Among the Thorns by Veronica Schanoes

among the thorns

A couple of months ago, I reviewed Veronica Schanoes’ novella, Burning Girls. She has a knack for reinventing folktales, giving them a fresh note while still retaining their centuries’ old roots. She does it again in her new short story, Among the Thorns. The story is a clear rebuttal to the Brothers Grimm’s most overwhelmingly antisemitic story, “The Jew in the Thorn” (Der Jude im Dorn).

As a child, Itte’s father never returns home. The family finds out that he has been murdered in the German village of Dornburg (this name literally means thorn castle in DE).

“They made my father dance in thorns before they killed him. I used to think that this was a metaphor, that they beat him with thorny vines, perhaps. But I was wrong about that. They made him dance.”

Itte, her family, and the rest of the Jews are persecuted now in their seventeenth century village just as the Jews have been in the past centuries as well. Ten years pass and with her mother dead and her brothers off, Itte decides to take revenge on Herr Geiger, the man who is responsible for her father’s death. Herr Geiger, like his name suggests, is a fiddler, whose instrument when played will make anyone dance, even until they are worn out; he also has the extraordinary ability to make people do what he wants. Itte’s father was made to dance in the thorns until he was bloodied. As Itte sets off on her quest, she is accompanied by the disembodied presence of Matronit to assist her with her travels and, finally, to “watch the fiddler’s last breath.”

Although rooted in sadness, I do love a good revenge tale. Itte is determined and plain-spoken. Her narration is direct, which I think works quite well for Schanoes, who is portraying both a developed character and a reference to an older story. She is reinterpreting the straightforward voice that is often used in old Märchen.* The imagery is strong in this story. An especially vivid moment is when Itte’s braided hair unravels, stretching out into giant thorn vines (see cover image above). It takes her whole body to exact revenge on Herr Geiger, something that Itte imagined would be the case, albeit, not entirely as she expected before she set out on her journey. We can read the Grimms’ tale in its historical context, but Schanoes’ new story is one to be relished in as each spiky thorn grows from Itte’s head.

Like Burning Girls, I found this story to be wholly gripping. Once you start, you better clear your schedule, because you’ll want to finish it in one sitting and then probably read it again for any details missed the first go around. I don’t know what Veronica Schanoes is up to, but I hope her plans include writing a fabulous collection of tales with stellar illustrations by Anna & Elena Balbusso.

Among the Thorns is available as a .99 cent ebook (with beautiful cover included) and at the publisher’s website. In honor of Burning Girls being nominated for a Nebula Award this year, the publisher has made the ebook available for free.

 

*I always find it hard to reference stories like the ones from the Brothers Grimm as “fairy tales.” They are often quite beastly and not at all whimsical like I imagine fairies to be.

short story may

6 comments

      1. Just read Among the Thorns last night (and The Jew in the Thornbush, which I’d never read before). Wow! I really like what she did with it. The part that struck me the most was the eternal balance that Itte’s mother tried to maintain to survive among the Gentiles. The way her world crumbled was the saddest part.

        The part about Matronit was interesting too; I never knew about Matronit/Shekhinah, and, indeed, I have a hard time trying to make it fit with (the admittedly little) that I know about Jewish culture. The fact that she needed people to re-ignite her worship to regain her power reminded me a lot of how Gaiman treated mythological deities in The Sandman series.

        I’ll have to read Burning Girls, too, but right now I’m trying to finish the George MacDonald fairy tale collection. I’m really liking him.

      2. The Jewish religion is so full of mysticism that I find interesting (albeit, I’m a neophyte when it comes to any sort of expertise). Also, I didn’t know about Matronit beyond just a faint name recognition. I’ve really liked these two pieces from the writer and I hope she has her work collected. I also completely dig the illustrations that accompany her tales.

        Burning Girls definitely re-imagines folktale, but does it differently by moving it to a 20th Century setting. When you get a chance, let me know what you think! It was nominated for a Nebula Award this year. I don’t know if I’ve read George MacDonald, but after my few TBR books, I want to start looking at some more fairy tales, folklore, etc. because of a recent interest in writing my own little surreal, nightmare fictions.

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