The Serpent Bride, my second published book, was a collection of ten short stories that were literary fairy tales, retellings of ballads from Medieval Denmark, was published in 1998 from Thistledown Press. (For non-Canadians, that’s a venerable small literary press out west.) I started off reading Victorian or early twentieth-century translations of some of these but then switched to reading the originals. Since my Danish is limited to God/Glaedelig Jul, Ja, Nej, Bedstefar, Rødgrød med fløde, and Tak for kaffe, this was a slow process. However, I’ve studied languages and around the same time had begun a correspondence with a great-uncle who had no English, so for a while there my (non-oral) Danish was improving. I choose to use some of the weird Victorian Anglicizations of names that I found in one collection, though — now I have no idea why. That’s something I’d definitely do differently if I were writing these again. I mostly stuck to the plots as given in the ballads, aiming to give flesh, bone, and blood to the sketches of the characters found in ballad form. I left my dragon-prince a shapeshifter, though, rather than under a curse. Had to get one voluntary shapeshifer in there, at least!
One significant change I made for the published version was to write a victorious ending for the hero of “Germand Gladensvend”; after defeating the troll and tearing it to bits — as she does in the original — she finds her husband alive. In the original version she only finds his hand. I wrote a version that ended like that, too, which I quite liked, but decided one tragedy among nine triumphant love stories was going to be jarring.
Why did I set out to write these? I have no idea; I have no memory of deciding to do it. It wasn’t that I came across a Danish ballad and thought, I’d like to retell this story. I don’t remember it being an idea at all; there’s just a point in my memory where that was what I was working on. Strange.
I still quite like them; as in the originals, they’re stories about forthright young women going out to solve their own problems — even if that means finding a knight to kiss you to break a curse, you can still take charge of the situation. They have a bit of quirky humour — some of it mine and some of it, like the nun wishing ‘God would send her such an [implied – sexy] angel’ original to the ballads. They’re stories for all ages, as folk or fairy tales always have been. Good fun, if I do say so myself, both to write and to read.