Fairy Tales of East and West
The Anchored World: Flash Fairy Tales and Folklore
by Jasmine Sawers
Rose Metal Press, 2022
reviewed by Seana Graham
In their author’s note at the end of this slim book, Jasmine Sawers explains how they came to write the collection. For their second birthday, they received The Random House Book of Fairy Tales (link below). They still find these stories to be beautifully written and to “provide searing insight into the cultural values of Western European and American society.” But only half their background lies in this culture and they found it much harder to come upon similar sources from their Thai heritage. And even though they did find such a volume as a child, they eventually saw it as a very Western lens on Eastern traditions.
When I began to write my own fairy tales, I found I was still erasing myself. I was no blonde girl waiting for rescue, nor a lurking stereotype whose difference was twisted into villainy. How could I orient my work to my own perspective? How could I speak to my own mixed heritage, and, more broadly, to the experience of being raised in multiple cultures but fully belonging to none of them?
In the back of the book is also a fairy tale index, which shows which specific stories they are riffing off of when that is the case. (Many of their stories are not based specifically on classic tales.) The majority are European, but there are several Thai stories represented as well. So you will find a slant on “Rumpelstiltskin” and “Hansel and Gretel,” but also on Thai tales like “The Legend of Sung Tong.”
So what lies between these pages? There are whimsical pieces, like “Colossus”, which tells of a world after the scientists have made a big mistake—in trying to make the larger animals smaller to conserve natural resources they’ve accidentally shrunk them down to a size where polar bears now roam inside ordinary kitchen freezers. There are several stories told in lists, such as “Domestic Curses for All Occasions”— curses like You won’t be able to escape the clutter. Your dog will find you tedious. There are plenty of stories about relationships—with lovers, with mothers. Most of them are fairly dark. But there are two very lovely tales about the moon, “Where the Moon Meets the Sea,” which imagines the pair romantically, and “The Weight of the Moon,” which Sawers says in the Lumiere Review interview linked to below is an earlier work but still thinks is one of their best. Here’s how it starts:
The Moon fell from the sky last Tuesday. I rolled her into the shed and gave her some water.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Don’t you worry about it,” I said. I patted her sorest looking crater. I got some lotion and rubbed it on.
“Thank you,” she said.
Everyone was so worried.
“The tides,” they said. “The rotation of earth on its axis,” they said. “The migration of the birds, the turning of the seasons, the visibility at nighttime. Where is the Moon? The end is nigh. Judgement is coming. Repent.”
They don’t know how she breathed so shallow, or how afraid she was of empty space.
“I just want to stay a little while,” she said.
“I’ll keep you company,” I said.
Go get the book and read on. Oh, and Happy Halloween!
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She has also reviewed for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. The recent anthology Annihilation Radiation from Storgy Press, includes one of her stories. Santa Cruz Noir, a title from Akashic Press, features a story of hers about the city in which she currently resides.