Fairy Tale, Embedded

Today, I read Aimee Pokwatka’s “The Glass Mountain,” in The Greensboro Review. I was interested in how this story skated on the edge of fairy tale. Obviously, it plays a great deal off its fairy tale namesake, with sections like this:

In seven years, only one knight came close to saving the princess. He arrived in golden armor, and in the sunlight, he looked like a man made of fire. The princess bowed her head when she heard him charge, but the sound she expected, the sound of gold kissing glass, was replaced by the sound of horse hooves cracking their way closer. From her window, it looked like the knight was riding on sky, and he leaned forward, readying his burning body to pluck an apple from the tree. Just as he approached the peak, the witch, who had turned herself into a hawk, sailed down and sunk her talons between his horse’s eyes. The horse fought for only a moment before it began its downward slide, its hooves engraving the mountainside with a deep furrow.

The princess listened as the townspeople began digging a new grave. She lay her head against the window and closed her eyes.

The story, however, turns out to be set in the present-day United States, and is largely about childhood friends reunited through mutual grief:

“She always had a crush on you, you know.”

“Who?” Gnome asked. “Eva?”

“She used to put apples outside her bedroom door before she went to sleep, in case you came at night to rescue her.”

His face screwed up, and I could tell that it upset him to hear this, but I kept talking, telling my sister’s stories, listening as her name filled the dark spaces between us, until I felt too tired to talk anymore.

You could, I think, class this story as a straight mainstream story with an embedded fairy tale. The author doesn’t make exaggerated claims about what the main characters are up to. I thought it was cool, though, how the mood and importance of the fairy tale bleed into the main story and transform its tone.

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