ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “Happily Ever After”

In which Mrs Who converses with her characters

Writing Leonid Pasternak

At times, being a writer brings with it a sense of confusion: Where am I? Who am I? What era am I presently stuck in? Now and then, I need to pinch myself to bring me back to my reality, the one in which electrical light and central heating and hot, hot showers figure prominently, so as not to get stuck on a bloody battlefield in the 14th century or choke in a noose on a 17th century gallows.
“That’s what you get, for interacting with all of us simultaneously,” Jason Morris says with a little laugh, sitting back on the very roomy (and hideously purple. Colour-choice probably needs to be analysed) sofa that takes up most of my brain space at present.
“Well, it’s not exactly as I have a choice, do I? Once you take on shape, you all become very alive and real.” Besides, I find my various protagonists somewhat addictive, which is why I can’t just let them drift off into oblivion while working on something new.  I look at Jason, at Adam, at Matthew. And yes, it’s a “me and my boys” get-together, which will probably cost me a lot once their female counterparts discover they’ve been excluded. But for now, I intend to enjoy the company, not worry about the consequences.

“Oh, I am real.” Matthew Graham adjusts the embroidered cuffs of his fine coat so that the lace that adorns his shirt is adequately visible. For the day, my seventeenth century dreamboat is in dark blue, a colour that brings out the green in his hazel eyes. Tall, broad, strong – all my leading men are rather impressive, but this my first love has a special place in my heart, which he well knows. That long mouth of his curls into a satisfied little smile.
“Only in here,” I tell him, tapping my head.
“Alive in an environment controlled by a lady with a thing about Happily Ever After,” Jason puts in. “Not a bad place to be in.”
“Eh?” Adam de Guirande shoves his messy fair hair off his brow. “Happily what?”
“She likes us to ride off into the sunset,” Jason explains, which if anything just has Adam looking even more confused.
“You don’t get to die in her books,” Matthew clarifies.
“No, she just kills our children,” Adam mutters, and a look passes between him and Matthew. “And being alive does not bring any guarantee of happiness,” he continues. “What if Kit…” He gulps, half standing as if he wants to rush to his wife’s side.
“Happily Ever After,” Jason repeats, reaching across Matthew to pat Adam on his arm. “Yes, we suffer, we hurt, we are humiliated and frightened—as are our loved ones—but somehow we make it through alive right to the end.”
“Alive but not unscathed.” Matthew gives me a blistering look. “Losing bairns is hard—for the father as well as the mother. Being forced to leave your home is hard, being persecuted for your faith is hard, being abducted and humiliated and flogged and…”
Adam nods. “Aye. Being crippled…”
“You’re not a cripple,” I object. Anything but in my biased opinion, this medieval knight of mine fully capable of swinging a sword or wielding a lance.
“Maybe not in your time,” he retorts, “but in my time I most definitely am.” He points at his foot. “You know as well as I do that I can’t run with this.”
“Well, at least she hasn’t had you burnt at the stake,” Jason says, dragging a hand through his mahogany coloured hair. It trembles. Matthew and Adam blink.
“But you said she doesn’t let us die, that…” Matthew begins.
“Happily Ever After and you’re ashes in the wind?” Adam interrupts.
“Previous life,” Jason explains airily.
“Previous life?” Matthew echoes, edging away from Jason. “What kind of creature are you?”
“A man, just like you.” Jason glares. “It’s just that I’ve been reborn fifty times or so.” He most certainly has. If I have problems with navigating various time periods, poor Jason has the not so pleasurable experience of having lived through most of them. Jason gives Matthew a crooked smile. “We may have crossed swords, you and I. I was there at Naseby, at Worcester.”
“You were?” Matthew looks Jason up and down. “A cavalier?”
“If so, a very impoverished one,” Jason retorts, “but yes, I fought for the king.” He stares straight ahead. “Not a good life,” he mutters.
Adam leans forward. “You remember all these lives?”
Jason looks away. “Unfortunately.”
“Merciful Mother!” Adam exclaims. “How terrible.” He frowns at me. “How could you burden him with that?”
“Er…” I say. Not sure, actually. Just as I don’t know why I am presently stuck in a scene in which Adam is in deep, deep trouble – but best not tell him that. Or Kit. I can sense her presence at my back, like an avenging Fury she hisses that if I don’t get Adam out of this pickle she will make it her purpose in life to drive me insane. Nice girl, my Kit. I shake off her presence and refocus on “my” men.
“It’s my destiny,” Jason is saying. “And at least this time round I finally found Helle again.”
“Helen?” Matthew asks.
“Helle,” Jason corrects. “Like Helen but without the n.”
“Odd name,” Adam offers.
“Not if you’re an educated man rather than an illiterate knight,” Jason replies coolly.
“I’m not illiterate!” A sensitive matter with Adam—in particular as his wife reads and writes much better than he does. “And I’ll have you know very few men know how to read and write in my time.”
Jason holds up his hands in apology. “Helle is the name of a princess in Greek mythology,” he explains. “She ended up swimming with the fishes.”
“Mermaids,” Matthew says with a smile. “She’s the lassie who fell off the ram, isn’t she?”
“Ram?” Adam looks from one to the other. “She was riding a ram?”
“Long story,” Jason says. “I’ll tell you over a pint or two.”

My medieval knight may be medieval, but by know he knows full well what a pint is, so he shines up, as does Matthew. Moments later, the sofa is empty. Contemporary Jason, seventeenth century Matthew and medieval Adam are laughing, fading away into another corner of my brain where beer and peanuts await them.

writers 152dc-p1452I go back to my writing. I work on various WIPs at the same time – I enjoy it, even if it means hop-scotching back and forth through time. Mrs Who, that’s me, but instead of a Tardis, I have my trusted computer.

Seeing as I’m still not sure how to solve Adam’s situation, today I’m in the late seventeenth century and a tallow candle casts a faint light in a little room in which a man lies in bed, bloody bandages covering his upper body. A sword and shield rest against the wall, a pair of woollen hose lay thrown on the floor, and…No, no no! 17th century, remember? No sword and shield, no hose, and definitely no wimple and veil on the woman presently clasping her man’s hand and crying her eyes out. I peer at my beloved Matthew, lying so still, so pale, and my throat tightens. Is he going to die this time round? The woman at his bedside whirls, bright blue eyes slicing through me like Death Star rays.
“Don’t you dare!” she hisses. “Happily Ever After, remember?” I do. But sometimes my characters make it all very, very hard for me.

Why frogs?

Serpent-EveI don’t know about you, but personally, I have a lukewarm relationship with amphibians – well, reptiles in general. Too right, the men among you may mutter, thinking about Eve and the wily serpent. Not that I think my antipathy vis-a-vis snakes has anything to do with the events in Eden, but rarely do I meet a woman who professes liking snakes. Now and then, I have run into men that do…

Anyway; back to the amphibians. In the lake by our country house, there is a shallow miniature lagoon, bordered by tufts of reeds, a number of rocks and mud. Come April, this converts into a concert hall, with hundreds upon hundreds of bullfrogs croaking their amorous hearts out. The lady frogs apparently swoon and bat their eyelashes at all this noise, and some weeks later, the water is bedecked in jellied ribbons of frog eggs.

Yet some more weeks, and tadpoles as black as soot hover in clouds along the shoreline. Quite fascinating, those tadpoles. They sort of move in synchronisation, like a huge organised army moving from point A to B. First go the scouts, two or three intrepid tadpoles that separate from the mass and swim frantically for the next spot of shade. Moments later, all the other follow. The maneouvre is repeated over and over again, and I wonder if it is always the same three tadpoles that set off first. Sorry to admit I have no idea – I can’t tell them apart, and they’ve never introduced themselves.

By the time the tadpoles become frogs, their numbers have been drastically reduced. Mrs Heron is a frequent guest in our frog lagoon, and she doesn’t exactly have to work up a sweat to eat – all she needs to do is dip her bill.

frogsThe baby frogs are cute. A reddish brown, speckled with black, they’re almost invisible in the vegetation – until you come close enough to scare them, when they jump off in panic, leaving me just as panicked – sudden movements do that to me. The adult frogs are less cute. And let’s not start on the toads…

Frogs – and toads – have often been associated with magic. Witches were often assumed to have a tame toad or two to hop their bidding, a frog or a dead toad could be an important ingredient in a magic potion. In Sweden, a man who wanted to win a girl’s heart was recommended to kill a frog, flay it, dig around for a hook-shaped bone and sneak the bone into the girl’s clothes. A fail-safe method of gaining her eternal love, it seems. Interestingly enough, at the same time it was considered bad luck to kill a frog, as quite often a frog could be a bewitched human or a benign spirit watching over the humans. I guess the love-sick young man had a couple of hard choices to make: kill the frog to win her heart and potentially murder an unfortunate person transformed by evil magic into a frog, or not kill the frog and hope he could woo her through more normal methods, such as serenading her. Me, I’d much prefer a singing lover to a frog-killer…

childbirth

She could do with a Frog-saver!

The magic component in frogs – and reptiles –  were often associated with women. Should a person, for example, intercede and stop a snake from eating a frog (why, one wonders), that person would be gifted with the ability of relieving the pains of child labour. It makes me laugh.
“Hang on, hang on! Frog-saver coming through! Make way, people, I’ll take over here!” says the intrepid person who just saved a frog from being devoured by a snake. The midwives, the birthing woman’s sisters and mother, step aside, gaping in awe as the Frog-saver approaches.
“He saved a frog,” one of the girl hisses.
“Wow!” says the other, eyes fixed adoringly on Frog-saver, who just happens to be tall, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed and with the most delicious golden stubble covering his cheeks. Even the woman in the throes of birth pains can’t but smile at this glorious male apparition, thereby proving that he can, in fact, relieve the pains of childbirth.

All of the above is essentially a preamble to my question of the day: WHY does the princess have to kiss a frog to find her prince? Why not a cute kitten? A horse?

GmimmTheFrogPrinceIt seems to me we are face to face with a worrying gender discrimination issue here. After all, the fairy tale prince never has to pucker up his lips and press them gently to a slimy creature with warts. The fairy tale prince never has to show that level of trust in his beloved, is never portrayed as so naïve as to believe the frog when it croaks “I am actually a prince, sweetie. And if you’ll just kiss me, we will get to the HEA faster than you can bat your eyelashes.”

No, the fairy tale prince gets to kiss sleeping princesses – or potentially dead ones, as Snow White. But he can, with his own eyes, verify that the creature he is kissing is in fact a girl (and wouldn’t it be fun if sometimes the prince would kiss the girl and ‘poof’ she turned into a frog? Just sayin’…) Or he gets to play around with peas and mattresses to verify if the girl truly is a princess – and I’m thinking that whole story with the Princess and the Pea is code for something far lewder than a mere dried pea under like twenty mattresses.

John_Bauer_-_Princess_Tuvstarr_gazing_down_into_the_dark_waters_of_the_forest_tarn._-_Google_Art_Project

Where is my frog-prince?

The fairy tale princess, however, has no such luck. Not for her a romp in the linens as she searches the prince for telltale bruises after his night with the pea. Not for her to enter a castle where everyone is sunk in sleep and wander through it until she finds him, sprawled on his back, one arm over his head, the other resting on his impressively broad chest. Nope. Our princess must crouch down, pick up a yucky frog and smooch it.

In Swedish, we have a saying: “Man måste kyssa en fasligt massa grodor för att hitta en prins.” In English, this is “One must kiss very many frogs before one finds a prince.” Too right! So far, for all my puckering, I haven’t found one single prince – at least not while kissing frogs.

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