I was browsing around over at Eva’s A Striped Armchair earlier this morning, during some of the down-hours at work, and decided that it was about time I got around to reading some of the wonderful short stories she keeps posted in her sidebar – after all, if anyone can talk me into reading a short story, it’s Eva’s recommendation – and, because I was feeling slightly whimsical and slightly dark (days of rain and snow can do that to a girl!), I picked “Snow, Glass, Apples” by Neil Gaiman. And I literally couldn’t remove my eyes from the screen for all 5,000 words of the amazing fairy-tale reimagination.
<– Lets just take a quick sec to apprecaite just how frightening that picture is, although it fits the story perfectly. “Snow, Glass, Apples” is Gaiman’s retelling of the Snow White story, told from the step-mother’s perspective. For Gaiman, the stepmother is a sympathetic character, subject to the terrors of a young princess who feeds on human blood, engages in dirty and forest-based prostitution, and who is hauntingly magical (here I’m talking about the princesses ability to live after her heart is cut out).
This princess bites and drains the blood of all those she encounters, and by doing so, is able to kill her father and a number of the “forest people”. She is eventually brought to death when the Queen takes a number of apples, infuses them with her own blood and a number of herbs, and leaves them for the princess to find. However, then the Prince comes along. And this prince isn’t the type of trumpeteers and heroic escapades (honestly, if he were, it wouldn’t be fitting for Gaiman at all). Rather, he’s a prince who finds his erotic satisfaction in necrophelia:
At first the prince seemed excited. He bade me remove my shift, and made me stand in front of the opened window, far from the fire, until my skin was chilled stone-cold. Then he asked me to lie upon my back, with my hands folded across my breasts, my eyes wide open – but staring only at the beams above. He told me not to move, and to breathe as little as possible. He implored me to say nothing. He spread my legs apart…“Please,” he said, softly. “You must neither move, nor speak. Just lie there on the stones, so cold and so fair.”
By the end of the story, the Queen meets her unfortunate but unavoidable end, although even then, the subtle horror employed by Gaiman is such that I’m sure the entire story will stick with me for quite some time. It’s surprising to find yourself rooting for a character you’ve so often despised in the past, but, as I’m coming to learn more and more as I read Gaiman, that’s part of what Gaiman does best – rousing reader support for characters you may be surprised to find yourself rooting for.
There is really only so much gushing I can do about this short story without it become overburdensome – the story itself was only 5,000 words! But let me just say that this is a story that you will read through quickly and want to be thinking over slowly for many days after. Not only is Gaiman’s prose absolutely striking (with brevity so often being the ‘point’ of short fiction, it’s wonderful to find someone that can write with directness, but do so remarkable poetically) but his twists on the story are subtle enough to still recall the original but drastic enough to make the reader absolutely sure that this is Gaiman’s creation, no buts about it. Please read it here – it won’t take you long, and who doesn’t love some free online short fiction? Below are some excerpts of my favorite parts, as well as another illustration that I think provides a slightly-more-playful illustrative tone to the entire thing. Happy reading!
“His beard was red-bronze in the morning light, and I knew him, not as a king, for I knew nothing of kings then, but as my love. He took all he wanted from me, the right of kings, but he returned to me on the following day, and on the night after that: his beard so red, his hair so gold, his eyes the blue of a summer sky, his skin tanned the gentle brown of ripe wheat.”
“Her eyes were black as coal, black as her hair; her lips were redder than blood. She looked up at me and smiled. Her teeth seemed sharp, even then, in the lamplight.”
“If it were today, I would have her heart cut out, true. But then I would have her head and arms and legs cut off. I would have them disembowel her. And then I would watch, in the town square, as the hangman heated the fire to white-heat with bellows, watch unblinking as he consigned each part of her to the fire. I would have archers around the square, who would shoot any bird or animal who came close to the flames, any raven or dog or hawk or rat. And I would not close my eyes until the princess was ash, and a gentle wind could scatter her like snow.
I did not do this thing, and we pay for our mistakes.”
“She stood up and walked around the fire, and waited, an arms-length away. He pulled in his robe until he found a coin — a tiny, copper penny, — and tossed it to her. She caught it, and nodded, and went to him. He pulled at the rope around his waist, and his robe swung open. His body was as hairy as a bear’s. She pushed him back onto the moss. One hand crept, spider-like, through the tangle of hair, until it closed on his manhood; the other hand traced a circle on his left nipple. He closed his eyes, and fumbled one huge hand under her skirt. She lowered her mouth to the nipple she had been teasing, her smooth skin white on the furry brown body of him.
She sank her teeth deep into his breast. His eyes opened, then they closed again, and she drank.
She straddled him, and she fed. As she did so a thin blackish liquid began to dribble from between her legs…”
“The goose-grease begins to melt and glisten upon my skin. I shall make no sound at all. I shall think no more on this.
I shall think instead of the snowflake on her cheek.
I think of her hair as black as coal, her lips as red as blood, her skin, snow-white.”