Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Issue 30, June 2013—Buch Märchen Issue)

Location, location, location, sure. Traditional fairy tales are all about location: namely, nature, frightening nature, it’s magical—this nature—expansive and haunted, here there be monsters a-lurking and beasts a-creeping, nature is the wildcard obstacle—if the heroine wants to win, that is. In traditional fairy tales, nature takes the shape of the Forest, one if by land two if by sea, as in: the forest Little Red travels through to get to her sick grandmother’s house; the oceanic forest the Little Mermaid must navigate to get to the Sea Witch and then to land; the dense thorny vines and deep forest the Prince must crawl and saw through to get to Sleeping Beauty. The Forest is sublime: terror-filled rapture, the anxiety of imminent death, the anxious arrival of what comes after. Danger makes the quest—and prize—worthwhile. But the Forest isn’t something to be overcome. It can’t be overcome, it’s vast and boundless—more qualities associated with the sublime, yawn. The most fairy tale characters can do is make their way through, or hide. Ready or not.

The sublime forest is obstacle, is obstruction, like a big fucking maze dropped right on the heroine just when things couldn’t get any worse. Wait, wait, oh, things can get worse: here’s this big fucking maze and yep it’s a forest and yep it’s sublime—as in all those other definitions, plus magic—oh yeah, she’s in a fairy tale, gee-whiz, insert magic. The cherry: she doesn’t even have a map, so there goes logic, out the high tower window. Fairy tale heroines may not have maps, but she always makes it to her destination. Think about Snow White: what are the odds that the Huntsman releases her into the Woods and she lands with the Seven Dwarves? Think about Hansel and Gretel: in what universe would child abandonment lead to a Gingerbread House, bad results or not? Or consider the probability that Beauty would just—while frantically searching—appear at the very estate where her papa is trapped. Or here’s one for you: the Prince questing through the forest of the city to find Cinder’s tiny foot. Logic says these forest landscapes—arguably even the city—are impossible to navigate, especially without a map or guide. But that’s what makes them heroes and heroines: their ability to intuit their way through the precarious forest. This is the perk of being good.

Lily Hoang