Short Stories and Other Narratives

To Make No Lie

While I, unfortunately, do not have a writing tip to post this Monday, I do have a short story that I recently wrote for a class. And I have the good new that my last final is Thursday! So I will soon be back to posting normally and editing my story, Out of the Curse!

About this story: Over the past year, two authors have dramatically influenced my writing. The first is George MacDonald who wrote high fairy story for adults. His book Phantastes reminded me how much I love the wonder and childlike nature of fairy stories. The second is Flannery O’Conner who wrote challenging Christian fiction with brutal and honest twists. She believed that the modern Christian writer has a similar role to Old Testament prophets– that both were supposed to reveal sin as sin and grace as grace.

This short story is my first attempt to combine aspects of both authors in my writing. O’Connor did not come through quite as much in this story, but after all, this is my first attempt. In any case, I hope you enjoy the story!

A Short Fairy Story: To Make No Lie

To Make No Lie

By Gabrielle Massman

Deep in that wonderful wood—the Forest of the Fae whose borders blossom suddenly in a desert yet whose center stretches forever onwards and inwards—deep in that forest, a child sat in a field of flowers. The flower people bustled around her. Tiny faeries of purples and blues and whites frolicked around her small, hunched form. It was the first day of Spring, and no mortal was going to spoil their fun, even one who sat so heavily on their newly budded periwinkles and columbines.

When the child first arrived in the field at dawn, the flower faeries twisted up their beautiful faces in a dozen expressions at her back before bursting into high peals of laughter. But soon they tired of the visitor—for, though the child came every morning at dawn to sit and stack the sticks and leaves, she was separate from the fae—and so the flower people began to flit among their flowers again. Each carefully picked a single petal, but then, in vigorous fits of jealousy, the faeries bickered, shoved, and stole petals until they finally seemed happy. Then one by one, the little people plucked a single golden hair from the child’s head to tie to their petals, but the girl did not seem to mind or even notice. Suddenly, there arose, at the height of her elbows, a hundred fluttering kites in all the shades of blue and purple that look most like the sheen of sapphires and amethysts, but she remained focus, stacking the twigs and trying in vain to tie leaves to the sticks.

As the day passed by, the faeries grew tired of their kites and took up many other games, climbing up the tallest flowers and leaping off to catch the breeze with leaves held above their heads or engaging in laughing duels with sharp blades of grass. Though they were never still, they never worked, and though the child sat quite still, except her small hands and bright, darting eyes, she worked. Yet, the day passed with neither the flowers faeries nor the child seeming to make much of what is known as progress.

The sun began to set upon the forest; shadows lengthened and the amber rays poured down in beams between the shadows. The faeries gradually retreated into their blossoms as the flowers melted into the shadows. New faerie shapes began to form, indistinct in the dusk and not yet dangerous. Though not everything that walks in the night is malicious, every fae creature of the night is dangerous. Perhaps the child knew this for she finally looked up from her pile of sticks and leaves and blink. To her surprise, she found herself looking at a figure only a few feet away. Sticking her small fists into her eyes and rubbing away the strain to refocus on the world around her, she stared until she decided that there was indeed a tall man standing near the oak where the shadows had not yet reached.

The child never learned how long he had been standing there, but as soon as her attentive blue eyes met his soft brown ones, he smiled and drew near her. Kneeling to look at her pile of sticks and leaves, he held out a stringy leaf much like a long, thick blade of grass. “These grow near the river down the hill. They work very well for tying leaves to sticks.”

The child blinked and took the leaf. Her small, clumsy hands tried several times before finally succeeding to tie two of her sticks together. Suddenly her face ignited with joy, and she looked up at the man as if for the first time. “Thank you, sir! How did you know?”

“I, too, like tying leaves to sticks, and I made this leaf for that purpose.” He smiled and held out an open palm.

Grinning wider and displaying two missing teeth, the girl carefully set her sticks and leaves in his wide, calloused hands and then clapped her own soft, white hands. “You like making things, too! None of the faeries ever wanted to join me. They couldn’t understand why I tried to tie the sticks and leaves together. They don’t want to make with me.”

“Maybe you can make with me someday. But it is growing dark.” He gently set down the two sticks and stood. “Would you like to come home with me, and then tomorrow, you can tie up those leaves?”

The girl, her gold hair aflame in the sunset, looked wistfully back at her piles of leaves and sticks. He winked and added, “I promise nothing will happen to your creation—I’ll make sure the faeries stay away.”

“You can do that? You promise?”

“I promise, after all—I’ll tell you a secret—I made the faeries, and they always obey me.”

“You made the faeries?” Her blue eyes grew wide. “I could never make a faerie.”

“No.” He laughed and held out his hand. “But I can teach you how to make many other wonderful things.”

Taking the Maker’s hand, the little girl bounced up, leaving the faerie field and her sticks and leaves behind for the night. The two figures, one tall and one small, walked into the trees and talked of many more things until they finally reached his home and the child fell asleep in his arms.

A Short Fairy Story: To Make No Lie

The next days and the next years found the young girl in the same field. Every dawn, she would sit down and build, and every dusk, the Great Work-Master would come and they would walk home together.

In the soft field of periwinkles and columbines, the child arrived, every morning, before the faeries tumbled out of their flowers and the dawn rose, and while the faeries never grew or changed (though their faces were never the same from day to day), the child grew. Her dress shortened, and her legs lengthened. Soon she began wearing cotton shorts underneath the old tunic. Yet, she always sat and made with her twigs and leaves and stones as the faeries twisted up their little faces at her and frolicked all around.

On one particular day, the girl had been tearing apart and rebuilding her small creation with an unusual amount of vigor. That day the faeries thought her particularly funny, especially when she released particularly loud sighs or hurled a stick or stone hard at a tree. It became a game for them to race and be the first to find the stick which she had so angrily cast, but the faeries were liable to cheat, and a half dozen sticks were found for every one that the girl threw. But the girl took no notice of the faeries and continued to work with her sticks and leaves and stones.

At dusk, the Maker came and stood once again under the oak and waited. But the girl did not look up until the shadows had merged together into a blanket of night and the first stars peeked out from behind black clouds.

“Sir, I can’t make!” The girl exclaimed, hitting the misbehaving project, now hidden in the dark. “The sticks just are not right, and the leaves break! And it will all break if I hit it hard enough or simply wait while time tears it down.”

He knelt and placed a hand on her shoulder. Though his eyes shone with pity, an amused smile perked at a corner of his lips. “For now, you simply will have to be content with not hitting it, My dear. But I will teach you how to make it true someday.”

“That’s it! It isn’t true; something—lots of things are still false. It still lies. It’s hardly real at all and definitely nothing new. It’s just a bunch of sticks and leaves and stones.”

“But you love it,” He reminded, squeezing her shoulder. “I made you to make, and–don’t worry—you will make something that is true someday. I promise. Now, let’s go home, and we can come back to the forest tomorrow.”

The girl rose and brushed the grass and leaves off her legs. “You’ll come to the forest with me, Sir?”

“I will be at the river like always.” He smiled, threw his arm over her shoulder, and drew her close as they started walking.

“At the river? That’s where You go during the day?” The girl returned His embrace, clasping His side with one arm and grasping a fistful of His shirt in her hand. “If the faeries are quiet and I listen closely, I can hear it sometimes. But I don’t like thinking about the river—it is very fast and cold, isn’t it?”

“A bit, but it is also beautiful. Maybe someday you’ll join me there.”

“Maybe, but I think I’d rather work with my sticks and leaves and stones.”

A Short Fairy Story: To Make No Lie

Time hardly seems to pass in the Forest of the Fae, and the woods do not change. Yet, the girl grew into a woman in that field of periwinkles and columbines. And to her creation of leaves and sticks and stones, she added the flowers of the field. The hodgepodge handiwork was now quite complex and beautiful; even the wild faeries now acknowledged its existence and cast curious glances when the woman was not looking.

While the woman seemed to grow more and more excited about her work, she also looked up and around much more often. In fact, it seemed that when the woman was most enthralled with her making, she would sigh and look at the sky and land. Now the Maker hardly had to wait beneath the old oak before she looked up, ready to go home with her Father. To tell the truth, her mind often wandered to think of him standing at the river as she made.

One day, at the height of the sun’s ascent, the woman picked one pale periwinkle off her creation and added a indigo columbine. She shifted around a couple leaves, took out a twisted stick, and rubbed some dirt off a stone. As she leaned back and sighed, the faeries jumped and hurried back to playing with their petal parachutes and grass swords.

“It’s not right. There is still so much that isn’t true and perfect.” She cast a quick glance at the old rugged oak, fully knowing that the Maker was not there, before looking back at her curious collection, tied with flimsy leaves and flower stalks. “And something is still missing.”

Sighing again, the woman looked down at the faeries at her feet. One, with light purple hair and a patchy green skirt hemmed with white, tipped a leaf and dropped a single pearl of dew upon another’s head. The victim shrieked, shook her wet yellow hair, and rung the water out of her pretty blue and white dress before tromping off to find her own dew for retaliation. Soon enough, a petty war had begun, and hundreds of dew drops sparkled in the sunlight as they flew around the woman’s feet.

Shimmering like the dew, the woman’s blue eyes brightened with amusement. She reached down and plucked her own dew-holding leaf and poked at one of the faeries. “Water is one of his most beautiful creations, don’t you think?”

But the faeries paid her no mind, too absorbed with the water play to speak about the water’s beauty. For them it was quite simple: if the water was not beautiful, they simply would not play with it or pay it mind. Yet, for the woman, the truth seemed so clear now, and she smiled.

Turning back to focus on her creation, she remembered the Maker’s many words about the river. He often talked about the river, and now she wondered why she never realized that he was calling her there. She carefully slid the dew drop onto one of her sticks. Her creation needed water to be true; though how to get the water and trap the flow with her leaves and sticks, she did not know. And somewhere, deep in her thoughts and almost unnoticed, she realized that she, too, needed the water—not for her creation but for herself.

Taking all her sticks and leaves and stones and flowers, which she had work on for so many years, in her arms, she leapt up. The faeries scattered in surprise, and–no wonder—the faeries could never remember a time when the woman and her creation were not immovable parts of the field.

Though the woman had never visited the river, somehow she knew where to go—whether by following the land downwards or by the faint sound of rushing water or something else. Her steps were careful, careful not to trip and crush her small creation, and yet she hurried, taking great leaps from mossy rock to old logs and around the fair aspen trees. Bouncing behind her, the faeries followed, intrigued by the spectacle and expecting great fun, but if the woman noticed them, she did not look back at her procession.

When the woman leapt out of the aspens, she slowed to a stop at the edge of the roaring river. At first, she did not see her Maker but stared at the rushing water, pale blue and freezing cold. Then a strong hand fell on her shoulder, and the woman turned around. Joy lit up her face and washed away the fear, and yet, the Maker’s face shone with even greater joy as he looked upon her and her creation.

“Sir, you’ve been waiting for me.”

“Yes, dear.”

The woman smiled wider and glanced down at her pile of sticks, leaves, stone, and flowers. “Why didn’t you tell me that I needed the river’s water?”

“I was always calling you, and I knew you would come in time.” He held out his hand and stepped towards the river’s mossy bank. “Why don’t you put down your creation?”

“Of course.” She gently set her handiwork down at the base of one of the pale aspens before hurrying past the Maker to kneel next to the cold, rushing water.

As she plunged her hand into the flow, a shiver raced up her arm. The water seemed alive as it raced around her fingers, embracing them in a ephemeral grasp and pulled her hand deeper. With cupped hands, the woman stood and brought the water over to her creation, but the elusive water had slipped through her fingers and the drops that remained slid off the leaves and fell into the moss.

Still with his hand out held, the Maker watched in silence as the girl ran back and forth from the river, trying to capture the water. Long after the faeries lost interest, the woman stooped before him, placing her hands on her knees and panted.

“Sir, what must I do to get the water? My creation needs it.”

“You need it as well, my dear. Come with me, and we will enter into the river together.” The Maker reached out his hand again.

The woman hesitated and glanced back at the wide and deep river with the fast and swift flow that spun twisting waves. “Will we come back?”

“No, we are going deeper and farther, and you will not want to come back.”

“But what about my sticks and leaves and stones and flowers?” Her eyes widened, and she fixed her solemn eyes on her precious work that rested on the bank and on the faeries playfully poking it with their blades of grass.

The Maker joined her in looking at the creation. “It is beautiful, but leave it here. You will make something new—and perfect.”

“But the river is swift.”

“I will be with you.”

“And the river is cold.”

“But will you join me, Creature Dearest, so that you may be made beautiful and that you may make beauty with me?”

Pulling her gaze away from her creation, she took a deep breath and placed her hand in his. He drew her tightly into his side as he had done when she was a little child, and she relaxed in his embrace even as they drew near the water. Together, they entered the river.

The chilling spirit of the water swept through her. The violent currents danced around her waist, but the Maker held her firm. The river rose to her elbows, sending waves of shivers up her arms. The crystalline water was quite beautiful if she could forget its pull to sweep her off her feet and bring her into its depths. In the middle of the river, a light sparkled so deep and far away. The light flickered and waned among the waves as if she was looking at a sliver of the moon or the glow of a castle far away.

Yet, as the cold water rose to her neck, she turned away from the light to stare into her Maker’s face. A wave rushed over her head, and her breath was imprisoned in her chest. Her golden strands whipped around her face, but still her bright, darting eyes sought his steady, joyful ones. Still holding her tight, he gestured towards the light and, to her surprise, took a full breath of water. Her own breath began to burn, and the water’s stinging cold felt more and more welcoming. Blackness crept in from the corners of her vision, and she almost lost sight of the light and her Maker’s eyes, but then she opened her mouth and let the water in.

In that moment, she was not sure if she took her last breath, a painful breath of water, or if she took her first breath—a real, relieving breath that rushed through her, captivating her and drawing her onwards.

A Short Fairy Story: To Make No Lie

“In Paradise they look no more awry;

And though they make anew, they make no lie.”

“Mythopoeia” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Writing Tips

Principles from Tolkien for the Truest Fantasy

Over Christmas, I read a wonderful essay (and the related short story and poem) by J. R. R. Tolkien. The essay is titled “On Fairy Stories,” and it can be found, with the related story and poem, in the book Tree and Leaf.

“Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of the Faërie.”(41)

I highly recommend this essay to every fantasy writer, especially the Christian one, but as we are all very busy people and have reading lists miles long, I want to share with you my favorite descriptions, rules, and principles of the fairy story in a shorter form: the blog post. I hope that you will take away some valuable instruction about writing fantasy and hopefully get inspired to read the essay for yourself (Here is an online link that I discovered—proceed at your own risk).

Quotes from Tolkien "On Fairy Stories"

Curiosities of the Faërie

These are just some interesting quotes that reminded me of special aspects about fantasy that I had forgotten. Maybe these will inspire stories from you. They definitely inspired me.

“For the trouble with the real folk of Faërie is that they do not always look like what they are….” (Page 8)

“… to us evil an ugliness seems indissolubly allied. We find it difficult to conceive of evil and beauty together. The fear of the beautiful fay that ran through the elder ages almost eludes our grasp. Even more alarming: the goodness is itself bereft of its proper beauty. In Faërie one can indeed conceive of an orge who possesses a castle hideous as a nightmare (for the evil of the orge wills it so), but one cannot conceive of a house built with a good purpose—an inn, a hostel for travelers, the hall of a virtuous and noble king—that is yet sickeningly ugly.” (65)

“… the notion that the life or the strength of a man or creature may reside in some other place or thing; or in some part of the body (especially the heart) that can be detached and hidden in a bag, or under a stone, or in an egg.” (17)

Principles of Faërie

Here is a collection of quotes from Tolkien’s essay about specific traits of fairy stories. As a fantasy writer, I am not considering these points and hope to change my own fantasy in editing to make it truer to what a fairy story should be.

“Even fairy-stories as a whole have three faces: the Mystical towards the Supernatural; the Magical towards Nature; and the Mirror of scorn and pity towards Man.” (26) I would also add ‘honor to Man’ to the third face, and I believe that Tolkien would agree with me– at least C. S. Lewis does: “‘You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,’ said Aslan. ‘And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.’” (Prince Caspian)

“I had not special childish ‘wish to believe.’ I wanted to know.” (40) We should remember that our readers don’t want to believe in our tale; our readers want to know something real, and we should consider very carefully what they will know about life because of our fantasy.

“Fantasy is a rational not an irrational activity.” (Footnote 1 on 48)

“[F]airy-stories offer also, in peculiar degree or mode, these things: Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, Consolation.” (46)

“And actually fairy-stories deal largely, or (the better ones) mainly, with simple or fundamental things, untouched by Fantasy, but these simplicities are made all the more luminous by their settings.” (59)

Desires that Fantasy Attempts to Satisfy

These desires that Tolkien discusses are deeply philosophical and rooted in his Christianity. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to expound on each quote, as I would not be able to do the quotes justice without a long paper devoted to each. So I will leave you to ponder them (either in your head or in the comments.)

“At least part of the magic that [fairy-stories] wield for the good or evil of man is the power to play on the desires of his body and his heart.” (8)

“The magic of Faërie is not an end in itself, its virtue is in its operations: among these are the satisfaction of certain primordial human desires.” (13)

“Ones of these [desires] is to survey the depths of space and time.” (13)

“I might venture to say [that fairy-stories should attempt to] “see[] things as we are (or were) meant to see them’—as things apart from ourselves.” (58)

“Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds. The gems all turn into flowers or flames, and you will be warned that all you had (or knew) was dangerous and potent, not really effectively changed, free and wild; no more yours than they were you.” (59)

“Another is (as will be seen) to hold communion with other living things.” (13) Lewis mentioned that this is why Fantasy often includes talking animals, animate trees, and so forth.

“And lastly there is the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death.” (68) And this is why Fantasy has elves. I think I have been treating my elves too frivolously.

Joy: The Requirement of the Fairy-Story

“And he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.” (The Hobbit) These quotes are pointing to the biblical “Day of the Lord” when Christ will come again and creation will be redeemed. This is a very challenging part of the fairy-story to achieve– just as difficult or even more so that the tragic ending.

“But the ‘consolation’ of fairy-stories has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it…. I will call it Eucatastrophe. That eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function.” (68)

“In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, [the joyous turn] is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to return…. It denies… universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” (69)

“The peculiar quality of the ‘joy’ in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a ‘consolation’ for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question [that children ask], ‘Is it true?’” (71)

Fantasy as Sub-creation

Ever thought of writing fantasy as a human right? Did you ever think that Fantasy Writer is a role inherited from the divine? Think again. (Also read the poem, “Mythopoeia,” if this interests you– I was going to put a quote from it in here, but I could not choose a single one, so go read the full thing instead.)

“We may put a deadly green upon a man’s face and produce a horror; we may make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may cause woods to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, and put hot fire into the belly of the cold worm. But in such ‘fantasy’, as it is called, a new form is made; Faërie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.” (22-23)

“Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.” (56)

An Address to the Jaded Student of Faërie (aka you and me)

I know this quote in long, but you may need to hear it. I know that I did.

“The analytic study of fairy-stories is as bad a preparation for the enjoying or the writing of them as would be the historical study of the drama of all lands and times for the enjoying or writing of stage-plays. The study may indeed become depressing. It is easy for the student to feel that with all his labour he is collecting only a few leaves, many of them now torn or decaying, from the countless foliage of the Tree of Tales, with which the Forest of Days is carpeted. It seems vain to add to the litter. Who can design a new leaf? The patterns from bud to unfolding, and the colours from spring to autumn were all discovered by men long ago. But that is not true. The seed of the tree can be replanted in almost an soil, even in one so smoke ridden (as Lang said) as that of England. Spring is, of course, not really less beautiful because we have seen or heard of other like events: like events, never from world’s beginning to world’s end the same event. Each leaf, of oak and ash and thorn, is a unique embodiment of the pattern, and for some eye this very year may be the embodiment, the first ever seen and recognized, though oaks have put forth leaves for countless generations of men.

“We do not, or need not, despair of drawing because all lines must be either curved or straight, not of painting because there are only three ‘primary’ colours. We may indeed be older now, in so far as we are heirs in enjoyment or in the practice of many generations of ancestors in the arts. In this inheritance of wealth there may be a danger of boredom or of anxiety to be original, and that may lead to a distaste for fine drawing, delicate pattern, and ‘pretty’ colours, or else to mere manipulation and over-elaboration of old material, clever and heartless. But the true road of escape from such weariness is not to be found in the willfully awkward, clumsy, or misshapen, not in the making all things dark or unremittingly violent; not in the mixing of colours on through subtlety to drabness, and the fantastical complication of shapes to the point of silliness and on towards delirium. Before we reach such states we need recovery. We should look at green again, and be startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red. We should meet the centaur and the dragon, and then perhaps suddenly behold, like the ancient shepherds, sheep, and dogs, and horses—and wolves. This recovery fairy-stories help us to make. In that sense only a taste for them may make us, or keep us, childish.” (56-57)

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I hope that you enjoyed this (rather long but hopefully not tedious) listing of quotes about fairy-stories. Do you disagree with anything that Tolkien claimed? Is there anything that stuck out to you that you want to include in your story?

Now I am going to think over this essay again (as I continue to edit my novel) and ponder just how much of my fairy-story I will need to rewrite after I finish these edits.

God bless,

Gabrielle