Fairy tales. We all know the traditional stories, right? Prince Charming, the hero, fights evil, wins the princess, happily ever after. Three sons, three wishes, witches, dragons, a quest, and happily ever after.
These stories are part of our cultural fabric. We retell them, over and over, and the stories change in the retellings, to reflect contemporary culture, such as Princess Charming, heroes and heroines as people of color. It has been only relatively recently that queer folk have found their way into the retellings, as they have here, in this collection of stories, stories that grew out of questions:
What if the prince falls in love with Cinderella’s gay stepbrother?
What if Rumpelstiltskin doesn’t really want the Queen’s child? He wants his old boyfriend back, the King.
What if Beauty and the Beast were two men?
As fairy tales do, these stories explore the human condition, human experience, through the metaphors of magic and the magical, exploring what it means to be human. After all, all fairy tales are true. But this time, with a gay perspective.
In these tales, retellings and original ones, readers are asked to consider what price must be paid for happily ever after—which is not guaranteed. Love, on the other hand, without a doubt. These tales are love stories.
Duty or love? Is love worth great sacrifice?
So… once upon a time….
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From “The Wicked Stepbrother.”
“Well. Lord Culver, are we done? Are there no more women to try on the shoe?” Aidan asked as he stood from where he had sat all morning, next to my grandfather’s great tome of a dictionary.
I was about to say no when my stable manager interrupted. “There’s one more, Elena. She’s in the kitchen, washing dishes. I saw her there when I came up.”
Before I could protest, Aidan ordered her brought to the library.
When Elena came in, her hair braided and pulled back to keep it out of the sink, I knew, with a sudden certainty, who had stared at me before running away. She had to have had magical help. She glanced at me before sitting down in the chair facing Aidan and his shoe. A quick flash of triumph.
I hated her.
Of course, the crystal slipper fit. Of course, she had its mate in her apron pocket.
“I have found her—my wife-to-be,” Aidan said as he stood, taking Elena’s hand, and gesturing to the room. Every woman still in line, all the male staff around me, my stable manager, the prince’s entourage, burst into applause. I clapped, too, even though I felt like I was going to throw up.
So much for my half-loaf.
An hour before they left for the capital, after a dove was sent ahead with the news, Aidan took me aside, taking me back to the library. Holding my hand, he sat me down in an overstuffed chair in a reading alcove that overlooked the orchards.
“Cal. It’s going to be all right. I have to marry her, and get her with child, but you are my true love; you’ll be my mistress—my lover. I’ll fix that house for you. Cal?”
“Aidan, that might have worked with any other woman but not Elena. She hates me, and—I’ve not been nice to her. She won’t share.”
There was a knock at the door, and the soft voice of one of his guards: “Your Highness. The Lady Elena has bathed and dressed. Her companion is ready as well. Your car is ready; another dove was sent to the King telling him you and the Lady are due to arrive soon.”
“I will meet everyone at the car in ten minutes,” Aidan shouted back through the door. Then he turned to me. “She’ll share; she’ll have her place and you’ll have yours. Here, in my heart, no one closer. Walk with me to the car.”
I so wanted to believe him, and I did until we walked down the steps. I recognized the companion, who waited by the prince’s car, the little old lady who lived by the river, her old maid. And I smelled her: first folk, a pureblood, a true silver. I clenched my teeth. That old hag had done the magic for Elena. I learned later the old bitch had been with Elena since her birth and with the earl’s family for at least three generations. She had been biding her time in that little house by the river. Now she stared at me, with a triumphant smirk. I sniffed again: she was very powerful and she wasn’t afraid of me.
I jerked around to face Elena. She was beautiful, as she had been when she came to Colomendy years ago. So, the hag had hidden her weak eye—some magical disguise. She glanced back quickly to find Aidan, who was at the door, conferring with his head guard and chauffeur, then turned back to me, getting as close as she could without touching.
“You monster. You lose,” she hissed, her breath warmth on my face.
“It’s not over; he’s mine. He wants me, not you,” I hissed back.
“He wants you?” She stared at me, incredulous, then glanced again at Aidan who was still talking to his servants. She laughed. “All the better then, eh?”
Then, in a flurry of commands and good-byes and thank yous (and one furtive squeeze of my hand) they were gone.
A month and a half later, on New Year’s Day, they were married.
In his introduction to The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories, Warren Rochelle writes that he believes “love, in its myriad forms, is the most powerful force in the universe,” and it is that spirit that guides this collection of LGBTQ+ fairy tale retellings.
That being said, these are retellings of the classic fairy tales, not the Disney versions, and that means there’s a lot of darkness and sex to the stories, and happily-ever-afters do not come without pain and self-reflection. Mirrors, one of my favorite stories in the collection, is particularly dark, dealing with closeted love, suicide, and remorse, which makes the eventual discovery of love all the more poignant, while the title story, The Wicked Stepbrother, goes to some very dark, cruel places before finally allowing love to be recognized.
While I wasn’t so much a fan of the stories that brought the fairy tales into contemporary times, something about the contrast between magic and reality in Luck really worked for me, and I loved the interplay of Narnia/Middle Earth and North Carolina Weirdness in The Boy on McGee Street – and it’s last line is poetic perfection.
I was a bit disappointed that all of the retellings M/M queer, when the blurb mentioned Princess Charming and heroines as people of color, but in hindsight I realize that we me misreading context versus content, and it’s a minor quibble. This was a well-written collection that puts original twists on the stories and demonstrates real heart.
Warren Rochelle lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has just retired from teaching English at the University of Mary Washington. His short fiction and poetry have been published in such journals and anthologies as Icarus, North Carolina Literary Review, Forbidden Lines, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Collective Fallout, Queer Fish 2, Empty Oaks, Quantum Fairy Tales, Migration, The Silver Gryphon, Jaelle Her Book, Colonnades, and Graffiti, as well as the Asheville Poetry Review, GW Magazine, Crucible, The Charlotte Poetry Review, and Romance and Beyond.
His short story, “The Golden Boy,” was a finalist for the 2004 Spectrum Award for Short Fiction. His short story “Mirrors,” was just published in Under A Green Rose, a queering romance anthology, from Cuil Press. “The Latest Thing,” a flash fiction story, is forthcoming in the Queer Sci Fi anthology, Innovation.
Rochelle is also the author of four novels: The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010), all published by Golden Gryphon Press, and The Werewolf and His Boy, published by Samhain Publishing in September 2016. The Werewolf and His Boy was re-released from JMS Books in August 2020. The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories is forthcoming from JMS Books in late September 2020.
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Warren is giving away a $20 Amazon gift card with this tour: