I’ll be talking about my short story “I Knew You When I was Young” here. Feel free to read the story first.
“I Knew You When I was Young” is a lyric from the Walkmen’s song “I Lost You.” Though it’s not intended to reflect a fairy tale, there’s something about the lyrics (“We kiss goodbye and drank up/Some mouths before our tongues/We kiss goodbye and drank up/I’ll miss you when you’re gone”) that reminded me of those hopeless and ridiculous romances that you only find in those stories. And after attempting to deconstruct action movies (“Tomorrow the Sun Will Be Brighter”), horror movies (“A Hundred Fireflies Outside”), and romance movies (“Here’s to You and the Stars Above”), I thought it would be fun to try the same thing with fairy tales:
The waiting was the worst part for the princess. She had no problems with the creature – grotesque as it was – because it did what it was supposed to do, which was to kidnap her and take her to its lair. This lair was particularly wet and slippery and muddy, the stench of foul meat soaking the clammy air. Now it was all a matter of waiting for the prince to rescue her. She found the process a tad archaic and she wished the ogre didn’t have to kill so many people in the process, but what could she do? This was how it was done.
I love the idea that all the chivalry and courageous rescues being manufactured products by kings to find husbands for their daughters, and that even the monster is in on the whole thing. I really love the professionalism the ogre displays throughout the story. I remember having a lot of fun writing him, as he’s so horrifying to look at that you can’t even tell when he’s smiling, and yet, he’s polite and gracious, and in many ways, the most human. I also like the idea of the fairy tale universe’s version of a fairy tale would be stories about our world:
“Well, once upon a time, in a far away land, there was once a beautiful woman. While she wasn’t a princess – though she was one in her father’s eyes – she was always meant for great things. But somewhere along the way, she made a right instead of a left, mistook a doorway for a wall, misunderstood a prophecy as a compliment out of pity, and took her dreams too lightly. When she should’ve been out exploring the world, she was sitting inside a large box and staring at a smaller box – one that lit up and showed her numbers – for eight hours or more a day.
When I was writing it, I was aiming to be playful with the material like Neil Gaiman would, but now that I’ve re-read the piece, I can see my love of John Gardner creeping into the story as well. If I end up being half as good a writer of either of those men, I’ll be happy.
Not much else to say here. This one came easy for me and made it to the page without any resistance. And most importantly, having re-read the piece a year later, it doesn’t make me flinch like most of my stories. So, this story is made of victory for me. I hope the same can be said for the readers.