[Review] Upon A Twice Time Anthology
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for fairy tales. For as long as I can remember I’ve been reading and adapting them into my own work, and they have served as my gateway introduction into many of my now most beloved creative interests. So, when I discovered the anthology Upon A Twice Time, which asks its diverse array of authors to choose two fairy tales and a genre to meld into a new story of their own creation, I knew I was in for a treat.
The anthology, edited by Todd Sanders and out now from Air and Nothingness Press, is an exercise in range and diversity on about as many levels as it is possible to be. With 21 stories from the world over, told in a range of formats from epistle to cooking journal to science fiction, there is sure to be something for everyone. Some of my favorite aspects of the collection prove promising indeed for the future of literature; namely, spotlighting authors and stories that smoothly incorporate characters across all manner of spectrums into their stories with such ease it barely registers as anything other than a comforting surprise. While each voice here is distinct, every story brings to mind the familiar pull into dreamland fairy tales are known to offer. What the characters do once you’re stuck in there with them is where the authors show their strengths in crafting spells over your emotions.
While I could spend all day here explaining what makes each of the 21 stories showcased in this anthology great, it is perhaps best to use the space to highlight my favorites instead. Each one I fell deepest in love with is distinct, with unique tones and approaches to some of my most personally beloved stories.
The first of these is a blending of The Adventures of Pinocchio and (my personally most treasured story) Alice in Wonderland told through the lens of crime fiction: “The Queen of Hearts Interrogates Pinocchio” by Gabriel Ertsgaard. It presents a scenario in which Alice has organized a group of revolutionaries to overthrow and end the Queen of Hearts’ rule over Wonderland. The main tool in her arsenal? Shifting belief in the queen’s power. It is a delightfully funny and fascinating look into both its sources — though Wonderland in particular — because it asks us to look into the heart of (what I believe to be) a text already rooted in the concept of imagining revolution and challenging standardly held beliefs while using Pinocchio’s penchant for mischief and need to tell the truth in order to survive to come up with some genuinely interesting ideas about the concept of a ruling class and how the power dynamics inherent within them can be shifted more to the people. It presents such a wonderful thought experiment on not only organized nonviolent revolution, but the ability of a group regularly looked down upon to take power back for themselves.
If there is anything that will sell me on a piece of art almost automatically it is the idea of minorities, and usually women in particular, taking revenge for some wrong done to them in the past. That is, I’m not ashamed to say, the bones of many of my favorite choices here. The first of this kind I came across in this collection is “The Fisherwoman, Her Husband, and the Never-Dead Nymph” by Hari Navarro, which tells a dark fantasy version of The Fisherman and His Wife and Petrosinella. It has an undercurrent of truly gruesome family violence for the sake of material gain that, as someone unfamiliar with either of the base texts, I wasn’t expecting but was delighted to encounter when the time for vengeance was wrought. Anyone willing to toss a baby into the sea for a chance to be more powerful than God deserves whatever a spiteful sea witch decides. And also, if you label your daughter a spiteful sea witch I think perhaps you should not be surprised when she decides to embrace it.
It’s a beautifully vicious little story about the dangers of asking for too much from powers you do not understand, without serious and lengthy consideration of the consequences or price for your request. A common theme in fairy tales, to be sure, but one done here with such shockingly pointed strokes I began to wonder why someone would pursue their deepest, darkest desires when it meant the sacrifice of their family and peace of mind. And then I remembered how we got to where we are in the world right now and remembered there will always be someone wishing to be more powerful than God even if it means sacrificing family and I stopped being quite so surprised. What we lack is enough vengeful sea witches to correct them.
L.P. Melling’s magical realism blend of Little Red Riding Hood and The Princess Who was Hidden Underground, “ The Red Princess Who was Hidden Underground”, is a painfully beautiful entry that reminds us of what fairy tales are most often used for: understanding a world that stretches its acts beyond our ordinary comprehension.
“The Red Princess Who was Hidden Underground” frames itself amid WWII, focusing on a mother and daughter forced out of their hiding spot when soldiers invade their protector’s house. The young girl, Eliana, begins to recall stories her father told her about the magic protection of the forest and her dominion as a princess. Through these stories is how she preserves her view of the world and how she copes with the trauma of what is going on around her.
Using children as windows into story are always some of the most effective pathways to achieving poignant views of the world because they are more often than not the most open to interpreting things around them with a kind of fantastical element at their hearts. With that in mind, Melling’s story is one of the most vibrantly painted in the collection, and one of the most gut-wrenching. Crafted with some of the most elegantly devastating sentences in the entire anthology, it dances the razor’s edge of fear and hope all the best fairy tales are known to inhabit.
Another vibrant entry into female revenge fairy tales, Carina Bisset’s “Twice in the Telling”, a dark fantasy exploration of The Twa Sisters and The Water Nixie, quickly became a personal anthology highlight for me because of both its forceful opening line of “They say I killed my sister…” and its interrogation of the ways the truth gets twisted around by the most dominant voice in any room. In order to remain safe from a predatory prince two sisters, one bound to the sea and one to the land, take to the water as a method of escape after being trapped. Only one makes it out alive to tell the tale.
This story is one of the most visually detailed in the anthology, although perhaps not in the way you might expect. Bisset paints her pictures through action — the way the water batters both women’s bodies, the result of Twyla’s battle with the current, the casual air of deaths in nature on beings almost too young to be fully formed. The standout visual of the story, however, is the viscerally seductive harp made from the prince’s victims that our narrator uses to reveal the true circumstances of her sister’s death. It is an easy picture to form in the mind’s eye, and one that leaves its mark long after the story’s end.
The last story I want to highlight took the form of an epistolary, combining The Nue Who Stole the Emperor’s Sleep and Frau Holle: Alexandra Seidel’s “The Golden Feather”. I could not let this review pass without mentioning this, yet another sharp little revenge tale, as it is the only one to have made me simultaneously gasp and groan out loud. Set in some sort of future where the creation of simulated realities is a tool to be studied, Seidel’s story is smooth and has a cruelty at its heart that’s so wrapped in familial exchange you hardly notice it. The words and phrases arch and ache across every page, lulling you into a simulated reality all its own until the final reveal.
A daughter sent off by her stepmother to study the art of constructing simulated realities under the tutelage of a master (perhaps unsurprisingly referred to by the townspeople as a witch) exchanges letters with her sibling and father about her lessons and their lives back home. Though she wishes to return, Kin has further motives for fine tuning her abilities. It, on a couple separate occasions, genuinely shocked me in a way none of the others did, and for that it must be pulled from the pack and highlighted. There is a longing here and in other tales in this book that feels palpable, though the longing for what varies from story to story.
Upon A Twice Time is an anthology that gives me hope not just in the ability to continue telling original stories from material close to all of our hearts, but in the idea that there just might be an audience for the sort of fictional story-weaving I do myself. The flow within and between each tale feels natural and even the stories that did not one hundred percent work for me personally had enough on display about them that I could see where they would work for others. I have but scratched the surface of the talent on hand here, but I hope it has been enough for you to consider adding it to your collection.
I would like to thank Air and Nothingness Press and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.