Interview by David McDonald.
Faith Mudge is a writer from Queensland, Australia, with a passion for fantasy, folk tales and mythology from all over the world – in fact, almost anything with a glimmer of the fantastical. Her stories have appeared in various anthologies, including Kaleidoscope, Cranky Ladies of History, Hear Me Roar and Daughters of Frankenstein. She posts reviews and articles at beyondthedreamline.wordpress.com, and can also be found at beyondthedreamline.tumblr.com.
I’ve really enjoyed your “Ladies of Legend” series. What was the inspiration for the series, and do you have a personal favourite “Lady of Legend”?
I adore all of the Ladies of Legend for different reasons, even the creepy murdery ones, but my current favourite Lady is Guinevere. After reading through Le Morte d’Arthur, I’ve become ferociously protective of her and have zero patience for all that nonsense about her being the ‘downfall of Camelot’. Of all the people to blame for that mess, I’d argue she actually played the smallest role. But I am also telling anybody who will listen about Morgan le Fay’s girl gang of queens and her all-female spy network, because knowing about them gives me joy.
You’ve also written a lot of analysis on fairy tales, especially their intersection with feminism. Has this influenced your own writing and, if so, in what ways?
I was raised on the fairy tale collections of Ruth Manning-Sanders, which gave me a love for some quite obscure folk stories. Manning-Sanders’ heroines go on quests, rescue their lovers, free slaves and fight witches, but most importantly from a narrative perspective, are treated like people. When I analyse a fairy tale, my focus is on trying to understand why the characters do the things that they are doing. I have no interest in tearing apart a heroine for not living up to my expectations. That’s the storyteller’s fault for not caring about her enough.
I suppose that’s where loving fairy tales has most influenced my writing and my feminism. I care enormously about the characters – particularly the women, because they get held to such absurd double standards. For instance, why does the queen in ‘Snow White’ get criticised for her particular brand of villainy when a parade of evil kings go unchallenged? And while I love to see (and write about) lady knights and lethal princesses, we’re not all kick-ass name-takers, not by a long shot, so why should the women in our stories be expected to adhere to a rigid, traditionally masculine definition of strength in order to be respected? What’s so wrong with Snow White quietly rebuilding her life away from a toxic family environment, using domestic skills to support her new family? After living under the rule of a viciously ambitious stepmother, it’s amazing she has the emotional resilience to open up to strangers at all. That takes immense courage. Give the girl a hug.
This is my take on the story, anyway. It might seem an obvious question – why are these people doing what they are doing? – but the answers are not obvious in the least. They are different for every reader that every fairy tale has ever had. My answers turn into stories. Why would a girl be locked in a tower? Because she is terrifying. Why are twelve princes dancing beneath the castle? Because it was their castle first. Why would a maid pretend she was a princess? Because a lie would save a life. I’m usually drawn to the antagonists because their perspective is so rarely shown in the original fairy tale, and it can completely flip the story when you consider what their motivations might be.
This is a really interesting question, I think I’ll be chewing over it for a while.
Are you working on any new projects at the moment? What can we look forward to in the future?
‘Ladies of Legend’ is a monthly series that I plan on continuing until the end of next year and I’m also blogging my way through all seven (current!) Star Wars films, with A New Hope as the next one up. PodCastle is doing an audio version of my short story ‘Blueblood’ in November as part of a series of episodes highlighting Australian speculative fiction and I am delighted about it, there is something strange and wonderful about hearing your words read aloud – especially a fairy tale retelling, since that’s part of an oral tradition.
And I’m very excited to say that my first novella, ‘Humanity for Beginners’, is being published as an e-book by Less Than Three Press. It is an urban fantasy about Gloria, who realises her idyllic little B&B has accidentally turned into a halfway house for lesbian werewolves, and who really needs to figure out why her best friend has passive-aggressively taken over her kitchen. I had enormous fun writing this story and I’m so happy to share it! It will be published as part of the My Dearest Friend collection and should be available early next year.
I’ve been loving everything from Tansy Rayner Roberts’ podcast Sheep Might Fly. ‘The Glass Slipper Scandal’ is a deliciously playful, but also insightful, tangle of fairy tale tropes and I really want to be listening to the next Castle Charming story already. ‘Fake Geek Girl’ does hilarious things by mixing together magical universities and slightly skewed pop culture – I’ve been listening to episodes of its sequel, ‘Unmagical Boy Story’, every week and it’s just as much fun. ‘Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary’ is waiting for me to have time for an audio binge. The Book Smugglers website published Tansy’s story ‘Kid Dark Against the Machine’ in June and I really liked her take on superheroes, sidekicks and the comic book ecosystem that springs up around them.
I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on The Rebirth of Rapunzel by Kate Forsyth. My sister is holding it hostage as my Christmas gift so I am not allowed to read it yet, but the biography of a fairy tale really couldn’t be more relevant to my interests and Kathleen Jennings’ cover is so very beautiful.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Can’t I fill the plane with authors and switch seats so I can talk to all of them? Failing that, the author I’d choose (today, anyway!) is Jane Austen. We’d talk books, feminism and history, and I’d show her film and TV adaptations of her novels to see which ones, if any, met her approval. You did say this was a long flight! I think she’d be a delightfully sarcastic conversationalist.