A popular assumption about fairytales is that they should always have happy endings, but a glimpse into the history of folk and fairytales will belie that assumption. From the literary fairytales of Charles Perrault, Madame D’Aulnoy, and Giambattista Basile, to the oral retellings from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, there has always been a streak of cruelty in fairytales. The punishment levied against Cinderella’s step-sisters in various oral accounts, for instance, could be rather horrific. That same multidirectional cruelty may be seen in Basile’s account of Snow White, “The Young Slave”. Punishment and cruelty may not sound like pleasant things to read in a folktale, but one may ignore the message of these darker tales at one’s peril. From the cantadoras represented by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, to the nenek kebayan and storytellers from my country, wise women have always been the ones to tell these cautionary tales, imparting more than just morals, imparting warnings, but also comfort. Picture this issue then as a hearth with many voices around it, telling tales of agency and of escape, from one culture to another. Perhaps some tales are bloodier than others. And while as of this issue, all of the voices are cis, I do hope more voices will join this conversation, both binary and non-binary voices.
This publication is growing, and remains welcome to all.
Like Scheherazade’s tale, stories of cruel marriages keep recurring in oral traditions around the world. Therefore, I probably should not have been startled when these motifs turned up in my inbox as well. For fairytales – most of them – do seem to revolve around the most fractured of relationships between parent and child, between spouses. Joyce Chng’s “I Growled” is set in a futuristic re-envisioning of Singapore, and is a lyrical tale of marriage and autonomy, branching off the various Animal Bride tales in the world. Shada Bokir’s “Cold Eyes” is a Yemeni tale with very strong Gothic markers. Animal metaphors also turn up in Bokir’s tale but with a different set of references, and it is a tale of mental illness that revisits the tropes one may find within Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.
To go with these two short stories are two reprints: Mary Anne Mohanraj’s “The Devouring Night” and Stace Dumoski’s “The Piscine Gifts“. Mohanraj’s tale is one of my favourites by her because of the beauty of the language and the evocative imagery. It is a powerful tale which is in harmony with the overall (accidental!) theme of Issue One. Dumoski’s tale is another favourite of mine, and this is the third time it is being reprinted, and for good reason. “The Piscine Gifts” completes this issue with a strong message concerning overt agency, one that can be achieved through exile. At the end of trauma, at the end of our struggles to find our own agency, we must always have hope that we can forge, if not a perfect happy ending, at the very least a satisfactory one. That has always been my favourite message about fairytales — that it may not always be safe, may not always be kind, but if you are perhaps a resilient and plucky protagonist, you just might wind up alright after all.
This issue also offers non-fiction. Firstly, a reprint of Tutu Dutta’s “The Pala Tree and the Sundal Tree“, a piece of folkloric sleuthing that investigates the trees that feature in both Indian and Malay folklore, a spine-tingling account of pontianak and the yakshi of India. I very much enjoyed reading this correlation between the deadly vampiric ladies of Malaysia and those of India. I also offer a write-up of an interview I did with the Malaysian artist Karen Nunis, whose works hang on my wall, and whose hybrid vision contains an aesthetic unity that thrills the eyes. Her life story too is one of journeys, of resilience and of empowerment. My visit to her studio was an eye-opener, and her art with its diverse influences are a visual embodiment of myth-making and storytelling.
Our artist-in-residence, Kirsty Greenwood is one of those strong artistic voices who have been a part of DS&T’s story for nearly two years now. In response to my mock-up of this issue, she suggested her painting “Sedna”, for the cover. The Inuit goddess Sedna’s tale also has a tragic beginning but is eventually a story of personal autonomy and power, one that involves the Ocean. I can’t think of a better way to start this adventure we are going to have with Truancy!
Of additional note: I am also happy to announce that both Joyce Chng and Tutu Dutta have picture books for children coming out from Lantana Publishing this year, along with Nnedi Okorafor. All three books are available here!
Do enjoy the offerings of this inaugural issue of Truancy!
Nin Harris, PhD
Nin Harris is a Malaysian poet, writer, and a literary Gothic scholar. Nin writes Gothic fiction, cyberpunk, nerdcore post-apocalyptic fiction, planetary romances and various other hyphenated weird fiction. Nin’s publishing credits include: Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Giganotosaurus, Lackington’s Magazine and more.