Editor’s Note: Not Capable of Not Grieving

I begin with a question: Why are goodbyes so absent in fairy tales?

She had no rest or peace until she set out secretly, and went forth into the wide world to trace out her brothers and set them free, let it cost what it might. She took nothing with her but a little ring belonging to her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a little pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair as a provision against weariness.

And now she went continually onwards, far, far to the very end of the world.

— “The Seven Ravens” [1]

Every story, even each of our own, involves a departure from our homes, and our parents. How this happens is different for everyone, but the ending is the same.

I said goodbye to Madison, the place I was born, and to my favorite little woods in the city. I said goodbye to my mother, who cried as I packed inside the car with my wife and my dog and my cat [she cries every time I leave her, or she leaves me]. I said goodbye to my father [he always told me that if I didn’t leave the place I was raised I would always regret it, and he was right].

But when his youngest daughter came to sit next to him and be questioned, she said, “These and all other blessings are from Allah.” Angered, her father said, “Since you place so little value on what I can do for you, go and discover how many are the blessings of Allah!”

The girl tied a few clothes into a kerchief and, trusting herself to God’s protection, stepped out of her father’s house. She had no idea where to turn, so she walked in the direction that her face was pointing until she came to some ramshackle sheds.

— “The Girl Who Spoke Jasmines and Lilies” [2]

Unlike the girl, we had a destination: Tucson, a 1,700-mile drive, fairy-tale in its oddities: a Kansas hail storm, a hundred eager dust devils whipping the New Mexico border.

The fairy tale must leave out the goodbye as technique, as purposeful disconnect. It renders the world a little less real. Those who love fairy tales understand the idea of flatness: characters are unnamed, and receiving only an emotional silhouetting. Our dear Kate Bernheimer says fairy-tale characters “are not in psychological conflict.”[3] I don’t think all goodbyes have to be conflicted, but mine certainly are.

“In the name of Allah, I beg you to teach my child.” Fine. She left the boy and went home.

Then what did the magician do but push the boy into a large room, close the door, and lock him in.

— “The Boy Magician” [4]

In Arizona, I was asked to learn, and do work. There were times when graduate school felt like a locked room, but there have been plenty of magicians in the shape of friends, in the shape of mentors, in the many-shaped desert.

I said goodbye to knowing peace. I said goodbye to one unbroken wrist, and then the other. I said goodbye to the sensation of being cold. I almost said goodbye to my marriage [maybe it wasn’t that close, but it was the closest it has ever been].

“Just imagine: I asked him how he was planning to earn his bread, and he actually wanted to learn how to get the creeps.”

“If that’s all that’s wrong,” the sexton replied, “I can help him out. Send him over to my house, and I’ll shape him up.”

The father liked the idea, for he thought, “Maybe this will smooth his rough edges.”

The sexton took the boy in and gave him the job of ringing the church bells.

— “A Fairy Tale About a Boy Who Left Home to Learn About Fear” [5]

Is fear the fulcrum? Outside of fairy tales, we fear that saying goodbye makes a departure real. It means that going back becomes impossible. Inside of fairy tales, saying goodbye must ruin the genre’s lovely happenstance of events, the chain of one thing happening, followed by another. It must introduce the idea of the protagonist someday reversing the narrative, returning to the point of goodbye. Maybe a goodbye is antithetical to abstraction. Maybe it is too logical.

A man of Wei named Tung Men-wu did not grieve when his son died. “You loved your son as no other father has in the world,” said his wife. “Now he has died, but you do not grieve. Why?”

“There was a time,” replied Tung Men-wu, “when I had never had a son. I did not grieve then. Now that he is dead, it is the same as when I had no son. What have I to grieve for?”

—“A Dead Son,” Lieh Tzu [6]

I have said some goodbyes in death.

I said goodbye to my pet rabbit, Georgie. I said goodbye to my mother’s father while holding my grandmother’s hand [what a responsibility, I thought later that night, for her memory of that long-term loss to be tied to my fingers, my hand, my body, my me].

I never said goodbye to my pet cat, Zelda. I never said goodbye to my pet cat, Spike. I never said goodbye to my father’s father, because he was gone before I arrived. I never said goodbye to my friend Steven, who disappeared from my life in the nine months before he committed suicide [for a semester, after getting surgery on both his knees, he convinced our Spanish teacher he needed help carrying his backpack, affording us an extra ten minutes of lunch (we ate in a stairwell, we had a name for ourselves, but I’ve said goodbye to the memory of that, too)].

Unlike the man with the dead son, I am not capable of not grieving.

One day a young man said, “This tale about everybody having to die doesn’t set too well with me. I will go in search of the land where one never dies.”

He bid father, mother, uncles, and cousins goodbye and departed. For days and months he walked, asking everybody he met if they could direct him to the place where one never dies.

—“The Land Where One Never Dies” 77-79 [7]

Even here, we are not wealthy in detail. There are no tears, there are no words spoken, he is not afraid. The young man finds a place where no one ever dies, but he wants to see his family again. He wants to reverse the narrative. Is it only because he said goodbye? Is it because he has depth?

On the way home, so much time has passed that a sea has turned into a prairie, a forest has turned into desert. A mountain, flattened, carted away rock by rock. But when the young man finds that his relatives have all died long ago, the story is abstract and brutal: “That was the end of it. ‘I might as well go back at once,’ he decided.” The return of flatness renders the goodbye into a motif, not a motivated act. It renders it meaningless.

This is what I find wonderful about fairy tales: they fascinate and horrify in equal measures. Goodbye or no goodbye, a fairy tale will do its finest to discomfort.

The lesson here is not that we should all promise to speak our goodbyes.

They are, indeed, meaningless in certain ways.

The lesson here is not that we should return to those places of departure, seeking comfort, or answers.

The landscape has already changed beyond our recognition.

We are, indeed, each venturing continually outwards, far, far to the end of our individual worlds. We are always at the envelope, the edge between. All we can do there, here, is know that there have been places behind us where we thought to say goodbye, or thought not to, or couldn’t, or didn’t, and that these are maybe our discomforts but they are also our definitions: we bring nothing with us but them; they are our little rings, our keepsakes, that can keep us going.


[1] The Grimm Reader, ed./trans. Maria Tartar

[2] Arab Folktales, ed./trans. Inea Bushnaq

[3] “Fairy Tale is Form, Form is Fairy Tale” by Kate Bernheimer, http://www.katebernheimer.com/images/Fairy%20Tale%20is%20Form.pdf

[4] Arab Folktales, ed./trans. Inea Bushnaq

[5] The Grimm Reader, ed./trans. Maria Tartar

[6] Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies, ed./trans. Moss Roberts

[7] Italian Folktales, ed. Italo Calvino, trans. George Martin


This Editor’s Note was written by Fairy Tale Review Managing Editor Joel Hans.

Editor’s Note: Magic Mirrors on Every Wall

Locations are connected by wormholes.

Ask Neil Postman, media theorist. As early as the 19th century, new communications technology and mass media collapsed the space between local and distant. Postman writes that after news from Washington, D.C. made its way to Baltimore along the first telegraph lines on May 25, 1844 to be printed in the Baltimore Patriot that same afternoon, “The paper concluded its report by noting: ‘…we are thus enabled to give our readers information from Washington up to two o’clock. This is indeed the annihilation of space.'”[1]

Ask Amber Case, cyber anthropologist. She explains the concept of a wormhole by telling about how her father taught her the shortest distance between two points on a piece of paper is only a straight line if she ignored how the paper could be folded so that the two points touched.[2] While writing her anthropology thesis on cellphones, she “realized that everyone was carrying around wormholes in their pockets. They weren’t physically transporting themselves; they were mentally transporting themselves. They would click on a button, and they would be connected as A to B immediately.”

Ask your magic mirror, that display you hang on the wall, hold in your hand, or hide your eyes behind. At your command, your TV, computer, gaming console, smartphone, tablet, heads-up display, and virtual reality gear mirror your mind, your voice, your avatar, and, eventually, a wholly-immersed you through wormholes that remap location and body instantaneously to the hybrid realities—destinations where the analog and physical real world merges with or vanishes into digital and virtual new worlds. These places are not limited to their sights and sounds but will soon engage every sense. With emerging technologies surrounding your person, upon your person, within your person, your skin is a new skin, like your tongue, like your nose and ears and eyes. In so many new worlds to explore with your wormhole-enhanced cyborg physiology, you may find a home, or the horror of an endless virtual. At every destination on every wall there will wait a magic mirror, this hall of mirrors, this labyrinth in which you arrive so easily but cannot be certain that you arrived where you wanted to go.


This Editor’s Note was written by Tiny Donkey Editor Richard Leis.


[1] Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin, 1985, 2005. 66. Kindle.

[2] Case, Amber. “We are all cyborgs now.” TEDWomen 2010. Dec. 2010. Web. 6 Dec. 2015. <http://www.ted.com/talks/amber_case_we_are_all_cyborgs_now>

Hollow Mountain

by Wren Awry

At home, by the river, dishes pile up in the sink and the front steps are cracked and littered with Pall Mall cigarettes. It is chaos there: filthy with too many people living in too small of a space. Here, in the woods, it’s calm. At least it is in this stretch of twenty feet, with nettles and rhododendrons and tulip poplar leaves crunching underfoot. I chew on spicy sassafras, let it fill my mouth with the taste of this place: earth and green, unbearable green. Almost heaven.

Almost. Large portions of the mountain underfoot are hollow. Throughout the twentieth-century, it was mined out bit by bit, its coal shipped to cities like Pittsburgh and Washington, DC.

Ali Baba’s mountain held forty thieves; in the Grimm Brothers version, a girl attends an elven baptism in a mountain and learns that her three-day stay was actually seven years. Appalachian trickster Jack slips through a hole on a mountain slope. He finds a mirror world down there, with a house and a barn and a woman to wed.

This is not that kind of mountain. A few ridges over, billions of gallons of toxic coal sludge are stored in a slurry pond on the mountaintop. The pond is built over a network of abandoned underground mines. Massey Coal is blasting rock just two hundred feet away, further destabilizing geology. [1] For those who live downstream, the slurry pond is an ever-present threat: a dam break could send forty feet of water through the narrow Coal River Valley. [2]

(I do not live downstream, not really. I am a stranger here: an idealistic twenty-year-old trying to “save the mountains.” I will move back to New York as soon as it becomes untenable. I will take my memories with me, turn them in to metaphors.)

There’s an old mine entrance on the trail, a stone archway half-hidden by twisting rhododendron limbs. If Jack came along, I wonder if he’d skip right in, try his hand at tricking a giant and eating off of his subterranean table. Times have changed, Jack. You will only find darkness, bitumen, rusting tools, the occasional drip, drip, drip.


Wren Awry studies Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. Their creative nonfiction has been published in Loom Art Zine, and they occasionally write criticism for the Anarcho-Geek Review.


[1] “Renewable Energy on Coal River Mountain.” Journey Up Coal River. Aurora Lights, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://auroralights.org/map_project/theme.php?theme=wind&article=14>.

[2] “Land Use: The Brushy Fork Slurry Impoundment.” Journey Up Coal River. Aurora Lights, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://auroralights.org/map_project/theme.php?theme=crm&article=2>.

Tiny Donkey and the brief fairy-tale essay

Tiny Donkey is an online journal of short-form fairy-tale nonfiction focusing on, but not limited to, undergraduate writing. Tiny Donkey will publish short essays (up to 400 words in length) that explore fairy tales through scholarly, personal and cultural lenses. Tiny Donkey has a strong focus on original thought and dexterous, polished writing, and will only consider writing that meets these standards.

You can write Tiny Donkey essays from a lot of different angles (our first three posts include a piece that analyzes a film in relation to Bluebeard, one that ties in wolf re-introduction in New Mexico to wolf tropes in fairy tales, and a personal essay about hollow mountains, Jack Tales and the coal industry in Appalachia). You might come up with an entirely new idea, or turn a class paper in to a polished micro-essay. We’re open to challenging and unique form and content, just get in touch!

Please send pitches to: tinydonkeyeditorial@gmail.com.