Each fairy tale is a separate little jewel of obsessions – about raw materials (food! dowries!) and processes (solving riddles! seeking success!) – and its remaking ought to be easy enough to industrialise, right? Particularly since steampunk is a derivative genre, always referring to alternatives, and finding new ones…
Yet it’s not always possible to mass-produce a trinket out of the same materials: sometimes, the process of manufacture breaks everything;and sometimes, the old purpose and meaning of the item have simply faded away.
With the starvation era of subsistence agriculture now in the past for the developed world, hunger is no longer a threat to tell tales about – quite the opposite! Yet although starvation no longer prompts parents to infanticide, infant and childhood dangers persist, and still culminate at times in death. Exactly the right stakes for a fairy tale.
Meanwhile, our industrial world is no stranger to child labour in mills and factories, where a lottery of infanticide is played out with very real, and dangerous, monsters.
Accordingly, in The Electric Gingerbread House (in Steampunk Fairy Tales: Volume II, appearing in early October), my Hanna and Greta (representing labour by both children and women: both entered the economic arena during industrialisation) face boiling syrups and a biting weaving-loom, The Devourer. The witch is the gang-mistress who has procured them for the work, literally feeding herself on the children’s labour and on the damage to their bodies.
The schism in this world is not the one between the cottage and the wilderness, but between the (cultivated) countryside and the Town. Here, my wood-cutter is impoverished by industrialisation of wood-cutting and lumber-processing, and his children abandon forestry – a form of cultivation – for industry.
There is a new environmental dimension here, too. Now that we are more or less past the Age of Coal, we can also see the story on the level of repeating history, or metaphor: the Forest is devoured by the Town, at the same pace as the coal of an earlier, primeval Forest, goes into the maw of industry.
I hope you will find my re-telling a convincing and new tale, and that you will read on for more in the collection. Steampunk Fairy Tales,Volume II will be available in e-book and paperback in early October. The tales draw their inspiration from folklore spanning the globe, from Japan to Iceland. My colleagues didn’t want to be too “academic” in the introduction to the book, but I’d like to say here that my fellow authors really have tapped into the essential opposition between City and Wilderness, and I enjoyed winding through new scenery on old fairy-tale paths.
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The first volume of Steampunk Fairy Tales is already available to enjoy, in paperback, or as a bonus e-book. Volume II will also be available at all of these outlets.
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