Rags & Bones New Twists on Timeless Tale Online - Melissa Marr


The editors’ lives had overlaps before we knew each other. Tim studied creative writing in North Carolina and then went on to edit and write; Melissa studied literature at another North Carolina university, and then went on to be a university literature teacher for twelve years before writing. By the time Melissa began to write, she had found Tim’s short stories; he also published her first story. Along the way, they became friends with a mutual love of short stories, literature, and science fiction and fantasy. This anthology was born from that mutual love—and a strange retelling of Heart of Darkness in the form of a children’s cartoon that Tim wrote.

The anthology also sprung from remarks Neil Gaiman made one night in New York about retelling tales, in particular about retelling a specific fairy tale. Whether he remembers that the tale in question was the same one he retold in this collection, we don’t know. One of us sort of hopes it was all a grand coincidence. That’s what happens with writers: the art we encounter swirls and combines and evolves inside our minds. Those of us who love literature, old tales, folk tales, fairy tales, and half-remembered stories keep them all in some strange simmering pot and ladle out bits into our own new stories. We return again and again to old loves and old obsessions, or wrestle with the troubling and problematic aspects of stories we adored when we were young.

The two of us thought it would be fun to ask some of our favorite writers to return to those best-beloved old stories, intentionally this time rather than in the usual subconscious ways. We asked them to choose stories that had moved them, influenced them, and fascinated them, boil those stories down to the rags and bones, and make something new from their fundamental essences. The results are wonderful. You don’t need to be familiar with the original sources of inspiration to appreciate these tales, but if these stories send you in search of their literary ancestors, you aren’t likely to be disappointed by what you find.

In a story that grew far beyond anyone’s expectations, Rick Yancey takes Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark” into a distant future where our fear of science and the mystery of love mingle in fabulously disturbing ways. Carrie Ryan leads us into a different future—one where we have gone underground and rely on technology even more than we do in the real world. Kelley Armstrong also takes on the future, but in her hands, it is not technology but magic that drives the story—magic and brotherly love. In all three—both horror and science fiction—human foibles are the true heart of the stories.

But not only do the stories in Rags & Bones reflect the literary influences of the authors, they also reflect personal interests and influence. Margaret Stohl drafted her tale while on the set of the film adaptation of her co-authored series—and tied her tale into an area she visits for her writing. Beautiful Creatures co-author Kami Garcia crafted a story that makes use of her background as a fighter and as a teacher in underfunded areas. Both stories reflect the authors’ stores of knowledge and experience, but develop in delightfully dark and unexpected ways.

The structures and styles chosen for the stories offer interesting variety as well. Garth Nix offers an unreliable narrator who tells his own story—or a version of it—inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s overly ambitious characters. Holly Black imagines the vampire Carmilla from the eponymous story by Sheridan Le Fanu as an immortal, but still modern, teenager fighting her own nature, written in the form of a desperate confessional outpouring. Saladin Ahmed gives a voice to the maligned and caricatured Saracens from The Faerie Queene, harnessing the imagery and rhythms of that proto-epic-fantasy for his own purposes. Gene Wolfe looks beyond the end of a William B. Seabrook tale of savagery and inhumanity to speculate on the disturbing consequences. Several of the other authors tried narrative styles different from their normal approaches, and in every case, the resulting story is one we are thrilled to share with you.

The editors also included stories of their own in the collection. Without telling the other, both turned to the American South in their stories: North Carolina native Tim Pratt adds a touch of Southern lit to a Henry James story and Melissa Marr takes a story from traditional Southern lit and tangles it in a Scottish/Orcadian influence.

We hope you enjoy the results.

—Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt