Editor’s Note: What Goes Up Does Not Come Down

nundaSo it flew up higher still—so high that the earth shone like one of the other stars.
‘How much of you will be left if you fall from here?’ asked the bird.
‘If I die, I die,’ said the boy, ‘but I will not leave you.’

The Swahili fairy tale, “The Nunda, Eater of People,” is the story of a boy and figs, and a sultan, and a bird. It also contains, perhaps, the most extreme of what Max Lüthi, preeminent fairy-tale scholar and critic, would call a “blind motif”: an element not made use of, narratively, once it is introduced. An element whose purpose is only disappear. Think of a protagonist and their two older brothers, who are never referred to after their introduction, and yet are not removed by the author—the blind motif is the anti-Chekhov’s gun, a red herring gone amok. In “The Nunda,” our protagonist holds onto the bird until it relents and offers one of its feathers; in an emergency, the boy can burn the feather, and the bird will rescue him.

At the moment of transaction, the story is only halfway done: the latter half revolves around a murderous cat and our protagonist’s mission to kill it, with no more mention of the feather. The story seems to laugh in the face of expectations, the call and response. The idea of what goes up must come down. We enter the realm of the dreaded vague: For all we know, the feather has fallen out of the youngest’s pocket, been blown by the wind into some forgotten corner of his abode. For all we know, the feather has been pickpocketed by a neighboring child and put beneath a pillow to be forgotten. For all we know, the feather is kept until the boy becomes an old man who has never saw reason to flee anything.

That we do not dwell on how this bird carries the boy into space is beautiful. That in the quote above the bird asks not about dying in the fall, but having only a remainder of a body, is beautiful. That none of this is explained is beautiful. Can we truly not accept a gun that does not fire by the curtain’s fall? Are we really that against the motif that blinds, or refuses to be congruous? The sultan was mentioned in the first sentence here and never did return. Was he missed, or was his being forgotten something better?

“The Nunda,” as with all stories, could have offered us an answer as to the boy and his feather, but isn’t it better that we can leave ourselves with just one of a thousand better visions? For all we know, the boy burns his feather a decade after killing the Nunda, and only because he feels like taking a wing-borne joyride over Nalubaale and all its freshwater, the source of the thing many others call the Nile.


This Editor’s Note was written by Fairy Tale Review Prose and Managing Editor and Tiny Donkey Editor Joel Hans.

Interview: Carmen Maria Machado

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Carmen Maria Machado writes rich, fabulist fiction that draws on fairy tales and folklore. She has some exciting publications forthcoming–including a debut short story collection, Her Body & Other Parties (Graywolf Press), and a story in The Ochre Issue of Fairy Tale Review. For this interview, however, I decided to ask Machado about an older story– “The Husband Stitch,” published by Granta in October 2014, and inspired by a frightening children’s tale, urban legends, and the experience of being an awkward kid at Girl Scout Camp.

“The Husband Stitch,” is a variation on “The Green Ribbon,” a popular scary story (I remember it well from childhood!). How did you first encounter “The Green Ribbon”? Why did you decide to write your own version of it? 

I first read “The Green Ribbon” in Alvin Schwartz’s In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories, a children’s book in the vein of his Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. (Though with significantly less terrifying illustrations.) Anyway, In a Dark, Dark Room had a story called “The Green Ribbon,” by which I was simultaneously repulsed and entranced. Of all the urban legend and folktale retellings in Schwartz’s oeuvre, that’s the one that stuck with me the most.

Later, when I was in graduate school, I was hanging out with friends when Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark came up in conversation. That series pretty much scared everyone in my generation, and each person in my group had a different story from it that’d scared the bejeesus out of them as kids.

My brain kept returning to “The Green Ribbon,” and it occurred to me that there are all kinds of interesting currents about gender running beneath that story’s deceptively simple ice. That summer, I sat down and wrote the first draft of “The Husband Stitch.” At the time, it was just a straight re-telling of the protagonist’s story from meeting her future husband to her head falling off; the metafictional elements and retellings of other urban legends came later in the editing process.

Continue reading Interview: Carmen Maria Machado

The Slit-mouthed Woman

by Lucy Randazzo

Traditionally, Japan has an extremely polite language and culture. Specific honorific and humble verb conjugations require knowing one’s place in the social structure, while an intricate system of bows changes the interpretation of interpersonal interactions by the adjustment of a few degrees. Grasping such a complex sociolinguistic structure takes a lifetime to master, and folklore teaches Japanese youth proper speech and behavior from an early age. In particular, the tale of the kuchisake-onna, or “slit-mouthed woman,” encourages children to properly beat around the bush linguistically under the violent threat of getting sliced from ear to ear.

This humanoid monster wears a mask over her mouth, confronting strangers to ask, “Am I beautiful?” If the answer is no, she immediately lashes out and slices up the person impertinent enough to be so rude, killing her victim with a blade or pair of scissors. An initial answer of “yes” is not the way to go either; even when given what someone from a Western culture would view as a compliment, she tears off the mask to reveal razor-sharp teeth in a mouth that has been slit open in a Glasgow smile. “What about now?” At this point, no matter what is said or done, the respondent is doomed to a grisly fate because the strict and immediate answer of “yes” is too enthusiastic and full of pressure, and the damage of that quick affirmation cannot be taken back. Except in the most intimate and close relationships, answering a question outright or too quickly shows a lack of concern or thought no matter what the answer may be.

A number of ways to avoid or escape the kuchisake-onna exist, varying regionally and individually. Wearing the color yellow prevents her from stalking you in the first place. Throwing hard candies sidetracks her like shiny objects distract crows. Yelling “pomade” at her three times makes her flee—something about her ex-boyfriend or the doctor who killed her wearing too much pomade in his hair (though speculations about her origins also include her being the vengeful spirit-lover of an unfaithful samurai; and getting hit by a car and mangled while chasing some children). The most prevalent solution when a confrontation with the slit-mouthed woman begins is to answer “maybe” or tell her that she looks “so-so,” which confuses the spirit long enough to escape. According to some versions, she is even polite enough to apologize for bothering her would-be victim if they respond that they have a prior engagement, very subtly insinuating that they cannot speak with her right then. Overhasty decisiveness is the courteous kuchisake-onna’s real pet peeve, but a mastery of how to answer questions or accept invitations keeps her wrath in check.


Lucy Randazzo is a senior studying English and creative writing with a minor in Japanese at the University of Arizona, her fiction thesis focusing on the interconnectivity of beauty and violence. Her short fiction prose has been published by Scribendi, the University of New Mexico’s honors undergraduate literary magazine. She is currently the managing editor of Persona, the University of Arizona undergraduate literary magazine, as well as an editorial assistant at Fairy Tale Review and an editing intern at the University of Arizona Press.

Editor’s Note: This Notebook is a Shattered Jar

The notebook arrived a few months ago in a box of old things my mom sent from the house I grew up in. It was originally a gift from a high school sweetheart, filled with notes from friends about my talents and how much they appreciated me. It sounds, at first description, like the kind of thing that would fill me with nostalgia for my punkish teen years. But opening the notebook was excruciatingly awkward. The gift had been prompted by my low self-confidence and anxiety, which left me feeling like friends secretly despised me and regularly led them to actually despise me, after I confronted them for imagined transgressions. I didn’t even read the notes–I didn’t need to, I knew they were full of the same kind comments that had been used reassure me throughout my life (comments that I would not–or could not–believe). Instead, I tore those pages out and threw them away. The only thing that remains from the original gift is a Tolkien quote penned on the notebook’s inside cover:

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

tumblr_nmuvzrd51g1rne95fo6_500I recently watched Song of the Sea, an animated film by Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon. The film’s villain is the owl-witch Macha, who turns mythical creatures–like faeries and giants–into stone to “save” them from negative emotions. She stores her own difficult emotions and memories in bottles and jars. Of course (spoiler alert!), Song of the Sea is about a brother and sister’s successful attempt to turn Macha back into the good witch she once was and release the enchanted creatures from their stone holds. They’re able to do so when a magical song–sung by the sister who is, it turns out, a selkie– causes Macha’s bottles and jars to break. Macha’s forced to swallow up the despair she’s been hiding from, and this swallowing allows the desired transformation to take place.

My notebook feels a little like one of Macha’s shattered jars–a ghost of the emotions it once contained. The Tolkien quote on the inside cover doesn’t let me forget what this notebook was originally for; neither does my anxiety, which I’m learning to manage but continue to live with. Yet, I am able to re-inscribe it, re-purpose it, fill it up with something new. I’ve been using it as my Tiny Donkey notebook–where I jot down to-do lists or take notes during our editorial meetings. It’s a fitting use for it, I think. Reading, studying and writing about fairy tales has become, for me, a wondrous obsession, the kind of thing that serves as a temporary respite from a self-doubting and anxious brain.


This Editor’s Note was written by Tiny Donkey Editor Wren Awry.

Fairy Tale Cluedo

by Elizabeth Hopkinson

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Fairy tales are well known for their use of familiar tropes and motifs. The persecuted heroine, the animal helper, the three wishes, the unassailable tower. I thought it would be fun to show the interplay of motifs across different fairy tales by mapping the fairy tale world in the form of a traditional Cluedo board. Instead of the usual weapons (dagger, revolver, lead piping etc.) I would substitute a selection of familiar fairy tale objects. Namely: key, spinning wheel, ring, apple, scissors, needle and slippers. All of these are common, everyday objects, but when they appear in fairy tales they are often imbued with magical powers or significance.

In the game of Cluedo, different combinations can be created by selecting person, room and weapon. I wanted to create similar combinations of character, room and object. I kept the traditional Cluedo rooms, with the exception of Billiard Room, which I changed to Turret. The connection of each character to their respective room may be tentative, but it exists nonetheless. My aim was to have at least one character in each room, and at least two characters sharing the same object or motif. In each case, the object (apple, needle etc.) features somewhere in a version of that character’s tale.

One feature of Cluedo that always excited me as a child was the use of secret passages. Fairy tales, too, have secret portals leading to strange underworlds. So I marked each passageway on the board with an underground destination from a different fairy tale, to which it might lead.

We cannot forget that the original game of Cluedo centers on a murder. Death and murder feature in fairy tales, too. So I marked the spot where the Murder Cards would traditionally be placed with the name of that shadowy fairy tale character, Godfather Death.

The fairy tales I have used for this map are as follows. For the characters in the rooms: Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Allerleirauh (The Coat of all Colours), Bearskin, The Almond Tree, Snow-White and Rose-Red, The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids, The Experienced Huntsman, The Six Swans, Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), The Glass Coffin, and Snow White. And for the secret passages: The Shoes Which Were Danced to Pieces, The Blue Lamp, The Glass Coffin (again) and Frau Holle.


Elizabeth Hopkinson is from Bradford, West Yorkshire (UK), home of the Brontë sisters and the Cottingley Fairies. She does her best writing in Waterstones, Bradford Wool Exchange, where a staff member was recently heard to say of her: “She can do anything she likes. She keeps this place running.” Elizabeth has had over 50 short stories published and one novel, Silver Hands, with Top Hat Books in 2013. She has won the James White Award, Jane Austen Short Story Contest and the Historic House Short Story Contest. Her website is hiddengrove.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk

“Fairy Tale Cluedo” won fourth place in Tiny Donkey’s Once Upon a Cartographer Contest.

White As Snow

by Kathleen Sawyer

“White as Snow” is a piece of book art that navigates the difficult ideological transition towards adulthood. The period of child development known as ‘foreclosure’ describes the refusal to enter the experimental phase most often associated with adolescence, in which the child tries out different experiences — often rebellious — as a fundamental part of forming their personality. A child who forecloses this period of freedom is unwilling to step outside their knowledge of themselves; instead choosing to remain frozen in one incarnation.

This work implements the ‘classic’ version of the Snow White story as a metaphor for foreclosure, as well as hinting at the consequences involved in maintaining purity and goodness (as defined in the fairytale genre itself). In the narrative, the active and cunning Queen is seen as transgressive and is punished, while the passive and personality-deficient Snow White is lauded as the ‘good’ character; a model for children to emulate. To step outside the rigid and restricted definition of what amounts to a positive female role model is to be irrevocably tainted as ‘bad.’ Anne Sexton’s poem on the subject depicts Snow White as a fragile china doll rolling her eyes open and shut, ever virginal, ever trapped within the limits of her self-imposed and immmobilising purity. The drawings animate as the pages are flipped, revealing a young girl (the model used was twelve) trapped under ice which slowly thaws, allowing her to blink at the viewer much like in the poem. However, the ice never fully melts and eventually freezes over once more, trapping the girl in the limits of her internalised self-restraint. In this way the character is ‘good’ only due to the lack of what is ‘bad;’ defined more by absence than presence.


Kathleen Sawyer is an art student and draughtsperson at Rhodes University, South Africa. Her Masters work investigates the societal impact of fairytales, focusing on themes of sexuality, femininity and coming-of-age. Her art can be found at KatSaw.com.

“White As Snow” won third place in Tiny Donkey’s Once Upon a Cartographer Contest.

Lady Folk

by René Ostberg

Biddy Early peered down a bottle’s neck to see the future. One wonders if she ever saw Lady Gregory coming decades down the road, gossiping with Biddy’s old neighbors, collecting astonishing tales about this wise healer woman of western Ireland. Biddy Early was already legendary before she died—accused of witchcraft once, eternally at odds with the local priests, married four times over. She didn’t need Lady Gregory to make her famous-slash-infamous, or whatever the liminal space is where wise women dwell.

But Gregory needed Early. Her name lent authenticity to the cast of banshees, blacksmiths, and other characters in Gregory’s folklore collection Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland (1920). And her neighbors’ trusting chattiness about their own peasant practices and beliefs eased Gregory’s aristocratic guilt.

Both women were western Irish—Early born Bridget Connors in County Clare in 1798, Gregory born Isabella Augusta Persse in County Galway in 1852. Early was born the year of an uprising in Ireland against British rule—a fitting start for a figure of female rebellion. Gregory came into the world at the end of the Great Potato Famine, a time when 1 million Irish died by fever or starvation. She grew up only 25 miles from Early’s humble cottage, but she was a member of the gentry, an Anglo-Irish Protestant not only protected from the ravages of the Famine but a benefactor. The man she married, Sir William Gregory, was a member of Parliament with a Galway estate called Coole Park—a place of lakes, limestone, woods and wild swans. At the height of the Famine, Sir William drafted a clause in the Poor Relief Laws that led to the eviction of thousands of peasants in the west. These were among Ireland’s poorest population, the ones who suffered the Famine’s worst destitution, the most deaths. And the strongest bearers of the old Gaelic folkways and language. Biddy’s people. With their decimation, would Ireland’s folk culture follow?

Early survived the Famine, dying around 1872 with a priest’s blessing in exchange for breaking her magic bottle. Lady Gregory was widowed in 1892. Within a year she was immersing herself in the Irish language and folk culture and soon professing Irish nationalism. She sometimes paid her peasant storytellers small tokens for their memories—but never stopped collecting their rents.

Maybe Biddy’s chatty neighbors did trust Lady Gregory. Or maybe they were simply squaring another uneven exchange with a landholder—embellishing their barter by telling tall tales. Perhaps Biddy Early also managed to square an uneven barter. Maybe those glass shards beside the blessed deathbed belonged to a decoy bottle.


René Ostberg is a native of Chicago. She has a B.A. in English from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and spent several years living and working in Ireland, on the Aran Islands and in County Down. Her writing has been featured at Literary Orphans, Drunk Monkeys, Booma: The Bookmapping Project, We Said Go Travel, Eunoia Review, and other places. Her website is reneostberg.wordpress.com.

“Lady Folk” won second place in Tiny Donkey’s Once Upon a Cartographer Contest.

Simultaneous Map

by Brian Ma

Staring at the map on which I had traced all the known movements of my aunt, who had gone missing during the war, the vertiginous suspicion that her movements were taking place at the same time as my search for her came over me. In that case, her itineraries on my map (traced in red) and the ground I had already covered (traced in green, the two not necessarily neatly overlapping) were not two journeys that happened at two discrete and different times but were, in actuality, occurring simultaneously. This meant that at any one moment I was anywhere along the green trail she was, at that same moment, on any one point of the red trail. To continue this logic, it meant that at any intersection of our itineraries we had unknowingly crossed paths, meaning that I had already uncomprehendingly seen her seven times, meaning that my quest, in actuality, has ended seven times, meaning that I had already discovered penetrating truths about myself seven times. Along the way I would have seen the new gleaming buildings that were built after the war and the foreign investments but also trees on fire and falling bombs. There was no need anymore to search for her to keep her from disappearing and there was no need to keep myself from disappearing either. Her world: dark then bright. The simultaneity spread like a virus. Like a sketch being colored in, everything became, was, and is, Time Present. The war, the buildings, and, in fact, all the wars and all the buildings.


Brian Ma lives and works in Seoul, South Korea.

“Simultaneous Map” won first place in Tiny Donkey’s Once Upon a Cartographer Contest.

Once Upon a Cartographer Contest: We Have Winners!

LOMB©ARD-3020-hirez.tifWe’re excited to announce the four winners of Tiny Donkey‘s Once Upon a Cartographer Contest. We enjoyed reading all of the essays submitted to the contest, and these four stood out for their writing, scholarship and creativity.

First Place: “Simultaneous Map,” Brian Ma

Second Place: “Lady Folk,” René Ostberg

Third Place: “White as Snow,” Kathleen Sawyer

Fourth Place: “Fairy Tale Cluedo,” Elizabeth Hopkinson

Brian Ma’s “Simultaneous Map” will be published this coming Wednesday, January 13. The rest of the pieces will follow throughout the month of January.

Image: The Land of Make Believe Map by Jaro Hess

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>