Jan. 25th, 2013

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Catherynne Valente's up-coming novella Six-Gun Snow White. Now, right from the beginning you can tell where things are going with this one, no? It's a re-telling of the Snow White story set in the Old West, and it's a beaut of a tale. If I had one thing to say about it, and I will be writing about it in the first 2013 issue of Exhibition Hall, it's that it tells a story of forces greater than love: hate and greed and jealousy and sorrow and loneliness and death and nature and on and on. It's such a rejection of the traditional views we're shown in fairy tales, maybe not a rejection, but certainly it does not take the trail most-traveled upon.

And with the Writing/Writers issue of Journey Planet coming up (and the Deadline is February 15th, and you should write something! Journeyplanet @ gmail.com) it got me thinking about the ways in which we see fantasy interacting with the worlds we know. We all know the Old West, the way the boards creak under the weight of a coming shoot-out, the smell of gun oil, the weight of big iron, the sight of wide hat brims shading steely eyes. We've been soaking in Old West imagery for a century-plus, and when a story can take advantage of that warehouse of concepts we all walk around with, it best better. Valente's prose is wonderful, she reminds me of Ian McDonald in a way, and in Six-Gun Snow White, she powers us through the setting and gives us snippets of what we would be ultimately familiar with, things like the town of outlaws or the Silver Baron's Castle on the Coast. Of course, it's all different, but we recognise it and can make the story fit the world. When Snow White goes on the run, as she must, we see her world is dark dark dark. The ways in which Valente honored the West as a place of magic and cruelty (and ultimately cruel magic) was a blade perfectly fitted to the handle of the Snow White mythos.

I also should say here, I've never actually read a Snow White story. Sure, I've seen at least half-a-dozen filmed versions, but never read one. Mea Culpa.

There is a tradition of Weird West Tales. The West was a place of mystery, of a kind. It was the kind of place where you heard stories, sometimes even read newspaper articles, of strange things happening. You might hear of the Thunderbird shot out of the sky, or a Wild Man the size of a standing bear, smelling of dead meat and horse leavings. These things are strange indeed, but even the things that actually happened, like the green skies over the desert, were odd enough. Playing with the images and characters of the Old West, not to mention Native American imagery, gave Six-Gun Snow White so much more power that any of the filmed versions, for sure. It is a very American slice out of a very European tradition.

The story is one that's told, like those rumors of Thunderbirds and Demon Cattle, and it is told to us in a way that often makes you wonder if even the teller knew the strangeness surrounding it. Too often the teller of tales in the West are stunned by the spectacle, and here that is not the case. It's all strange things that happen in a strange place with strange characters, but they are not strange for the sake of being strange. They're strange because magic is strange, and everything that makes up these characters is a kind of magic, and a kind of magic that can only take place in the West.

Or maybe Western Europe...

When Six-Gun Snow White is released on February 28th, you should go out and buy it! It's a great read, some of the finest writing you'll ever see. It's a fun read, and even when we see the narrator switch-up from Snow White to someone else, we're still pulled along behind 'em through the scenery, and what wonderful scenery it is, too.

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