What We Lose

by Richard Leis

What must a boy lose to become a little bird? In “The Juniper Tree,” by the Brothers Grimm, the boy loses more than just his head and his life after he is murdered by his evil stepmother. All that fat and skin and tissue sliced up, made into stew, fed to his oblivious father. All that bone wrapped up in a silk scarf and deposited under the juniper tree by his grieving half-sister. Then the tree works its magic and the dead boy is transformed into a living bird, a singing bird, a busy bird, a vengeful bird. He is without human arms, hands, and fingers now that they are wings. His legs are tiny and his feet are missing toes. His bones are hollow and light. His lips are rigid beaks.

People lose huge chunks of self—limbs, organs, functionality, quality of life—to disease and trauma every day. The survivors learn to fly and sing in their remaining bodies. They rise and fall and rise again with new routines and augmentations. They do not, however, receive for their efforts the bird’s reward at the end of the fairy tale: upon crushing his stepmother with a millstone, he immediately transforms back into the living boy he once was.

Transformative rewards may be coming, though. Recent medical breakthroughs promise to give back what survivors have lost: 3D-printed windpipes and other organs infused with the patient’s own cells. [1] Thought-controlled prosthetics. [2] Face transplants. [3] Rewritten genetic code to prevent and treat genetic diseases. [4] These and other emerging technologies arrive and improve so rapidly that we have to wonder where all of this is heading. For a few years yet, these technologies will only approximate what survivors have lost, but there may soon come a time when technology returns full functionality to the human body and imbues it with better-than-human capabilities and performance.

After a terrible accident, the protagonist in Sunny Moraine’s recent short story, “Love Letters to Things Lost and Gained,” grapples with a cutting-edge prosthetic arm, an arm that provides enhancements and capabilities the original did not have, an arm that may be sentient, an arm that may be seeking friendship. [5] When a medical breakthrough arrives that fully regrows lost biological limbs, the protagonist ponders the question “The Juniper Tree” never thought to ask: What must the little bird lose to become the boy again?


Richard Leis is a reader for Tiny Donkey, an editorial assistant for Fairy Tale Review, and a writer of speculative fiction, nonfiction and poetry. He studies Creative Writing and English at the University of Arizona, where he is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE).


[1] “Doctors Create A 3D Printed Trachea on a MakerBot.” 3D Print. 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 4 June 2015. <http://3dprint.com/40128/3d-printed-trachea/>.

[2] “Prosthetic Limbs, Controlled by Thought.” The New York Times. 20 May 2015. Web. 4 June 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/21/technology/a-bionic-approach-to-prosthetics-controlled-by-thought.html?_r=0>.

[3] “Face transplant.” Wikipedia. Web. 4 June 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_transplant>.

[4] Cimons, Marlene. “Rewriting genetic information to prevent disease.” The National Science Foundation. 25 February 2015. Web. 4 July 2015. <http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=134286>.

[5] Moraine, Sunny. “Love Letters to Things Lost and Gained.” Uncanny Magazine. 2015. Web. 4 June 2015. <http://uncannymagazine.com/article/love-letters-things-lost-gained/>

What Am I Missing Here?

by Joyce Goldenstern

Folktale behavior often bewilders me, as does my own. My thoughts wander to trace hidden patterns, more easily discerned in folktales than in my own life. This morning, a tale opens with the death of a beautiful queen. Before the queen dies, she makes her husband promise not to remarry anyone who does not have hair as golden as her own. Has she forgotten that her own daughter has such hair? Allerleiruh.

This afternoon, a tale opens with an old queen who has betrothed her daughter to a prince in a distant land. It is a tale of a long journey, of a true bride and of a chambermaid who takes the place of the true bride. The Goose Girl.

Allerleiruh, distraught upon hearing of her father’s desire to marry her, gathers her wits to dissuade him. She makes an impossible demand. He must provide her with a cloak made of 1000 furs, one from each animal in the kingdom. Undaunted, the king presents his daughter with said cloak and sets a date for the wedding.

Meanwhile, the talking head of a slain horse reveals the chambermaid’s deception, so the prince decides to ask a fatal question at a feast. “How would you sentence a false bride?” the prince asks the chambermaid, his own false bride.

Allerleiruh chars her face and wraps herself in furs. She runs away to a forest where she sleeps night and day in a hollow trunk until finally a hunter, identified as “the king,” finds her. This reference to “king” is so jarring that once when I presented this tale to an adult seminar, many participants ended up thinking that it was indeed the father who had found his daughter. How startling that the tale does not proffer a “prince”—a royal title which would distinguish generations and relations more clearly. Yet, not clarifying can blur relationships in psychologically significant ways.

That Allerleiruh marries the “new” king who is confused with the old … That the chambermaid does not recognize her own crime and thus sentences herself to torture and cruel death…. Such predicaments attest to the human capacity to self-deceive and force me to ask, “What is obvious in my own behavior that I do not see?”


Joyce Goldenstern leads seminars in folktales and in literature at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Her adapted tales have been published in Western Humanities Review, North American Review, Pacific Review and other venues. She also writes and publishes fiction.


Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. [1819] 1977. Grimms’ Tales for Young and Old. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Anchor Press, Doubleday.

_______________. [1819] 1992. The Complete Fairy Tale of the Brothers Grimm. Translated by Jack Zipes. New York: Bantam Books.

The Not-So-Final Girl

by Wren Awry

“In ‘Bluebeard’, as in cinematic horror,” Maria Tatar writes, “We have not only a killer that is propelled by cinematic rage, but also the abject victims of his serial murders, as well as a ‘final girl’ who either saves herself or arranges her own rescue.”[1] You can find this “final girl” trope in film noir classics and tacky slasher films alike; it is a staple of the horror genre.

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is different. Instead of being a final girl, Amirpour’s punkish protagonist (called, simply, The Girl), is a vampire who doles out vigilante justice to bad men. She is, in a way, an anti-Bluebeard.

The Girl stalks the streets of Bad City, a sparse Iranian ghost town made up of a handful of residents, an abandoned power plant, and a ravine where dead bodies are thrown. The town’s powerful pimp, Saeed, is The Girl’s first on-screen victim: she watches Saeed cheat and assault sex worker Atti. When Saeed invites The Girl to his home and attempts to seduce her, she kills him.

The Girl’s other victims are also men that mistreat Atti, including heroin addict Hossein, who forces Atti to shoot up with him. The Girl—watching through the eyes of her avatar, a cat—enters Atti’s bedroom and kills Hossein. While Bluebeard lures young girls in to his home, the Girl trespasses into forbidden chambers—Saeed’s gated house, Hossein’s heroin-infused dream world—to do away with them.

The Girl doesn’t just kill, she also warns. She asks a little boy, skateboarding alone at night, if he is good. When he answers, “Yes,” she calls him a liar. Threatens him. Tells him she will be watching him. Don’t grow up to be a shitty dude, The Girl seems to be saying, And I won’t have to drink your blood.

There’s one good boy in the film, and she let’s him live. He’s Arash, Hossein’s son and The Girl’s brooding, dutiful, leather-jacketed love interest. He’s a sort of “final boy,” but he, too, mixes up what’s expected of him. At the end of the film, after Arash realizes that the Girl murdered his father and that she could easily murder him, he skips town with her anyway.

“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” isn’t riffing on “Bluebeard” directly. But it’s playing with the tropes of horror films, and by subverting cinematic horror, the film turns “Bluebeard” on its head in profound and chilling ways.


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] Tatar, Maria. “Bluebeard.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. 140. Print.

Kid Cages

by Wren Awry

In Reserve, New Mexico, kids wait for the school bus inside of wood and wire mesh cages. They were built after Mexican grey wolves were re-introduced to the area in 1998 because, some say, the wolves were following children home from school. [1] Mexican wolves seldom attack humans, and there are no recorded deaths at their paws. [2] So, where does the fear come from? Environmentalists blame rancher propaganda and ranchers blame the wolves. I also blame wolves. Not the real, flesh-and fur-kind. I blame “stranger danger” wolves made of celluloid and sentences.

I imagine parents have stopped reading “Little Red Riding Hood” to children; they skip the scene where Belle is surrounded by snarling, yellow-eyed monsters in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. They tell their children to look out for upright canines with deep tenors, who will urge them to “pick a few flowers for granny.” Wolves, we all know, blow houses down, so when the wind comes, kid, please assume wolf-hiding position. Lycanthropy is not funny here.

But there are other kinds of wolves, and other kinds of fears, in the European fairy-tale canon.

“What should happen to a mother who throws her sons to the wolves?” a prince asks his wife in “The Wolves,” a Bavarian tale. The princess mentions red-hot iron shoes, and is duly punished.

Before death, did the princess recall the two wolves that shaped her fate? The one snarling back at her, in the mirror, during a fit of jealousy; and the one she sent her seven newborn sons to, in hopes that the canis lupus would eat them (“Multiple births,” she had, unfortunately, just told her husband, “Is a sure sign of adultery”).

She does not know—will never know, though she might guess—that the prince ran in to the midwife bringing the infants to the wolf. That the prince intercepted, saved his sons, had them raised by a loyal subject. Perhaps he re-routed. But in my mind, he followed the same path. The wolf the princess hoped would eat her sons raised them instead. When they returned to the court eighteen years later, the boys were long-haired and lupine. [3]

In the kid cages of Reserve, do students peer through the wire mesh to look for wolves in the piñion and juniper? And, if yes: out of fright, or desire? Some must spin daydreams out of their mothers’ worst fears; must long to join up with the wolves out there in the wild world.


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] “Miller, Joshua Rhett. “Are ‘kid Cages’ Protecting N.M. Children, or a Case of Ranchers Crying Wolf?” Fox News. FOX News Network, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/10/29/are-kid-cages-protecting-nm-children-or-case-ranchers-crying-wolf/?intcmp=trending>.

[2] “Mexican Gray Wolf.” Arizona Game and Fish Department. AZGFD, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://www.azgfd.gov/pdfs/w_c/wolf/WEB_Mexican_Wolf_details.pdf>.

[3] Eichenseer, Erika, Engelbert Suss, and Maria Tatar. “The Wolves.” The Turnip Princess & Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales. By Francis Xavier Von Schonwerth. New York: Penguin Classics, 2015. N. pag. Print. Penguin Classics.