Friday, January 25, 2013


My name is Elizabeth, and I’m a cheater.

Most people will tell you that this is not a good trait, and therefore is not a good introduction. I would point out to them that my sisters were not cheaters and they are dead, while I am a cheater and am alive, which is proof enough that it is a positive trait. It makes sense. Most people learn to be strong or cheaters, so saying you’re a cheater usually means you’re weak. You’d think that that would be a good thing, since they usually don’t like strong girls, but apparently I’m supposed to be weak and not a cheater and not lose. I imagine that other people are just better at lying than I am.

I learned very early on not to lie. That’s why the Folk killed my little brother, because he told a lie. I suppose that could have made me a compulsive liar, like one of my sisters, but I went in the other direction. I decided: if they are going to make me play their game, I will sit down and play it, and I will follow every rule.

To the letter.

I’m alive because of that. Not because I could win, precisely, though that is what got me out—I saw a way that was supposed to be too small for me, so I starved myself and slipped out. They’re not supposed to let you out after you eat their food, but I didn’t go out through one of the normal doors, so they don’t count me as having left. That was cheating, and I’m proud of it. I went into the Realm younger than anyone else I know, and still managed to wriggle out. They can’t take me from here, unless I’m bad, and so I’m always honest and forthright and clear.

And I cheat. That’s what my eldest sister would have called it, anyway, so that’s what I call it. I make myself look smaller than I am and dirtier than I need to be, though never so much that I don’t look cute. I use what I have. And there’s always someone who’ll give a poor, little, dirty, cute girl food. I’m good at figuring out which one.

The dreams are the hardest.

I wriggled out through a gap in the bars, but that doesn’t count as getting out, so I go back when I sleep. At first, they offered food, but I was smarter than that, this time. Soon enough they started getting meaner.
I travel town to town, on my own to feet, begging food when I can find it, and mourning the parents the Folk took and the siblings they took after. Even with the dreams, it’s better than what happened when I was in the Realm.

My name is Elizabeth, and I’m a cheater. Since I’m a cheater, I’ll never win, never prosper, but since I’m a cheater, I’m alive and I’m out.

I’ll take that trade.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Once upon a time, in a country which now exists only in the earth which houses its old stones and the breath that houses its old stories, there lived a king and a queen. The queen had a daughter and a son, and then had no more children, for inheritance rules were tricky at the best of times, and became no simpler for those of royal blood.

The young boy was taught to fight with and without arms, was taught to care for his animals and to clean his weapons, to be polite at court and to be impolite without causing a war.

The young girl was taught to fight with her voice, to cut as deeply as her brother. Where her brother was taught only, "You can go this far and no further," she was taught each intricacy: how to form or strengthen an alliance, how to inspire an attack that would take few lives but give an excuse for conquest. When her brother was learning to fight with fists or swords, she would learn dance steps, a dozen curtsies, a dozens of implications in a single sentence. When he was caring for his animals and weapons, she would practice what she was learning with forgiving friends of the family.

As they grew, they began practicing in earnest. The prince would duel, and the princess would work out treaties, forming personal alliances so that the country's power would not fade if those loyal to the current monarch liked the prince or princess less. They each paid close attention to their own lessons, both what they were being taught and how they were being taught it. Of course they did.

Quietly, when most of the castle slept and the guards looked on with approving smiles or pretended not to see, son and daughter met. He handed her a sword or a mace or nothing at all, and they fought in the dirt. She met him with a book or a fork or a smile, and they play-acted through diplomatic scenes.

So it came to pass, with very little fuss, that the prince married and became a king fierce and diplomatic, and the princess became a warrior who knew how to avoid a fight as easily as she knew how to win one. And, when she was home from war and he from discussions of treaties, they would meet in the same field and tell each other what they had learned.

Some things never change.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Beauty and the Beasts

I'm going to talk about Beauty and the Beast and how I see it. Specifics of the story will be taken from the Disney version, since that's the one that's most commonly known where I grew up and among the people I'm talking to.

First: Beauty is the hero. Beast is the villain. You are not required to agree with me on that, but it is how I see the story. Whenever someone writes a Beauty and the Beast remake where Beast is not at least the antagonist, I'm confused.

Starting from that point, here is a summary of Beauty and the Beast:
The hero's living parent gets accidentally wrapped up in a deal with the villain of the story. The only way for the hero's parent to survive this deal is for the hero to face the villain. The hero faces the villain in the villain's own realm. The hero goes through a variety of trials, which are created by the villain's own meanness. The hero endures these trials, and slowly learns things she did not know before.
It's the hero's journey. There are problematic aspects in the romance that I've glossed over, but I do not recall a time when I thought Beauty and the Beast was a love story any more than I thought of Snow White and Rose Red or Rumpelstiltskin as a love story. They include a marriage, but that's not the point. It's a fairy tale. Because Beauty is brave and loyal and strong, she gets a happy ending. That does not guarantee me the same. But it means it's possible, even when it looks bad.

Beauty's marriage to the Beast is about as relevant as Gaston. Both of them serve to show that the antagonist has changed, that mean people don't necessarily remain mean. I understand the issue with this, the implication that a person should stay with an abusive partner--but would it really be any better if Beauty had killed him, as is the more common fate? If I am alone with an abusive partner, I am probably not going to be able to kill them. Beauty shows the virtue of endurance, of being able to pick herself back up again. She is not staying with the Beast because she thinks they have a perfect love (at first); she is staying with him to save her father.

I was the little girl who didn't always know how to tell people when she was being hurt, and often didn't trust the people who were supposed to protect me even if I did. Beauty did not tell me, "Make them into better people!" Beauty did not say, "Someone will save you; just you wait." Beauty did not explain, "If you are strong, you should be able to fight them on your own."

Beauty told me, "Some people will hurt you. Some are Beasts, who may become better. Some are Gastons, who will not. Either way, you can endure them. Do what you can. Maybe you can't win, but you, little one, you are strong. You can survive this."

Friday, January 4, 2013


If you asked someone to describe her performance, the word, 'dexterity' would hover on the edges. Few would actually say it--some genuinely lacked the vocabulary, others felt it an odd word to use in reference to a voice. Her body did move, but slowly, languidly; she was dexterous, but her movements were not, particularly.

Her voice was another matter entirely. She was a scalpel in a room of kitchen knives, a rabbit among wolves and foxes--"Don't throw me into that briar patch!" Not always winning, not always the best, not always the one who was right for the job, but always, always quick and keen and rapid. When she sang, it sounded like a pure sine wave, clear as a bell. When she spoke, there were echoes of that, in how easily her words sliced through others, spreading silence and thought where there had been sound and fury. Or the other way around, when she so wished.

And it all made sense. Sometimes these stories stretched belief, the playwrights had an idea that wouldn't translate properly onto the stage, with no actor to play it properly. "Which always feels like a person from a few thousand years ago being gifted with divine skill for piano playing to me," she would say off-handedly, when someone brought up the subject.

Unless it was a compliment to her, specifically. Then she would smile and laugh and bow, knowing that she couldn't seem too proud or she'd hurt her reputation.

Offstage, she played the innocent, the giggly young girl who had no idea she was so charming, so wonderful, so splendid, whose hair fell perfectly all on its own, whom one would envy and perhaps hate if she were not so nice.

Onstage, she was herself.
© 2009-2013 Taylor Hobart