Foreword to Once Upon A Winter's Night

I don't remember when I heard my first fairy tale or even what it was. It could have been Hansel and Gretel, for I did act the part of Hansel in a school play when I was but six.

Nor do I recall when I actually read my first fairy tale, though I do remember checking out fairy-tale books from the library when I was nine or so. I read through the full spectrum of the Andrew-Lang-edited fairy-tale books, and I do mean "spectrum," for the books were called The Crimson Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, The Pink Fairy Book, and on through Orange, Yellow, Olive, Green, Lilac, Blue, Violet, Grey, and Brown: i.e., the spectrum.

I loved those books, for, just as a Captain Future Quarterly had launched me into science fiction, these launched me into fantasy.

But, you know, it is my contention that many of the old fairy stories were severely shortened as the number of bards dwindled, and the people who were left to remember and pass on the tales simply didn't have the oratory skills to tell stories of epic scope. Too, we also know they were altered to help promote different religions from those in the societies where told, hence they were shortened merely to get the point across.

And so, it is my thesis that back when bards and poets and minstrels and the like sat in castles or in hovels or mansions or by campfires, or entertained patrons as they travelled along the way, surely the original stories were much longer, with many more wondrous encounters than the later, altered versions would have them be. After all, in the case of a bardic storyteller, she or he would hold audiences enthralled for long whiles with accounts of love and seduction and copious sex and bloody fights and knights and witches and Dragons and ogres and giants and other fantastic beings all littering the landscape of the tale as the hero or heroine struggled on.

Don't get me wrong, I am not putting down the altered versions of the fairy tales; after all, I loved them. What I am saying instead is I've always felt that many wonders were lost by the shortening and altering of each folk and fairy tale to fit a different song from that which the old bards and my Celtic ancestors would sing.

For this reason, I decided to tell a fairy tale (in the traditional manner and style) as I would like for it to have been told had I either been one of those bards or one of those in the audience. Consequently, in telling the story herein, just as I think did happen in the past, I too have amended the tale, adding back those things—sex and fights and other such trappings—which might or might not have been in the original telling once upon a time long, long ago in a castle far, far away.

The tale I chose is one of my favorites, one you can find in The Blue Fairy Book, one that is said to have come from the Norse. But, you know, I always thought that this particular story should have come from the vales of France—it is a romance, after all, and who better than the French to have started it? Hence, sprinkled here and there throughout my telling, you'll find French words to give it that flavor. You'll also find other languages scattered therein, but the seasoning of French is strong. By the bye, in my version of The Blue Fairy Book this story is but eleven pages long. I thought that much too short, and, as is apparent, I did lengthen it a bit.

Dennis L. McKiernan
Tucson, Arizona, 2000