The Ugliest Princess, The Littlest Mermaid, Janet and the reader’s response

(c) Nin Harris 2006-2010

I have loved Tam Lin since I was 15. I loved it all the more because I could not find the full poems, instead piecing together scraps of verse from chapter headings of Diana Wynne-Jones’s Fire and Hemlock, dividing pages in a notebook between Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin. That much has been stated before.

What has never been outlined: the thick feeling of doom behind breastbone when faerie queens with beguiling, seductive and mysterious powers of persuasion are considered.

The reader always screams inward, urging faithful handmaidens into the opposite direction from that which is prescribed by dictates of the tale.

Don’t do it, you fool, why give up the sea to have your tail split? Why give up the pleasures of the deep so you can dance all wordless, self-conscious with daggers of pain shooting up your calves and thighs?

Why save him a few milliseconds before the very vocal princess with sunlight in her hair will come with parasol and frilled frock to pull him up into the palace, her handmaidens fluttering and fussing over him?

Why must you sacrifice your tongue, your mersisters their curls for love, for a knife you will never use because you are ultimately giving? Why must you cling on when he is turned into an adder, a snake, a lion, a flaming brand that will char you alive? Why must you pull him down from a steed at Miles Cross when she has taken his heart, his eyes, his soul, his thoughts? He will not be made a teind to hell, Janet, but the threat of the rock and the tree remains.

Walk away, Janet, walk away.

The faerie queens of the world will always win.

Go back into the sea, littlest mermaid, go back to your games amidst the shipwrecks and the half-opened chests.

Walk away, ugliest princess, walk away

For there will be a place where you are not ugly, and not required to fight, not required to grapple with live lions and snakes and adders just for the lure and the promise of what is transformed at long last.

Walk away from what seems to be East of the Sun, West of the Moon

Walk away, false goose-girl, or true princess or true fool. Walk away from the true goose-girl or false princess or true love. Let not Falada’s words be in vain, yet again.

Listen, for there will be hallways lined with books, soft carpets for your feet, hot drinks with steam soft-curled upward. Listen, for if you walk away there will be schools of fish, universes of meditating manta-rays and benevolent whales with songs woven just for you. Listen, for there are galaxies of light and color and sound. Listen, because you know you are stronger, more beautiful, more prideful and more magical than this, than this self you have reduced yourself into.

Walk away, princess, walk away.

Here, let me untangle a knot here, a pattern there, a mystery in the loom. Let me worry at a tear in the yellow wallpaper until it opens, wide enough to let you through, let you walk out of the walls, into the garden, onto the path that leads you into the deep green and brown velvet of the woods.

Listen, always a bridesmaid, and never a bride is just a dialectic you can puncture. Don’t be a bridesmaid. Don’t dance at the wedding. Throw off the lace and frills. Run off into the woods, run off into the woods.

Splash into the sea, swim away.

(3 March 2006)