are immortal, but sometimes they get the details a little wrong. Or if not wrong, then a product of the time. As Duane asks in the foreward below, *WHY* can’t the prince rescue a prince? And why can’t the princess rescue the prince? Why can’t the princess rescue the princess? I direct fellow questioners to Diane Duane’s Middle Kingdoms novels, Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms series. Princess Leia got rescued by Han and Luke and turned right around and rescued them from the firefight in the Death Star’s prison. And Jim C. Hines’ Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White from the Princess novels do the rescuing, not the being rescued, thankyouverymuch.

Okay, off the princess-heroine soapbox. The thing about fairy tales is that they entertain, but they also teach. There is always a moral, or a lesson, or a reminder.

My favourite story in this collection is “First Readthrough.” What if you were casting a fairy tale movie, but you took the characters a lot more seriously than I’d bet Hollywood does in reality? The story consultant has a point–sometimes trust is more important than love, because love cannot flourish without trust.

“…Under My Skin” features the clever heroine, the one who remembers the old tales and uses her wits to save herself and the prince. Well, the duke in this case. And it reminds you not to drink too much on a date, just in case he turns into a giant snake. You never know.

“Blank Check” reminds you to do your duty, no matter what you think the consequences may be. When you have no good choices, then do what you’re supposed to do.

“Cold Case” is about patience, and determination to see a thing through, no matter how long it takes.

And “Dont Put That In Your Mouth, You Don’t Know Where It’s Been” is about being careful what you ask for, and kindness to those in need, even to those different from you.

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Foreword

Fairy tales have been a big deal for me all my life.
At first it was a matter of sheer enjoyment. As an early and frequent raider of the local library in the little Nassau County town where I grew up, the entire fairy tale section, with the multicolored Andrew Lang [Insert Color Here] Fairy Books, was very basic material for me, inhaled as soon as found, and often returned to over the following years—even when I hit the age when a young reader gets selfconscious about being seen in the children’s library. (Readers of So You Want to Be a Wizard will hear a familiar theme here.)
As a result, over many years the whole cultural and psychological region occupied by folklore, fairy tale and legend became far more familiar territory to me than the merely physically-real Long Island. I soaked up what we would now think of as tropes through my skin. The brothers Grimm, the Comtesse d’Aulnoy and the other great popularizers (including Lang of course) became my best buds. Long after my yearsmates had gone on to popular fiction—those of them who bothered to read, anyway—I was still deep in this material, hunting down anthologies of folkloric and fairytale material from cultures well outside of the normal European stomping grounds and steeping myself in them.
At no point during this process did I realize I had also been eagerly ingesting what would eventually prove to be a gateway drug. I can, however, clearly remember the long-ago evening when, as I was being put to bed, I asked my Mom a leading question about the fairy tale she’d just read me: “Why does it always have to be a Prince rescuing a Princess? Why can’t a Prince rescue a Prince?
Mom kind of chuckled at me and told me that when I grew up, I’d understand. But when I grew up—well, got past eighteen, anyway—and revisited that memory, I was annoyed to discover that I still didn’t understand. In fact, the omission of routine relationship-and-rescue opportunities for same-sex fairy tale characters made it clear to me that something about the local storytelling system was broken. So, locally, I set about starting to fix it. I started writing the foundation material for what would later become my first novel, The Door into Fire, around the time I went into nursing school. It did take a decade or so to get that story sorted into a shape that was worth other people spending their time to read it. But what the restatement or reworking of that particular theme taught me was that fairy tales were not only my friends, but had opened a gateway to a whole new place from which to live my life.
Those old tales matter to me in some nontraditional modes as welll.While in psychiatric nursing practice I came across a mode of psychotherapy that took as a given the idea that people adopt elements of fairy tales as life plans, and often spend decades or indeed lifetimes living them out, for good or ill, unless they find (or are shown) the spellbreaker or “magical” act necessary to bring all correctly to fruition. That particular form of therapy,transactional analysis, survived a period during which it was considered too weird or crazy to be useful, and has now been accepted into the heartland of what are now (in this psychoactive-drug-crazy era) often referred to as “the talk-related therapies”. And there are any number of pop-psych books of greater or lesser usefulness comparing patterns in modern human lives to patterns laid down in fairy tale, mythology, folklore, and other parts of the lands of archetype. The power of these old storytelling structures, introduced to (or indeed drummed into) so many of us when we’re too young to think analytically about them, is finally being acknowledged as something to be reckoned with, and something that can be turned to our own therapeutic advantage.
But I have no patience with the idea of consuming fairy tales strictly because they’re good for you, like some kind of high-fiber additive for the soul. I also find them comforting, moving, and just plain fun. This is why the bookshelves on my side of the bedroom have the Lang books racked up within easy reach, along with big fat fairy tale books in various other languages (the Swiss ones have pride of place, as readers of A Wind from the South will probably have guessed). And this is why fairy tales continue to underlie, or haunt, a surprising amount of my writing: because I love them.
Occasionally when I’ve been asked to write short fiction, the fondness for fairy tale tropes comes out particularly strongly. In this collection are some stories I’ve written over the last twenty years that reach back most clearly to folkloric roots (or in some cases, to these tales’ close cousin, the ghost story… a good theme for this time of year).
I hope you have fun with what lies ahead! Because I did.
—Diane Duane
  County Wicklow, Ireland
  October 2012
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