Sunday, August 16, 2015

Once Upon A Winter's Night Chapter 1

They lived in a one-room, stone cottage on the edge of Faery, there where the world ends and the mystical realm begins.

Down the street was a crab-cake restaurant, retro diner and pleasant motel for tourists!

And who are "they"? We aren't told just yet. It could be Led Zeppelin for all we know. No, we're told more about Faery and how awesome it is!

there where the golden sunshine abruptly becomes twilight all silver and grey,

And the people of Faery suffer from nasty Vitamin D deficiency.

sometimes illumined by small, dancing luminosities among hoary trees

Those are called fireflies. They are very common. Either that, or we just landed in Neverland.

This photograph is protected by Copyright. No reproduction may be made without permission of NHPA.  Source:
"Are hoary trees the ones with prostitutes on them?"

there where low, swampy lands and crofters' fields and shadowed forests on this side change on that side into misty fens and untilled meadows and deep, dark, mysterious woods.

Commas. Clearly McKiernan has found the comma key on his computer, but he doesn't seem entirely clear on where they're supposed to go.

Also, so the biggest thing he can say about Faery is that… it has slightly different landscapes and climates than the regular world?

There at the edge of Faery...
There at the edge of the world...

There just slightly south of the highway...
There six miles from Joe's Burger Shack...
There in a generic fantasy kingdom that sort of resembles France except when it doesn't...

There where they lived in days long past, when the mystical yet touched the real.

That would have been about a century or so ago. Superstitions don't tend to die out fast.

So we're introduced to a large but impoverished family who presumably are the "they" mentioned above. There's a father, a mother, a preteen son and six daughters… which is probably a pretty depressing situation in an agricultural, pre-feminist society where daughters were considered a pain in the ass. It's also winter, meaning that everything is covered in snow and deathly cold… which makes me wonder why MY home couldn't be like this last winter.

We're also told that the father is meek, the mother is a nasty bitch, and the daughters are ranging in age from twenty to sixteen and in manner from whining to cheerful. Oh, I wonder whether the youngest daughter is a cheerful teenager like in a Disney movie! That would fill me with so much joy that I would have to dance and sing with the birds and mice!

Also, since they have SIX daughters in only a four-year range, I really hope that some of those daughters are from multiple births. Otherwise, I can see why the mother is a nasty bitch, because otherwise her uterus was in constant use with no breaks. Actually, even if she had twins once or twice, it was STILL in constant use.

Also, their farm sucks. You would think that a farm right next to the sparkly magical wonderland of Faery would have sparkly magical soil, but apparently it doesn't. I also wonder why, if your farm is literally right next to Faery, you don't eventually just think, "Screw it, we're moving to the land of magic and whimsy! It can't POSSIBLY suck as much as this place! Get up, kids, we're moving."

It was but a scrape of land, standing remote at the edge of the world, and passed down through generations from poor fathers to equally poor sons.

Again, they're starving, freezing and generally their lives suck. Why not pull up stakes and move to Faery?!

Neighbors they had none, the nearest croft miles away, the town even farther.

This may have been due to the sucky soil, the bad climate, and the fact that they're on the edge of the known world.

None of the daughters was married, and no dowry did any have, and no suitors came to call, living in poverty and isolation as the daughters did.

"Oh woe is us, for we have no suitors!"
"Maybe it's because we live on a crappy little farm in the middle of nowhere?"
"And because we live on the edge of the world?"
"No, it must be because we're POOR!"

And so they were yet maidens all

Except for Jane, who regularly sneaked out to meet the cowhand in the barn.

though in face and form quite fair, especially the youngest with her golden hair, who often sang in a voice that would put the larks to shame

I KNEW IT. A sixteen-year-old blonde with a beautiful voice living in the butt-end of nowhere! This is Aurora fromSleeping Beauty!

But then...
Once upon a winter's night...

… somebody farted.

So we're introduced to Camille, who is presumably the sixteen-year-old blonde with the singing voice. She's playing "echecs" with her brother Giles, meaning that presumably they're playing checkers-by-a-fantasy-name… or actually, by a FRENCH name. Yeah, this is a story set in a pseudo-French culture based on a Norwegian fairy tale based on a Greek legend. My brain, it splodeth.

So it's cold and windy, and the non-Purity Sue daughters are griping about how cold and awful it is.

the bound thatch across the sparse beams above rattled and thumped and shook like a rat in a terrier's jaws

Well, they have some impressive construction, because most EARTHQUAKES don't shake that much, let alone the wind!

And the bitchy mom, Aigrette, takes the opportunity to bitch. "I told you time and again this summar to mortar the gaps, but you didn't, and now the wind blows as fiercely within this hovel as it does without." Uh, if she actually did that… then she has a good point.

I think we're supposed to be booing Aigrette because she's being so vewy mean to the poor wittle timid farmer, but frankly he sucks as a father/provider/farmer if he doesn't try to make his house livable in the winter months, and then expects everybody to just be cheery and happy while they're freezing to death.

Being bitched at causes the dad to glance around the house, and we're told various uninteresting stuff about the house they live in and how it's furnished. It's basically a standard medieval hovel, and no, not the kind we've seen in other fantasy books. So I'll give McKiernan credit for that. There is one detail of this medieval hut I could have lived without, though: In one corner, a coarse burlap curtain draped from a rough hemp cord, behind which sat a wooden chamber pot, in truth nought but a bucket, though it did have a lid.

Oh thank you. I desperately wanted to know where the whole family shat.

So then the farmer reflects that they're going to spend the whole winter whining, sniping and complaining, because it's so cold outside. Even in doors as they were, they kept warm only by hiddling within well-worn blankets, and these they had to share.

And whose fault is that, you dumb bastard?! You're the one who didn't fix the walls, or at least teach your daughters how to do it! And again, if everything about their life sucks, why not move into Faery? Again, it can't get worse!

So because the guy actually has no answer to his wife's criticisms, and he's too timid to say "Shut up, bitch," we switch back to Camille and Giles playing echecs. Which I was apparently wrong about; it's not checkers, but chess.

… and I don't care.

Hey, I just realized another oddity about this story. It's very French in its setting and names, but it uses the name "Giles." Which is a medieval English name BASED on the French name "Gilles." Why not name him "Gilles"?

They have a really boring conversation about moving pieces and taking pieces, which is thankfully broken up by Giles having a tuberculotic fit and coughing a lot. To establish that Camille is a Saintly Saint of Suey Purity, all the other girls are selfish bitches and don't want Giles to sit near the fire.

And then...

Somebody knocks on the door! And everyone immediately overreacts! Like a boss! Aiee, everybody run around and panic! Scream! Howl!

"Who could that be?" whispered Lisette. "Thieves? Brigands come to rob us? Kidnappers come to grab up one of us for ransom?"

  1. Somebody's been reading too many romance novels, and wants to get banged by a hot outlaw.
  2. Yes, somebody knocks at your door in a snowstorm, and you IMMEDIATELY think that they must be criminals.
  3. Hey, here's an idea: why can't it be some poor soul lost and freezing to death?! Try being a good Samaritan, you dumb bitch.
  4. Also, it MUST be hard times if thieves are attacking a crappy little house like this one.
  5. Finally, they live LITERALLY right next to Faery. They know this. Faery is supposed to have all sorts of weird, strange, odd things living in it…. SO WHY WOULDN'T YOU ASSUME IT WAS A TROLL OR A GOBLIN?!

Aigrette bitches that any thieves wouldn't find anything there, which is true. And Camille, being the Purity Sue, wants to let them in because… she's perfect, I guess.

So the dad looks outside, but he screams and slams the door again. Oh no, Bella Swan must be emoing outside!

"What is it, Papa?" cried the children at the fire

Most of those "children" were grown women by the standards of the day. And given that at least one of them was assuming the worst, I'm not sure why they're yelling like that.

"A Bear! A white Bear!" wailed the father, backing away from the barred planks. "A great white Bear of the North!"

"A white bear?"
"No, I said a Bear!"
"But that's what I said!"
"No, you said 'bear.' I said 'Bear!'"
"Oh, whatever."

And for people in France, they seem REALLY calm about having a polar bear outside their door. I would expect French people to be a little more surprised about that.

So the bear keeps thumping on the door, and everybody cowers in fear. And McKiernan throws in one of his favorite phrases once again before the chapter ends: … there in the cottage where the mortal world ended and the realm of Faery began.

Down the road from Gene's Diner and Motel! Attractive, affordable prices!

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